Friday, August 7, 2020
Aug. 7, 2020

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State scraps investigation of Suits and a Keg fundraiser

Complaint-filer wasted taxpayer money, director says


The state Human Rights Commission closed its investigation into the guy-centric fundraiser “Suits and a Keg” because it could not locate the woman who allegedly filed the complaint, its director said Thursday.

And the situation surrounding who filed the complaint — which alleged discrimination by the Fort Vancouver National Trust against women — is “suspect” enough for the department to request a criminal investigation into the filing, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz said.

She added that whoever did file the complaint wasted taxpayer money, as the commission was already working with the fort to correct wording in its event advertising that used terms such as “guys only.”

“The Washington State Human Rights Commission has limited resources and was in the process of working with Fort Vancouver at no cost to the taxpayer other than a phone call,” Ortiz said. “Our resources must be used carefully to investigate legitimate claims of discrimination. So we have concerns if our resources are utilized improperly.”

A woman claiming to be deaf and breast-feeding a baby filed a complaint with the state on July 29, saying that organizers of the Aug. 12 event told her she and her infant could not attend the fundraiser, which featured whiskey, beer and cigars.

But no record of the woman, a Rebecca Pulliam, could be found by The Columbian. Neighbors in the apartments at 516 Main St., which she gave as her address, said there was no deaf woman and no baby there.

But they said that Marcus Griffith, a former freelancer for the Vancouver Voice alternative newspaper, did live at that address.

Pulliam listed Griffith, along with an Amber Dreamwood, as witnesses to her claim. The complaint gave no contact information for Dreamwood, and a search for her also revealed no trace.

But Griffith was actually the first person to contact her about the potential discrimination case, Ortiz said. He also called her several months before with a question about an unrelated breast-feeding discrimination complaint that was never filed with the agency, she said.

Ortiz was unable to comment on details of the investigation until it was closed late last week.

“He called and informed me about an event called Suits and a Keg that was open to the public but for men only,” she said. “He emailed us the advertising and I Googled it and saw language that this was a guys-only event.”

The commission called Fort Development Director Alishia Topper about the possible violation of anti-discriminatory laws, and Topper was being “extremely cooperative,” she said.

The fort was changing its language to make it clear women were also welcome to attend, and that would have settled it, she said.

But then, the formal complaint from Pulliam came in on July 29.

The Columbian reported that Pulliam could not be located in state voter’s records, at her address, in the phone book or on Facebook.

Ortiz said that news caused her to assign the case to a specialist.

The specialist could not find Pulliam in any state records, and a certified letter sent to the address she listed was returned as undeliverable.

“We found this to be suspect,” Ortiz said.

It is a misdemeanor to interfere with an investigation and make a false statement to a public official, Ortiz said.

“That led me to consult with our assistant attorney general and the Clark County Prosecutors Office to look at a possible criminal investigation, and we are waiting to hear back about that,” she said.

The Clark County Prosecutors Office did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Ortiz was unable to say how much money the investigation cost.

“It took staff time, it took me the executive director and our assistant director — we had to meet and talk about it,” Ortiz said. “We assigned the case to a specialist because it was getting so bizarre, so it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Griffith said last month that he knew Pulliam, but had “not run into Rebecca in quite some time.” But he also said he is a witness in her claim because he, too, had heard one of the event’s organizers, Jared Hidden, describe Suits and a Keg as an event for men only.

Contacted via email Thursday, Griffith did not answer a question asking if he had seen Pulliam recently.

He wrote instead: “I am disappointed the oddness of the case distracted from the primary issue, however, even the most unprofessional and bizarre members of our society warrant their civil rights being honored.“

Organizers said that Suits and a Keg was well attended and raised more than $6,500 for the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or or or