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Seattle police, King County prosecutors accused of fabricating evidence

By David Gutman Seattle Times

Seattle police detectives and a King County prosecutor fabricated evidence and concealed exculpatory evidence, a new lawsuit claims, in a long-running harassment case that a judge tossed out last year, ruling the prosecution lacked probable cause.

Sloan Stanley, a former Seattle resident who was convicted of cyberstalking in 2015 and then charged again in 2017 just as he was about to be released from prison, filed the lawsuit last week in federal district court in Tacoma, seeking $7 million plus punitive damages.

Stanley, 49, served more than five years in prison on charges that were later thrown out, with a judge ruling that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to go to trial, much less obtain a conviction.

“Defendants fabricated the probable cause upon which they falsely arrested and imprisoned Mr. Stanley for more than 2000 days,” alleges the lawsuit, filed by Olympia attorney Jackson Millikan.

It was filed against King County, the city of Seattle, three individual detectives and a deputy prosecutor.

The offices of the Seattle city attorney and the King County prosecutor and the Seattle Police Department declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Stanley, who now lives in Idaho, was convicted in 2015 of cyberstalking, after he met a woman at a bar and then sent her, two friends and a bartender obscene and threatening emails and messages. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

In 2017, the week that Stanley was to be released from prison, he was arrested again and ultimately charged with felony harassment and intimidating a judge.

Prosecutors alleged that while in prison, Stanley made violent threats and rants against the women from his prior case, as well as the judge and prosecutor.

Their evidence: the word of a man who once shared a cell with Stanley.

That man had come to law enforcement a year earlier, with the allegations against Stanley. Not wanting to rely solely on the word of one jailhouse informant, law enforcement recruited another informant to share a cell with Stanley. He was equipped with a recording device, with police and prosecutors hoping to corroborate the first witness’s allegations.

But the second informant came up empty. Instead of hearing violent threats, he reported that Stanley thought he didn’t get a fair trial and was focused on an appeal. The recording, about 175 hours, also revealed no violent threats.

Prosecutors pushed forward with the case anyway, based almost entirely on the testimony of the first jailhouse informant, Randy Burleson. In fact, prosecutors successfully argued that their second informant and the recording should be excluded as evidence at trial.

Stanley had not contacted any of the victims from his initial trial, but, according to the lawsuit, Rande Christiansen, the Seattle police detective involved in the case, had sought out the women from the initial trial and passed along what Stanley was alleged to have said.

Four women from Stanley’s initial trial testified at his second trial about their fear, after hearing from Christiansen.

A jury found Stanley guilty of six counts of felony harassment and one count of intimidating a judge, and he was sentenced to more than 33 years in prison.

Stanley appealed, arguing, among other things, that he should have been allowed to call the second informant as a witness and the recording as evidence.

A state court of appeals agreed and tossed out his conviction, writing that “the trial court violated Stanley’s constitutional right to present a defense by excluding highly relevant evidence.”

Prosecutors decided to charge the case again, arguing that Burleson’s testimony was still enough for a conviction. This time, the case never got to trial.

Stanley’s lawyer pointed out that at the first trial, Burleson claimed to have walked the prison yard with Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer. The prosecution even compared Stanley with Ridgway during its closing argument.

But Burleson had never met Ridgway, prison records and his own testimony would later reveal.

That inconsistency, combined with the testimony of the second witness and the recording, was devastating for the case.

“I think that so undermines his credibility, the court is not finding that probable cause exists,” a Mason County judge said at a pretrial hearing last year.

Stanley’s lawsuit now alleges this wasn’t just a case of sloppiness or prosecution falling apart, but that Christiansen and the lead prosecutor, Gary Ernsdorff, acted maliciously to keep him in prison.

Prosecutors charged Stanley almost solely based on Burleson’s testimony, despite the fact that Christiansen wrote that Burleson “suffers from a distinct lack of credibility.”

Christiansen wrote in court papers that Burleson didn’t ask for anything in exchange for his testimony, but, the lawsuit says, he actually asked a plea deal on a pending felony.

He wrote that Burleson had been housed with Stanley for more than a month, when actually it was less than two weeks, the lawsuit says.

“The case was built on false statements, nobody corroborated the false statements, and nobody ever could in the future, given that they were false,” the lawsuit says.