In newly obtained documents by The Daily World through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, an Election Interference (Cease and Desist and Demand) letter was sent to the city of Aberdeen from Morgan Hill, a law firm representing Michael Catlett, who is running for Grays Harbor County Sheriff.
This is the second letter of such to be issued to a Grays Harbor municipality by Catlett, the first of which pertained to the city of Elma regarding Police Chief Susan Shultz endorsing sheriff candidate Darrin Wallace, who currently serves as the Chief Investigations Deputy for the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, via her city email.
The letter, which was sent to Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave on June 17, 2022, follows the same language that was sent in the Election Interference letter to Elma Mayor Jim Sorensen. It alleges that Catlett discovered 19 law enforcement officers, including former Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate, had used their public office to endorse Wallace. Shumate retired as the Aberdeen police chief at the end of June 2022.
As was also stated in the letter sent to the city of Elma, Catlett alleges there is a “concerted effort to prevent him from being elected.” He set up an email account under the name “Harboree Family,” and proceeded to email Shumate on May 31 directly to his city email account.
“I wanted to know if you, as the City of Aberdeen Police Chief, are endorsing candidate Darrin Wallace for Sheriff of Grays Harbor County for the upcoming election?” the email operated by Catlett stated.
A little more than three hours later, Shumate responded to the Harboree Family email inquiry via his city email. Shumate begins his response by acknowledging he doesn’t know whom the sender is and talks about how he was born and raised in Grays Harbor County as well as spent his entire life in the county. Shumate said that an “effective Sheriff’s Office is very important to me” and that after knowing and previously working with Wallace for several years he found Wallace to be “a hardworking and honorable man.”
“It is because of my above-stated comments that I am voting for and endorsing Darrin Wallace. And as you know, I am also the Chief of Police until the end of June,” Shumate stated at the end of his email.
According to the documents, Catlett’s attorney, Jeffery M. Carr, claims Shumate violated the Revised Code of Washington by using his current office to endorse Wallace as well as violated the city of Aberdeen Personnel Policies section 13.0 which “prohibits the use of the internet or knowingly allowing another to use the internet for personal profit, personal business, commercial product advertisement, or partisan political purposes.”
At the end of the five-page letter, Catlett issued similar types of demands to the city of Aberdeen that were presented in his Election Interference letter to the city of Elma such as that Shumate cease and desist his actions, the city of Aberdeen require all political endorsements of Wallace by its employees be removed and that Catlett be paid $100,000 for emotional and economical damages.
The city of Aberdeen could not be reached for comment on where it currently stands concerning Catlett’s demands or how the city would address demands directed at Shumate given his retirement by press time.
FOIA requests received by The Daily World from multiple Grays Harbor municipalities show that Catlett has attempted to communicate to several current and former police chiefs via their city emails, under the guise of Harboree Family to see if they will endorse Wallace for Grays Harbor Sheriff. The list includes former Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers and Cosmopolis Police Chief Casey Stratton, as well as Shumate and Shultz.
Stratton responded from his Cosmopolis city email to the Haboree Family email by stating, “Yes, I am endorsing Wallace for the position of GH Sheriff.” The Cosmopolis FOIA request shows that Catlett immediately emailed city officials to request a copy of the city’s employee policies and procedures manual as well as a Tort Claim Form for injuries/damages. Both requests were granted as of Sept. 6, but according to Cosmopolis City Clerk Julie Pope, Catlett has yet to return the form, and no record of an Election Interference letter was sent to the city.
Myers, who served as the Hoquiam Police Chief from 2006 until he retired at the end of June 2022, responded to the Harboree Family email sent on May 29 by stating, “I have not yet had a chance to meet with Darrin.” According to Myers, he didn’t know who the email was from at the time but said neither he nor the city received any other communication attempts from Catlett directly or through the Harboree Family email.
“As police chief of Hoquiam, whether it was a call, text, or email, I always made sure I communicated back given that it’s a small town and you tend to know the people talking to you,” Myers said. “When I received the email, I knew this didn’t seem right to me. In retrospect, after I heard about Elma receiving a letter, the email felt baited to receive some type of response.”
Myers said before the email interaction, he had no idea who Catlett was and said the biggest concern to him in the email was that it wasn’t signed by someone. He figured that since it was named Harboree Family that maybe they lived in the county somewhere.
“This type of making an issue of something is disturbing to me. I’m no longer a resident of Grays Harbor County but if I was, I know who I’d be voting for,” Myers said.