Cop Watch

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Conduct Unbecoming: How a disgraced sheriff's deputy beat the system

First of three parts.

A vice cop gone bad, turned in by a high-dollar madam and his ex-prostitute wife. Members of an elite sheriff's unit running out of control. A personal trainer peddling designer drugs. An FBI agent kicked off the case. Political ambition colliding with unpleasant facts. And finally, days before the cop was to be tried, a top-level decision to pay him off and kill the case.

It could be a Hollywood screenplay. Instead, it's a King County reality.


The cop is George Daniel Ring, for 26 years a sheriff's deputy, most of them spent in the shadowy sex-for-money world. Dan Ring says he's just a normal "heterosexual guy." But he couldn't separate his work life from his sex life, and the consequences would embarrass the Sheriff's Office and enrage many of his former colleagues.

After facing down two internal investigations and a multiagency criminal inquiry resulting in several criminal charges, Ring walked away all but unscathed, with nearly two years of paid leave, a $10,000 cash payment, almost $200,000 for attorney's fees and a $3,500-a-month pension for life -- all from King County taxpayers.

"I can scrape by on that," he says with a smile.

Two others in the Sheriff's Office intelligence unit Ring worked for, including his boss, went undisciplined for the questionable roles they played in the Ring matter. They remain on the job today.

This is a story without heroes -- but with plenty of frustrated public servants who tried to do what they thought was the right thing, and believe the outcome of the Ring case was wrong.

Over the next three days, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will show you the case that was made against Dan Ring, and how he beat it -- to the great displeasure of the FBI, the cops who investigated him and the ground-level prosecutors who tried to put him away.

Janine Taylor was terrified.

She was sitting in the office of the internal affairs division of the King County Sheriff's Office, and she was reporting her husband, Detective Dan Ring, for threatening her and obtaining drugs.

"I realized I was crossing a threshold. ... From now on, I would be his enemy," she said of that day in September 2001.

That morning, she'd been in a courtroom seeking a protection order. But looking at Ring across the room, she'd felt sympathy. She balked at declaring him the danger she truly thought he was. She lost the case.

Moments later, she found her husband taking away her car from the lot where she parked it in downtown Seattle. She says he shoved her while warning her: "I told you nobody would believe you. I'm a cop ... you're f- - - - d."

Thumbnail of chart
See chart showing relationships between the key people in this story. (72K PDF)

When she first met Ring, more than a decade earlier, she was only 21 and he was 37. She thought knowing a cop would provide her with protection. She was a nude dancer, and she also had been arrested in a prostitution sting he'd helped set up in 1992. A cup of coffee led to an eight-year relationship that led to a two-year marriage that spiraled downward into what she described as abusiveness, drug use and sexual deviance.

Now, as she talked with King County Sheriff's Sgt. James Graddon, secrets spilled out about the husband she feared. Taylor described a long-term friendship between Ring and the operator of Seattle's biggest escort service: how the friendship had grown closer recently, how the woman could call Ring anytime she liked and how they would get together for dinner and who knew what else.

Taylor also said Ring repeatedly bought Ecstasy, an illegal and potentially dangerous "party drug."

"Give him a drug test right now," she urged. "You guys have got to do something. ... This is really, really, really bad," she recalled telling them.

A false promise

The investigators assured her that her report would remain confidential, and would be thoroughly investigated.

Neither part of that promise was kept.

As Taylor talked with the investigators, someone alerted Ring's supervisor, Sgt. Ray Green, the man in charge of King County's intelligence unit.

Ring says Green immediately called him on a cell phone to warn him that his wife was filing a report against him.

"He just said your wife is down in IIU. Your wife is reporting you for assault and for using drugs," Ring recalled.

He wrote a brief description of Green's warning call on his Microsoft Outlook calendar in his work computer. It was later found by investigators.

"That's not my recollection of how that happened," Green said, without clarifying what he did recall. "You are just going to have to print what you are going to print."

Ring said Green is a friend.

"He was backing me all the way in this thing," Ring said. "I was investigated by the people down the hall."

Sheriff Sue Rahr said she was unaware of the warning call until a reporter asked her about it for this report, although it was known to investigators.

"It's a serious allegation to say that your supervisor tipped you off to an internal investigation," Rahr said. "I would be very surprised that that was proved."

It never was proved -- or, apparently, even investigated. Dave Reichert, who was sheriff at the time and is now a U.S. representative from the 8th District, said he was also unaware of the call. He said he had discussed removing Green from his position as supervisor of the intelligence unit because of other supervisory problems, but he never did so.

A few days after the P-I told her about the call, and nearly five years after the fact, Rahr said her office would investigate the matter. "I will see if there is any way to prove one way or the other whether it happened," Rahr said.

The grueling session at internal affairs left Taylor shaken.

It was the day after 9/11. She says she "went home and pulled the covers over my head for a few days. ... (I thought), this is the end of the world as I know it."

Then, things got worse.

The tenor of the investigation "became very aggressive towards me, non-believing me," she said.

She was urged to take a polygraph but it was inconclusive because she says she was was ill and anxious during the test. A proposed second test was never done.

She said Ring, too, got even more aggressive.

When she applied for work, employers would get vicious calls.

She needed money.

"He left me with $20. He emptied out the house of everything. The sheets off the bed. Closed the bank account. Took the car."

Intercepted e-mails

Desperate, she turned to an old resource, the sex industry. Randomly choosing a Seattle-area escort business, she e-mailed Rhonda Wallace, who then operated Executive Privileges and Roxanne's Adult Entertainment.

Wallace recalled getting the e-mail and a surprise call afterward from Ring, whom she had not yet met.

"He told me his wife had e-mailed me for a job," Wallace said.

She says Ring then told her who he was and what he was. He told her not to hire Taylor. And, she says, he told her to call Taylor and tell her he had intercepted the e-mail.

That began a relationship between Ring and Wallace that the escort-service operator described as, "I'll scratch your back. You scratch mine."

But no one was scratching Taylor's back. When Wallace told her that her husband had intercepted her e-mails, it didn't shock her. It fit a pattern.

"He is not going to let me make any money," she thought. "He is going to break me."

After she bought a car to replace the one Ring took, she discovered Ring one night examining the vehicle near her apartment. He was writing down the vehicle identification and license plate numbers in a notebook. She grabbed the notebook and called the Seattle Police Department.

Ring called the officer afterward and told him to arrest Taylor for stealing the notebook. When the Seattle officer refused, Ring became pushy, telling him how to do his job.

"Yeah, that pissed me off," Ring said. "He should have charged her. She admitted it. I wanted her charged."

One day in January 2002, Taylor realized just how terrified she was. She and her brother were at an Office Depot in Tukwila. They spotted Ring walking in, though he didn't see them. She rushed to her brother's car and lay on the floor, clutching her cell phone, with her fingers on the 911 buttons.

She knew something had to give. The Sheriff's Office internal affairs department had accomplished nothing. "I was swept under the rug," she said.

Indeed, the investigation was quietly closed. But it would not be long before another report on Ring came to the attention of authorities. They would need to talk to Taylor again, but this time she would be hard to find.

Because in February 2002, she fled.

The miffed madam

Seattle police Sgt. Mike Hay hadn't seen Lisa Gorrin in years, but he could tell immediately she was upset.

He was directing traffic off duty at Pacific Place in November 2001 when the fashionably dressed woman crossed Sixth Avenue from Nordstrom and asked to talk.

Her story didn't spill out immediately. She's a guarded woman, and very nervous, after years of operating one of Seattle's largest adult-entertainment services. But during a half-hour conversation on the street, she brought up Dan Ring.

Gorrin was busted by Ring and other detectives in 1986 for promoting prostitution when she was operator of Playgirl Escorts. She met him again in 1999, having been introduced by a Seattle detective. For the next three years, she had a relationship with Ring as a confidential informant.

What Gorrin told Hay on Sixth Avenue would inspire a multiagency investigation to examine -- among other things -- Ring's informant relationship with Gorrin and at least one other escort-service operator.

Gorrin said Ring had called her house repeatedly on Aug. 24, 2001, begging to see her after breaking up with Taylor. Gorrin recalled Ring imploring her, saying that she was his only friend. Gorrin said she told him to stay away. She said Ring arrived at her house anyway, at around 9 p.m., disheveled and out of control. He was drunk, had an open, near-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his undercover police car and was carrying a gun. He demanded a bath.

Gorrin said she was frightened and ordered him to put the gun back in his car, which he did. During the bath, Gorrin said he made her wash his private parts repeatedly, which disgusted her. She said she felt raped but was trapped. "He crossed the line hideously," she said.

"Just because you are a hooker or escort-service owner doesn't mean people can't cross the line sexually with you," said Robin Ostrum, a King County Sheriff's detective who investigated the Ring case.

Ring said in a recent interview that he was drunk, for sure, when he went to Gorrin's house, but he insisted that he had politely asked to take a shower and took a bath instead. Ring said he washed himself. A sheriff's internal affairs report said, however, that Ring recorded the event in his computer, noting under Gorrin's name that on that date: "She gives me a bath."

Gorrin told investigators that Ring was crying like a child. She gave him a pizza, then put him to bed in a spare bedroom.

He left her a thank-you note before departing the next morning. Later, though, he would say, "That was really stupid of me to go to an informant's house to cry on her shoulder."

Gorrin also told Hay that Ring had used her to arrange a drug buy from a North Seattle personal trainer named Lynn Higman. Ring said he was checking out a tip that drugs from the same source had caused the death of a stripper from Edmonds.

He claimed to be helping Edmonds police, which the agency denies.

Gorrin said Ring later told her he'd given the drugs to his wife.

"That's when I started hating him," Gorrin said. "If you have our law enforcement officers involved in drugs, who is going to protect our children?"

"I took it to be an extremely serious allegation," Hay said.

Gorrin begged him not to tell anyone, but Hay said he had no choice. He passed the word up the Seattle police chain of command. An assistant chief told King County Sheriff's Capt. Annette Louie, and the case landed in Sheriff Dave Reichert's lap.

Sheriff with a full plate

Reichert was a busy man at the time.

ZoomPaul Joseph Brown / P-I
Former Sheriff's Deputy Dan Ring faced two internal investigations and a criminal inquiry, which produced this stack of files in the Sheriff's Office. The Seattle Police Department and the FBI assisted. Ring walked away nearly unscathed.

The tips on Ring came in just as Reichert reached the climax of his law-enforcement career. Two days before Janine Taylor came forward to internal affairs, Reichert found out from his staff that DNA tests had linked a South King County commercial truck painter named Gary Ridgway to Green River, the nation's biggest unsolved serial murder case.

The case had occupied Reichert for much of his career. He'd been the lead detective in 1982 when the first bodies turned up in the Green River.

Ring had played a small part in the case, too. He said that as a young vice cop working undercover, he sat on a riverbank with a girlfriend, hoping to spot the killer. Ring said some of his informants later became Green River victims.

Shortly after Taylor's visit to internal affairs, Reichert met secretly with his top commanders and reassembled the Green River task force to prepare for the Ridgway arrest. As he would later write in his book, "Chasing the Devil," "We knew the arrest would be national and maybe even international news."

Around the time Gorrin was talking to SPD's Hay, providing information on Ring's drunken bath, Ridgway was arrested, setting off the media frenzy that Reichert had predicted.

Reichert said the Green River case didn't distract him from Ring. "I love to juggle all kinds of challenges," he said.

But Dan Ring would be difficult to investigate. As an intelligence officer for more than a decade, Ring's computer expertise was well known. He'd been a deputy for a long time. He knew just about everybody in local law enforcement.

You could say the veteran vice cop knew every trick in the book.

White Center native

Dan Ring grew up in White Center, in a family of six kids. His dad was a Boeing worker.

Ring married right out of high school -- his first of three marriages -- and worked at a steel mill. It was a chance encounter that got him to the Sheriff's Office. A shirttail relative, Deputy Jim Fuda, took him for a ride in a patrol car, and Ring said he was hooked.

He was soon a deputy, patrolling South King County. Four years later, he found his calling -- vice. He worked undercover on the SeaTac strip.

"I was a natural at making vice arrests. I'm a natural bullshitter, I guess," he said. "I arrested one girl twice in one week."

He joined the intelligence unit in 1990, where he focused on the sex trade and using the high-tech equipment cops use to spy on people. He taught computer-assisted policing techniques throughout the state, even becoming president of the Northwest Criminal Intelligence Network, a consortium of regional police intelligence units.

Inside the county's most sensitive police office, the intelligence unit, Ring was the top techie, the guy who troubleshot the systems that tracked confidential informants and handed out passwords for the sophisticated police software.

He was also an expert at surveillance and countersurveillance.

"No way in the world we could surveil him," Reichert said. "He'd recognize our cars and people. I knew we couldn't go to Seattle PD, he knew their people and their cars." .

So Reichert turned to the FBI.

By the time FBI agent Gary Pilawski and his King County counterpart Sgt. Rob Mathis started working the case in early 2002, they faced an uphill battle. .

Two key witnesses had left town -- Ring's estranged wife and the woman who may have sold him drugs. The investigators also didn't know who could be trusted in the Sheriff's Office.

Still, the FBI was happy to help.

"We jumped in. We did our investigation," said Mark Ferbrache, supervisory special agent in charge of the Seattle public corruption and white-collar crime squad.

Pilawski, a 26-year veteran and CPA with a deep white-collar crime investigation background, and Mathis, a 20-year law-enforcement veteran with a master's degree in clinical psychology, spent the majority of their time on Ring. The investigation moved glacially at times, because of missing witnesses and other complications, but within two years they'd gathered a trove of evidence on a range of potential criminal charges.

"I felt personally we had a very strong case against this guy," said Hay, who assisted Mathis and Pilawski on a number of interviews.

Ring's descent

What the investigators turned up was an epic tale tracing an unsupervised detective's steady slide into the dark side.

The account that would unfold in public charges was only the tip of a much deeper story, one that spanned more than a decade and revealed a frightening breach of public trust in an office where the most sensitive police information in the region is kept, supposedly behind well-secured, locked doors.

Charles Mandigo, who retired as the FBI's chief in Seattle in mid-2003, recalled being deeply concerned with what his agents were finding. He said Ring appeared to have "no oversight" from the Sheriff's Office.

"What's this group doing down there? Who's in charge?" Mandigo asked. "Where's the accountability?"

A key event in Ring's saga was a major undercover sting on prostitution that he designed, called Eurosport, which netted a dozen criminal charges in 1992. It also netted Ring a future wife, Janine Taylor, and two other women with whom he would have liaisons, Yimei Yang and Rebecca Rose.

As the Eurosport case developed, Yang told Seattle vice cops she'd been dating Ring, but they found it hard to believe that he would be involved with a prostitute from a case he was dealing with in court.

Ring acknowledged the relationship, but dismissed its importance and denied it happened while the case was going on.

"She didn't become my girlfriend," Ring said. "I banged her from time to time."

But appeals in the Eurosport case still were being contested when Ring and another Criminal Intelligence Unit detective took Yang to an Aurora Avenue motel, where they videotaped Ring having rough sex with her. According to those who have seen the video, the tape shows a box for the camera that looks suspiciously like the intelligence unit camera's box. Also, the tape accidentally captures in a mirror the guy behind the camera -- Ross Nooney, a detective in the intelligence unit since the mid-1970s.

Nooney acknowledged videotaping the sex. At first, he denied that it was a department camera -- which would be a violation of department rules. Then, in an interview, he admitted he'd been too drunk to remember where the camera came from, so maybe it was King County's.

"I just remember being uncomfortable. I wanted to leave and go back to my house and watch TV," Nooney said.

Reichert and Rahr said the tape was discovered during a search of Ring's house last year, but nothing could be done about it. Both said that, odd as it seems, the activity did not break department rules.

"Can we prove it was a county (camera)? Nooney couldn't remember, conveniently," Reichert said.

Nooney remains in the intelligence unit today, and has never been disciplined.

"As much as we were thoroughly disgusted, we couldn't even transfer Ross Nooney because of the (King County Police Officers) Guild rules," Reichert said.

"He has employee rights," Rahr said.

Seattle lawyer Peter Camiel, who represented Maxine Doogan, one of the escort-service operator, said Ring's relationships with two key witnesses -- Yang and Rose -- potentially taints the entire Eurosport case, which stretched on for several years. The yearlong undercover sting netted at least a dozen charges, and several convictions, against area escort-service operators.

"That's a big deal," Camiel said. "It could color the informants' testimony or the police officers' reports."

"I would have liked it if this information came out years ago," added Camiel, who said his client is considering reopening her case.

Pressed on the issue by reporters, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and his Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor, Mark Larson, acknowledged last week that some Eurosport cases probably should be re-examined. "If there was any misconduct ... there's no question we'd want to look into that," Larson said.

Questionable visitors

Ring brought Taylor and a parade of questionable visitors -- including Yang -- into the supposedly high-security Criminal Intelligence Unit office when it was in downtown Seattle and later, after it was moved to Kent.

Norman Matzke, a recently retired Sheriff's Office polygraph examiner, said even other sheriff's employees couldn't get in: "It was locked. You had to ring a bell. They had a keypad. You had to have a specific reason to be there."

Ring pooh-poohed the issue.

"I didn't let her read through the files or anything," Ring said.

Taylor said she had full access. She said she went to the office frequently, sometimes two or three times a week. He showed her the "secret squirrel room" where undercover cameras and listening devices are kept, and much more.

"I was left alone in there many times. ... I could have looked in files," she said.

Once, in the mid-1990s, Taylor said, she and Ring had sex on his sergeant's desk. Taylor said Ring felt that "doing the nasty" on Sgt. Frank Kinney's desk "would be funny," she recalled.

Ring's denial was jocular. "Sex on the boss' desk? Oh, my gosh, no," Ring said, smiling. Then he added, "My sex life is private."

Perhaps the most troubling of Ring's guests in the intelligence unit was a 38-year-old computer expert and U.S. Army Reserve captain who Ring used as a confidential informant. Ring said the computer expert had information on the local drug and fraud culture because of people "he put himself in a position to know through his lifestyle." He also knew how to fix computers, so Ring said he brought him into the intelligence unit to work on their equipment.

Shortly after 9/11, the FBI investigated the computer expert as part of a forgery case. He was never charged.

Ring denies ever allowing the man out of his sight when he brought him into the unit. He added that he ultimately wrote a derogatory report about him and recommended he not be used as an informant. And Ring insists the man didn't have direct access to the unit's most sensitive data.

Investigators can't be sure what, if any, police intelligence data was compromised. Reichert said he became aware of the problem through the Ring investigation, but, "I would have no way of knowing whether he was able to look at that information and decipher it," Reichert said. "I haven't got a clue."

A unique unit

The intelligence unit is unlike any other in the Sheriff's Office. Members aren't expected to check in regularly, they have access to sophisticated spying tools, and they are assigned a job that involves sidling up to criminals.

"You can get away with stuff if you don't have a supervisor that pays close attention to you. You are doing information gathering, and very little dissemination. You don't really have a caseload, per se. You are not evaluated based on statistics," said John Tolton, a former sheriff's office intelligence detective.

One duty is driving the King County executive's car, which is, technically, an unmarked police car, though it is more luxurious.

King County Executive Ron Sims spent considerable time with Ring, both in the car and once while traveling by air to Washington, D.C., for a meeting of county officials. He's also well acquainted with Nooney.

"When you are with people day in and day out ... I've got to trust them. I have no choice," Sims said.

But when Sims wasn't in the car, Ring took advantage. Taylor described one night in the late 1990s when they used the executive's car to pick up a couple from a Christmas party put on by a hair salon where Taylor then worked. They had all been drinking, including Ring, who was driving, Taylor said. They continued to party while cruising Broadway.

"I turned on the sirens and lights," Taylor recalled, laughing. "Probably wasn't the smartest thing. Everybody was freaking out, laughing."

"That's inappropriate use of the car," Sims said.

Ring also had assigned to him an unmarked police car, which he treated as his personal car. Taylor and others said Ring regularly drank whiskey and other alcoholic drinks in the police car, but wasn't caught because he wasn't expected to keep a regular schedule. Ring denied drinking in his police car.

Investigators found Ring had misused the car for trips to Canada, and his computer e-mail to contact escort services in Vancouver, B.C., when he took trips there, and to order pornography. Ring went to Canada with Taylor, and with Rebecca Rose, one of the women he met through the Eurosport investigation.

"I have concluded that Dan Ring has lied about the legitimacy of his trips to Canada in his department car," wrote Sheriff's Capt. Cameron K. Webster, in a follow-up report on a second internal investigation of Ring that was begun immediately after Ring's arrest in January 2004.

"He claims this was for official business. It clearly was not," Webster wrote.

"He would have us believe he involved his girlfriend (Rose) in several on-site, official investigations of these businesses, even rented limos while he was doing it. ... These 'investigations' were clearly for personal reasons."

Thief or savior?

Investigators found that beginning in the late 1990s, Ring also spent much of his personal time serving as financial guardian to an elderly Seattle man named Orie John "O.J." Morrison.

Ring was introduced to Morrison through Yang, the former prostitute he'd met through Eurosport.

Yang was briefly trustee over Morrison's finances -- authority that Yang transferred to Ring in 1998. As guardian, Ring controlled Morrison's bank accounts and investments, paid for cigarettes, food and other daily needs, and helped clean up around Morrison's house, he and his attorney said.

But in charging papers, investigators said Ring took advantage of Morrison, fleecing the old man out of thousands of dollars. For instance, Ring made questionable withdrawals and purchases from Morrison's accounts, investigators say.

He used money from Morrison's bank account to buy hundreds of dollars worth of alcohol and other items from Costco, and to loan $15,500 to his girlfriend, Rose, whose ability to get a loan was compromised by a previous bankruptcy. Morrison, a non-drinker, told investigators he didn't approve the loan or purchases.

"Maybe he just forgot," Ring said.

Ring said he had permission in the trust agreement to lend money to anyone, though he admitted that Rose might not have been a good risk. He said she paid the loan back in full, "with interest."

Richard Hansen, his attorney, said Ring was Morrison's "savior" and that others had mistreated him before Ring took charge of his affairs.

"I took complete care of the guy," Ring said, adding that when he died Morrison actually owed him money.


Continue to Part 2: Sex, drugs and databases.