"Legal nightmare ends as vice cop who strayed agrees to retire"

    RICHARD HANSEN, Attorney
DAN RING, Defendant

Seattle Times

"This investigation took on a life of its own that deies imagination," said Richard Hansen, Dan Ring's attorney, shown in his office with some of the thousands of documents in the case."


Settlement: He won't pursue claim against county, prosecutor drops charges

Seattle Times staff reporter

Former King county vice cop Dan Ring admits he's no choirboy.

When police started scrutinizing his personal lifestyle and his professional habits, they found no shortage of reasons for raised eyebrows.

George Daniel Ring Jr. -- a detective with the King County Sheriff's Office for 26 years -- obscured the line between his personal and professional lives more than a few times during his years in vice.  He dated strippers, used his unmarked police car to visit a dancer in Canada, counted a madam among his friends and married an escort he'd dated for years.

"I'm sorry. I have a weakness for attractive women. Yes, I got too close to the line and some of what I did was dumb," said Ring, 49. "But what I did was not criminal, I am not a thief. I'm not a stalker. And I'm not a dirty cop."

But criminal and internal-affairs investigators for the King County Sheriff's Office spent years trying to prove otherwise. An investigation into Ring -- launched in 2001 after a complaint from the madam he thought was a friend -- ultimately spanned almost four years, involved three law-enforcement agencies and cost the county an estimated $400,000.

It led to four criminal charges against Ring: theft, attempted stalking of his third ex-wife, aiding an escort service and official misconduct. This was in addition to allegations of misconduct filed inside the Sheriff's Office.

In the end, however, all criminal charges were dropped.

The country settled with Ring in April, agreeing to pay his legal fees, refund the money he'd put up for bail, let him use his accrued paid sick days until his retirement in November 2005 and then award him his full retirement benefits. In exchange, Ring agreed to retire and to not pursue a $2.5 million claim against the county for civil-rights violations.

The Sheriff's Office did, however, sustain five internal allegations of misconduct against Ring, finding he had behaved in a manner unbecoming to a police officer, that he used access to his work tools for personal reasons and that he had inappropriate relationships with informants. The department also determined he had used his car for personal business and misused his department Internet access when he ordered an adult video from work.

The department did not find, however, that Ring was dishonest or that he had behaved criminally.

King County Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart would not talk about the case or the settlement except to say the "negotiation reached was in the best interest of all parties."

The prosecutor's office said justice was served when the charges were dropped, but also that it was fair that Ring was forced to retire.

"When Ring retired on the eve of trial, the wisdom of a lengthy, costly trial became questionable. The goals of our prosecution had largely been met with his retirement," said Mark Larson, chief deputy of the King County Prosecutor's criminal division.

Ring sees it differently. "They were wrong, but they can't admit it. That's as close to an apology as I'm going to get."

"I'm not perfect"

Ring: Internal discipline would have been enough

Ring acknowledges that he made some bone-headed moves and bad judgment calls. He believes he should have been disciplined internally by his supervisors rather than brought up on criminal charges.

He doesn't believe the circumstances around his arrest were fair, saying it was orchestrated in a manner to be both public and exceptionally humiliating, with the media notified almost immediately. He doesn't think it was right that investigators shared his personal collection of sex videos -- the ones in which he played a starring role --  with former friends and colleagues, as court documents allege.

"I'm not perfect, but I didn't deserve that," he said. "I lost my reputation. I lost my friends. My life was turned upside down."

His attorney, Richard Hansen, said, "This investigation took on a life of its own that defies imagination. You've heard of the perfect storm? Well, this was the perfect legal nightmare."

Among the contributing factors, Hansen said, was the fact that the investigators on the case became too personally involved, letting their disapproval of Ring's lifestyle color their perspective. Also, Hansen says, there was a lack of oversight at the Sheriff's Office while then-Sheriff Dave Reichert was running for Congress.

The three key investigators on the case declined to comment.

In addition, Hansen said, Ring may have suffered from what he called "the David Brame fallout."

Tacoma Police chief David Brame fatally shot his wife before committing suicide in a Gig Harbor parking lot on April 23, 2003. The resulting investigation and lawsuits revealed widespread wrongdoing within the department and prompted law-enforcement agencies to scrutinize how they police themselves. Attorneys who've built their practices on defending police officers said they consequently saw a spike in their cases.

"Until the Brame case, the criminal defense of a police officer had been a relatively rare event," attorney Anne Bremner said.

Adrenaline rush

After riding with a deputy, he was hooked

Ring grew up in a close-knit, working-class White Center family with four sisters and a brother. He married early the first time, quickly the second time, and has three daughters from those two marriages.

He's exceptionally close to his mother, his siblings, his daughters and his first two ex-wives.

Ring was a machinist in a steel factory when an in-law, a sheriff's deputy, took him along for a ride in 1976. He was hooked.

"I could not believe how exciting it was. I could not believe the adrenaline. I said to myself, 'Why am I doing anything else?'"

He was on patrol for a couple of years when he discovered that he had a knack for investigations, analysis and computers. He moved into the criminal-intelligence and vice units.

It's no secret among police officers that cops who are best at cultivating sources and informants in a world of illegal activity tend also to be among the most likely to be tempted by the world they patrol.

"Officers who work in vice are simply exposed to temptations that the rest of us are not," said Sam Walker, a University of Nebraska-Omaha professor who's written about police misconduct. "The risk for corruption and sexual misconduct is built into the assignment."

"It is hard," Ring said. "You have to be close enough that people trust you and then they become your informants and sometimes your friends. When you're working with hookers and pimps 24-seven, you begin to think: What's the big deal, that doesn't seem so bad, who's that hurting anyway?"

Ring dated strippers and had a nine-year relationship with an escort named Janine Taylor that culminated in a one-year marriage. When they broke up, Ring said, he slugged down shots of Jack Daniel's and went to the house of the madam he considered a friend. He said he cried on her shoulder, took a bath, and went to sleep in her spare room.

Three months later, according to court records, that woman told a former Seattle Police Department vice officer about the night Ring had come to her house. She said she felt he'd crossed the personal-professional line one too many times and felt violated by his actions.

Court records show the Seattle Police Department and the FBI investigated the complaint, found no sustainable evidence of criminal activity and turned their information over to the Sheriff's Office.

County investigation

Thousands of pages of evidence submitted

There, King County detectives from internal affairs, domestic violence and the fraud units took over. At the end of two years, they submitted to the prosecutor's office more than 15,000 pages of evidence that led to two sets of charges against Ring.

In one set, Ring was accused of using his access to an information databank to attempt to stalk his ex-wife, Taylor, by searching for her scores of times on his work computer. He was also accused of leaking the name of an undercover officer to a madam, and misusing his authority.

Ring also was accused of bilking an 85-year-old man named O. J. Morrison for whom he was a trustee. Ring was asked to care for the man by an attorney friend.

In charging documents, police and prosecutors say Ring paid himself excessively for his care-taking duties, and freely used Morrison's checks to purchase items for himself. For example, court documents allege, Ring ran up a large tab for liquor though Morrison never drank. Police and prosecutors also said that, without approval, Ring loaned his girlfriend $15,500 of Morrison's money.

In a letter summarizing the defense's case, Hansen said Taylor wasn't aware of the alleged stalking until sheriff's detectives told her. Hansen said Ring, who divorced Taylor after she left the state, wanted only to tell her that they were officially divorced, that he had belongings of hers to return and to find out if she was OK. "I loved her and was concerned about her," Ring said.

Hansen's letter also says the undercover police officer's name, which Ring was accused of leaking, had already been posted on an Internet site before Ring allegedly told the madam.

Hansen filed financial documents indicating that although there were a few months in which Ring billed Morrison more than $1,000 for his care, his total reimbursements over the five years he cared for Morrison averaged $287 a month.

That amount is far less than what was charged by the woman who cared for Morrison both before and after Ring's tenure as trustee, documents show. And bank records show that Ring's girlfriend had been making payments on the loan on time and with interest.

"I really loved that old guy and I took good care of him," Ring said. "That's what hurt the most. He died thinking I was a thief."

Ring does not know for sure where he's going next, and he isn't certain if there's a single moral to his story. Eventually, he wants to travel and find work where he can use his skills and his experience. Already,  he's had offers from defense attorneys to do investigations.

"Part of me just couldn't believe it. I had never even had a traffic ticket, and I was in jail. I was in jail, trying to sleep under a plastic blanket, and I kept peeking out, and saying, 'I'm in jail! How did this happen?' I guess unless you've lived it, you really can't understand it," he said yesterday.

"I haven't quite recovered yet. It was like the Twilight Zone."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclaridge@seattletimes.com

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