Former WSU police sergeant allegedly had sexual relations with student
Dec. 23, 2022 Updated Fri., Dec. 23, 2022 at 6:44 p.m.
A former Washington State University police sergeant allegedly had encounters with a female WSU student and a prior female WSU student.
Three administrative personnel and a sergeant with the WSU Police resigned in August to avoid further administrative action, including the possibility of termination, after receiving two internal investigations from the university regarding sexual harassment. These investigations have concluded, according to an investigation report, that former Chief of Police Bill Gardner, former Assistant Chief Steve Hansen and former Capt. Mike Larsen mishandled a complaint and subsequent punitive action against an officer accused of having sexual relations while on duty at WSU. WSU police Sgt. Matt Kuhrt was accused of violating WSU policies regarding sexual harassment, improperly using university resources and violating policies in the department’s manual, stated a report.
According to investigation reports acquired by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News through a public records request, two formal investigations, conducted by Human Resources and Compliance and Civil Rights, were launched into the department in March, shortly after Kuhrt was placed on home assignment. In July, command staff were reassigned to home assignment as the investigation continued.
Kuhrt was placed on home assignment when another officer, who initially notified command staff of the incident in December 2020, felt appropriate action was not being taken by the department and brought the issue to the vice president of Finance and Administration.
The investigation began when an officer was messaged by a Whitcom 911 dispatcher in December 2020 who heard secondhand that Kuhrt was engaging in sexual activity on campus while on duty, according to the report. The officer reported this information to Garner and assigned Larsen to investigate. Larsen conducted interviews with the dispatcher and others, who found the alleged sexual activity was consensual and occurred while on duty. He later spoke to Kuhrt, who reportedly admitted to engaging in sexual conduct while on duty, according to the report.
Larsen conversed with Gardner about the outcome of his investigation, and Kuhrt received a letter of admonishment stating his behavior violated the university’s standards of conduct surrounding sexual relations while on duty, according to the report. Gardner did not provide the letter to Human Resources for inclusion in Kuhrt’s personnel file, and in addition failed to report the alleged sexual misconduct to Human Resources and Compliance and Civil Rights.
Per WSU policy, university employees are required to report allegations of sexual misconduct to Human Resources Services, as well as the Compliance and Civil Rights unit. Command staff violated this policy, and as a result contributed to a hostile and intimidating environment, according to the report.
Kuhrt was accused of having engaged in sexual activities with female employees while on duty or on WSU campus, and engaged in predatory grooming behavior for the purposes of engaging in sexual activities with a female student, according to the report. His behavior included discussing sexual activity, propositioning for sexual activity and sharing information that could give people an impression there would be no recourse for sexual harassment through university administration, stated in the report.
“Such conduct had the potential to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, interfere with other employees’ work, and interfere with employees’ ability to work with other agencies and negatively impact WSU’s reputation,” the report stated.
Kuhrt was found to violate Title IX Sexual Harassment, or Executive Policy 15, and his conduct could be considered “quid pro quo harassment.”
According to the report, Kuhrt subjected at least one employee to nonconsensual physical contact and continued a sexual or romantic relationship with groomed people after they became WSU alumni.
On one occasion in Seattle, Kuhrt invited a former female student to dinner after a training session, according to the report. After he attended training in Burien, Wash., they both stayed in a hotel room. He went to walk her to her car and other WSU employees observed he was gone for about 45 minutes. Kuhrt said it took a while to walk because the car was far away, but sexual activity was implied since they earlier brought “piping hot” food to their room which would have cooled if the car was parked far away, according to the report.
Compliance and Civil Rights was not able to substantiate allegations related to the grooming of or sexual activity with a student or a former student, as both individuals declined to speak with the agency.
Kuhrt was also accused of having sexual contact with a WSU employee while on duty. They initially developed a friendship in 2019 and in August 2020 he would push professional boundaries by giving her a hug or touching her shoulder, stated the report. At one point he tried to kiss her, but she dismissed his advances as “light heartedly joking.”
Kuhrt was also accused of sexual harassment with another employee between February 2021 and March 2022, and with a different employee between February and April 2021, according to the report.
“The respondent went on to subject (people) to sexual comments, harassing behavior, genital exposure and fondling,” stated in the report.
In the workplace, Kuhrt was in a position of power and authority over an employee and was accused of pinching her rear end without her consent. She spoke with her supervisor about Kuhrt’s conduct and he asked her not to take any action because she did not “want to rock the boat,” stated in the report.
Kuhrt was accused of using a cellphone ringtone associated with a pornography website while at work, according to the release. He would also make sexual and inappropriate comments to his coworkers.
“Overall, the respondent’s conduct was egregiously inappropriate and unprofessional,” the release stated, “The respondent misused his position, power and authority for purposes of sexual activity.”
Kuhrt resigned from the department in November.
Since the WSU Police Department’s personnel’s departure, the university has notified the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission, an entity that supervises licensing of law enforcement officers in the state, of the investigations’ findings for the four officers.
The department has hired a new command staff, appointing former City of Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins as the WSU Police chief and former WSU administrative sergeant Dawn Daniels as assistant police chief. Victoria Murray, the executive director for Finance and Administration, was appointed as acting associate vice president of Public Safety.
“Everyone, including me, are glad that this is now all behind us,” Jenkins said in past reporting. “We’re glad that there is now accountability in the department and everyone is being held to the same standard. There’s definitely a good level of optimism in the department right now, (we’re) moving forward in a positive way.”
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