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31st Candidate addresses rumors about his past
For years, Sumner City Councilman and 31st District Senate candidate Matt Richardson has been dogged by allegations about his past. Rumors of all sorts — including a criminal background — have simply refused to go away.
This year, as Richardson is attempting to step up to a state-level office, the accusations have resurfaced, including on a website designed to look like a campaign page for Richardson. That site, however, is being run by a supporter of his opponent, Sen. Pam Roach.
But as the Nov. 2 general election approaches, Richardson sat for an exclusive interview with The Courier-Herald to discuss the allegations.
Perhaps the most disturbing of the allegations involves accusations of abuse involving Richardson’s cousins. Richardson and his female cousins were all minors at the time of the multiple occurrences, which are alleged to have happened in the early 1980s. Richardson was a young teen at the time and the girls were several years younger.
Richardson was cleared of the charges within three months and a GR 15 was issued. A GR 15 is a document designed to destroy, seal and redact all court papers regarding the incident. Because of that, records of the case and the charges are not available, including the GR 15 itself, though Richardson has a copy, which was examined by The Courier-Herald.
“I was accused of something as a minor 32 years ago,” Richardson said Sept. 2. “They never had any proof of anything, that’s why it was dismissed three and a half months later.”
However, an order of protection suit was filed against Richardson by his aunt and uncle in 1992 when he was working as a security guard in the Kent School district. The suit is available through the King County Courts and includes a determination of probable cause, which includes many of the original allegations.
Richardson strongly denies all of the allegations and points to the time between the alleged events and the court case as an indication that it was a false charge.
“If the charges were accurate, why would he wait 12 years to bring them against me?” Richardson asked. “I was the victim of a wrongful prosecution.”
Though a protection order was initially granted, it too was dismissed “with prejudice” in January 1993.
The Courier-Herald has decided not to publish the specific allegations as Richardson has been cleared of the charges.
Richardson also points to his multiple background checks since that time as further proof his record is clean. Because of his job as a teacher, as well as his previous work experience in the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate and as an adjunct professor for the U.S. Navy, Richardson has been through numerous background checks, including multiple checks from the FBI, Homeland Security, Department of Defense and the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Copies of all of the checks, as well as the resulting clearances and passes, indicate nothing that would prevent him from working in schools or at any level of the government.
“I have all the background checks,” he said.
Richardson displayed documents from an FBI background check in 2009 showing “no arrest and/or conviction record.”
In addition to the documents from the early-1990s, an additional set of papers has shown up detailing the end of Richardson’s employment with the Federal Way School District in 2006.
The issue revolved around an allegation of sexual and malicious harassment involving three female students at the middle school where Richardson taught English Language Learning.
The girls alleged that Richardson stared at the students’ breasts and buttocks, appeared to obtain arousal in the classroom, had worn pants that purposefully exposed his buttocks, yelled at students, called them derogatory names and allowed a male student to grab a female student.
After an investigation by the district, Richardson was cleared of the malicious and sexual harassment accusations, though he did receive a letter of reprimand for using inappropriate language, yelling at students and allowing a male student to touch a female student after a request was made to intervene. The letter states, the “effect of your actions had towards (sic) creating a hostile learning environment in which students experiences extreme discomfort and a fear of your reprisals.”
Richardson said the events stemmed from an incident in which he tried to write up the girls for inappropriate dress.
“I was strictly reading the rules of dress code violation,” he said.
Richardson said he was “lecturing” students that he would not allow the violations and denied ever saying he would retaliate against the students, though he admitted he may have cursed.
Richardson also said he believes the reprimand was retribution against him because of his role as a union representative within the building and said the administration was “manipulated by the students.”
“I was in the process of following school policy,” he said.
The letter goes on recommend to the administration that Richardson remain on unpaid leave for the remainder of the year and that his contract not be continued.
In a response letter to the district, Richardson wrote that were are “very serious problems” at the school and tendered his resignation, effective at year’s end, claiming the school’s vice principal contributed to a hostile work environment against him.
“I wasn’t going to work in that district anymore,” he said. “Are you kidding?”
Earlier this year, a series of e-mails between Richardson and a woman who was a member of the Sumner Planning Commission also drew attention because of exchanges between the two that appear sexually charged. In one e-mail, the pair appear to be setting up a tryst at a Seattle hotel, leading to accusations of an affair between the two.
Richardson vehemently denies having an affair with the woman and said the e-mails were an “inside joke” about Sumner being a “rumor mill” and how people would talk if the two of them were seen together.
Richardson says the e-mails were “crass” and that the two got “carried away” but insists the innuendo was all a joke.
“That’s why there’s an LOL at the end,” Richardson said of the e-mails.
A review of the e-mails shows an odd code between the two, but contain no proof of any sort of illicit affair. Many contain exchanges on city business.
In the most potentially damning e-mail, Richardson appears to be setting up a meeting between the two at a hotel in Seattle by using a code, however, the e-mail includes an “LOL” at the end.
When the woman responds that the day he mentioned was Mother’s Day, Richardson wrote back, changing the code and the date to a week later. Richardson’s e-mail begins with “haha, yes of course. I was lost in the humor about the date.”
In the most recent event to prompt negative attention, Richardson was pulled over for reckless driving Aug. 1 in Puyallup. According to the police report, Richardson and another driver were both traveling south on Meridian Avenue at 77 mph in a 35 mph zone. It appeared to the officer the two vehicles were racing and he radioed ahead to another officer and both vehicles were pulled over.
According to the report, Richardson told the officer “that guy cut me off” and the officer asked “if that was any reason to travel at double the posted speed limit. Richardson said ‘no.’”
Richardson said he was on his way to the Woodcreek Health office in the 1700 block of Meridian because his wife had taken his 3-year-old son in for an emergency.
Richardson said the he was in the left lane and needed to make a right turn into the medical facility and tried to get ahead of the other car, but the other driver wouldn’t let him in.
“When I stepped on the gas, he stepped on the gas,” Richardson said of the incident. “This was not a sustained rate of speed.”
Because of the mitigating circumstances of his son and a clean driving record, the charge was reduced to a traffic citation at Richardson’s court date.
For many, the question is – with a past like the one he appears to have – why would Richardson run for a higher office, knowing the allegations would likely come out?
“I was falsely accused and I stand on my experience over the last 16 years,” he said.
Richardson also said he was not surprised his opponent was trying to use his past against him, adding that Roach had used similar tactics against every opponent she has faced.
“Nobody should be surprised,” he said. “She engages in politics of total destruction and her career reflects that.”
Voters will determine whether the allegations in Richardson’s past will sway their vote, but Richardson said he is comfortable with the facts of each incident being put forward.
“People need to know the facts,” he said. “They have had nothing but rumors to rely on.”