September 28, 2020
Today, after a four-week trial, a King County jury found that the Washington State Patrol (“WSP”) retaliated against WSP Detective Ryan Santhuff for reporting sexual harassment involving Lieutenant Jim Nobach and Nobach’s office manager in February 2016. Then and now, Nobach has been in charge of the Aviation Section of the WSP. At any given time the Aviation Section has about seven pilots and seven planes, and they conduct missions including traffic enforcement, surveillance, and transporting WSP and State executives, including the governor. Santhuff joined Aviation as a pilot in January 2014.
Jack Sheridan, Santhuff’s attorney, stated, “until March 2016, Ryan was succeeding by all measures and on his way to becoming a command pilot, which means he could fly any of the WSP airplanes in any weather and carry any passengers.” That all changed after Santhuff reported Nobach’s misconduct.
Santhuff testified at trial that in a meeting with Nobach in Nobach’s office, while both were seated at a table talking, Nobach’s office manager entered the room, and after exchanging some small talk with Nobach, the office manager said, “I know what you really want,” and walked behind Nobach and rubbed her breasts back and forth against the back of Nobach’s head. Santhuff promptly exited the room and several days later reported the misconduct to his chain of command. On March 30, 2016, Nobach and his office manager were disciplined in the form of written counselling called an 095. According to Sheridan, “Two days later, beginning on April 1, 2016, Nobach began a campaign of retaliating against Santhuff that involved criticizing his flying, making false claims against Santhuff involving safety issues, and disciplining him with an 095 in September. According to Sheridan, Nobach’s chain of command, although notified by Santhuff of the ongoing retaliation, did nothing to protect Santhuff, and Captain Johnny Alexander, in two different meetings with Santhuff, told him that he needed to stop complaining if he wanted to stay in Aviation. Alexander claimed for the first time at trial that Santhuff and his sergeant (who forwarded Santhuff’s harassment claim up the chain of command) confessed in 2016 to being a part of the hostile work environment–these new allegations are not in any written record and both Santhuff and his sergeant denied the allegations under oath. Santhuff left Aviation in October after neither his chain of command nor Internal Affairs acted to protect him. Santhuff is now working as a WSP detective.
The jury found that:
- The WSP retaliated against Ryan Santhuff in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination; and
- The WSP engaged in Whistleblower retaliation in violation of the Washington State Whistleblower Law (RCW 42.40)
During trial, Lt. Nobach was found in contempt of court for violating the judge’s order that witnesses be excluded from the courtroom. Sheridan said, “it’s typical to exclude witnesses who have not testified from the courtroom so they cannot adjust their testimony to better fit with the testimony of witnesses testifying before them.” Owing to precautions related to the coronavirus, spectators were permitted to watch the trial via Zoom. Nobach encouraged one of his sergeants and his office manager to watch Santhuff’s testimony in violation of the judge’s order, which they did, and then testified with the benefit of having seen hours of Santhuff’s testimony.
Remainder of Trial Not Transcribed
2019 STATE TROOPER Files Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit Against Washington State
February 20, 2019
Today Trooper Ryan Santhuff filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against Washington State and Lieutenant David Nobach, the Chief Pilot assigned to the Washington State Patrol’s Aviation Section. Trooper Santhuff alleges in the lawsuit that he was forced to resign from the WSP Aviation Section after he reported misconduct by Lt. Nobach, which included Lt. Nobach’s ordering the destruction of emails to prevent their production under the State’s Public Records Act which was ordered by Lt. Nobach, sexual misconduct involving Lt. Nobach, and Lt. Nobach’s refusal to fly the governor during a budget dispute on a false claim that the airplane was “down for maintenance.”
Trooper Santhuff alleges that after he reported Lt. Nobach’s misconduct, his chain of command whitewashed the misconduct and failed to prevent Nobach’s ongoing retaliation against Santhuff.
Jack Sheridan, his attorney, states that, “this lawsuit seeks damages, which will include judicial oversight of the State Patrol to force accountability and to create and implement systems to encourage state employees working in aviation to come forward to report improper governmental actions and to protect those employees from retaliation.” A jury trial is set for 2020.