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Aug. 12, 2022

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Woman who claims Seattle officer raped her 40 years ago finds unusual ally: A genealogy site

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SEATTLE — Inside a glass-walled conference room at her lawyer’s Rainier Square tower office, Candace Sparks recently described the darkest chapter of her life: how, as a teenage runaway decades ago, she ended up forced to sell herself on the same downtown Seattle streets 34 stories below.

Embedded in the 60-year-old Kent woman’s memories from that bleak time in the late 1970s is the night when, Sparks says, a Seattle police officer and his partner picked her up in an unmarked cargo van.

After taking her to a secluded spot on the waterfront, Sparks claims both officers held her down in the back of the van, while one of them raped her. Afterward, while one officer drove the van back through downtown, the other pushed her naked out the back and tossed her clothes out after her, she says.

As the decades passed, Sparks says she pushed those memories somewhere deep inside while she built a better life for herself, with a steady job, a home and a marriage.

But in 2019, the memories came flooding back, Sparks says, thanks to a phone call from an old friend.

D.A.S., who, like Sparks, had worked in Seattle’s sex trade decades earlier, informed Sparks that her estranged adult daughter had submitted DNA to a genealogy website, hoping to find out who her father was.

When the results came back, D.A.S.’ daughter learned her genetic profile matched her to a retired Seattle police officer named K.C. Smith Jr. A paternity test Smith took later confirmed he was the father, D.A.S. told Sparks.

“As soon as she said he was a cop and his name was K.C.,” Sparks said, “it was just like the Fourth of July in both of our heads.”

D.A.S. recounted to Sparks that a man had once picked her up downtown, took her to an Aurora Avenue motel for sex, and afterward flashed a gun and a badge before taking his money back and threatening her. Sparks, meanwhile, remembered “K.C.” as the name of the officer who’d allegedly raped her, she said.

Armed with the new information and a flood of refreshed memories, Sparks, who has long worked as a deputy King County court clerk, hired Seattle trial lawyer Rebecca Roe. She also contacted a county prosecutor, who relayed her claims to the Seattle Police Department, which opened investigations by a sexual assault detective and the city’s Office of Police Accountability.

Smith later disputed Sparks’ claims to a detective, calling her story “crazy.” But the retired officer acknowledged he is the father of D.A.S.’ daughter, saying he couldn’t recall or explain how he encountered the former sex worker.

The criminal probe ultimately determined a deadline for filing any potential charges had long expired, and the OPA investigation couldn’t substantiate Sparks’ allegations, ruling them “inconclusive.” But investigators found Sparks’ story “to be credible,” an OPA case summary says.

In the summary, then-OPA director Andrew Myerberg noted Sparks’ claims were bolstered by Smith’s “curious lack of any recollection based on a purported injury; his failure to believably explain away two similar allegations of sexual assault; and the fact that he indisputably fathered a child with a sex worker and that this occurred while he was employed by SPD.”

Late last year, Sparks sued Smith and the city, claiming the former officer is liable for battery and the city was negligent “for failing to protect” her “from a violent assault by one of its officers.”

“As a direct consequence of the attack, Ms. Sparks has suffered and will continue to suffer significant injuries, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, humiliation, anguish, and emotional distress,” the suit contends.

The Seattle Times typically doesn’t identify proven or alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission. Sparks agreed to be identified; D.A.S. requested only her initials be used.

Sparks’ case passed its first big test late last month, when a King County judge ruled her claims against the city could go forward to trial. While the judge granted part of a city dismissal motion prohibiting Sparks from arguing the city is vicariously liable for Smith’s alleged acts, he also ruled her other claims based on negligence, infliction of emotional distress and discrimination could proceed.

A spokesperson for City Attorney Ann Davison declined to comment this month about the case.

In a brief phone interview, Smith, now 79 and retired for nearly 26 years, called the lawsuit “so ridiculous, it’s almost comical.”

“If that did happen to her, someone else did it,” he said of Sparks’ rape claims. “I did not.”

Entered the sex trade at 16

Sparks was still too young to drive when she bounced between her divorced parents’ homes in Gig Harbor as a teen in the late 1970s, she said in a recent interview. After her father’s new wife complained Sparks’ presence was interfering with the couple’s sex life, she was sent to live in a girls’ home north of Seattle.

One day at the home, Sparks said she answered a pay phone and a man who called himself “Diamond” struck up a conversation. Over the next few weeks, he kept calling until he finally persuaded Sparks to run away, she said. After she did, Diamond revealed himself to be a pimp, who beat and forced Sparks into the sex trade at about age 16, she said.

While Sparks was working downtown one night, a man picked her up and drove her to the Greyhound bus station, she says. He parked, identified himself as an undercover vice officer and threatened to arrest her, according to her lawsuit and interview.

“But he let me go,” Sparks recalled.

Her next encounter with the officer she knew as “K.C.” wasn’t as fortunate, she said. While Sparks was working between Pike and Union streets, the officer drove up in a van with his partner, who summoned Sparks to get in, she says.

After she did, Sparks recalls the partner took away a fingernail file she carried for protection. The officers allegedly assaulted her, before dumping her downtown, where her pimp soon found her and put Sparks back to work, she said.

In a 2020 interview with Scott Hatzenbuehler, the Seattle detective assigned to investigate her claims, Sparks said she didn’t report the rape after it occurred because Smith “threatened her and told her no one would believe her,” his report says.

Birth of child while working as prostitute

Sparks said she finally escaped street life in her late teens, landing a waitressing job at an “old, slimy dive” bar that D.A.S. used to frequent.

D.A.S. — then a single mother of two from the Tri-Cities — was on the run from an abusive relationship and from the law for writing bad checks, according to a 2020 interview she gave to Hatzenbuehler. While working as a prostitute in 1981, D.A.S. became pregnant, but didn’t know by whom, she told the detective.

A few days after D.A.S. gave birth to a girl late that year, her former foster mother in Eastern Washington agreed to adopt the baby, the detective’s report says.

Over the years, D.A.S. didn’t have much of a relationship with her daughter, R.S. The two didn’t meet until R.S. was 18, and in the two decades since, they’ve had strained relations, the detective’s report says. (The Seattle Times is not naming the daughter to protect her privacy.)

In 2019, when R.S. initially told D.A.S. she’d identified her father through Ancestry.com, D.A.S. was “angry and did not want to know who it was because it could have been anyone,” according to Hatzenbuehler’s report.

The genealogy website ultimately identified Smith as a paternal match to R.S. and put her in contact with several of his relatives. A cousin connected her with Smith, who paid for a paternity test that confirmed he was her father, the detective’s report says.

Smith later met R.S. in person, and also “informed her he was in a bad accident and has a lot of lapses in his memory,” she told the detective. Still, R.S. found Smith “seemed kind and well put together” and she has stayed in touch with him.

When R.S. informed D.A.S. that her dad was a retired officer, D.A.S. had a “mental breakdown,” and was “flooded with memories” about a man who pulled a gun on her at a hotel, R.S. told the detective.

“[R.S.] said she does not know if she believes [her mother’s] recollection; that [her] stories always change,” the detective also noted in his report.

D.A.S. separately had told the detective that she “got physically sick” after learning Smith was her daughter’s father, and recounted a similar story. She also has since cut ties with her daughter because she fears Smith, the report says.

Smith, in his own interview with the detective, said he never knowingly patronized a prostitute but acknowledged “he did work vice and date a lot,” and “reiterated he had no recollection of the women he dated or had sex with.”

Smith attributed his “difficulty remembering details” to a 1988 accident that broke his neck and left him “initially paralyzed,” the detective’s report states.

Confirmation by lawyer

The investigation could find few witnesses to corroborate Sparks’ account. A former officer who matched her description of Smith’s partner had died years earlier, as did her pimp.

But a lawyer who Sparks identified as one of the only people she ever told about the incident gave a sworn statement backing up her story.

The lawyer, Bruce Danielson, recalled during a recent phone interview he met Sparks in the 1990s, while providing legal services to the Lusty Lady, the one-time peep show known for double-entendre messages on its marquee on First Avenue. At the time, Sparks worked as a cashier at the club, where D.A.S. also worked.

During one of his many conversations with Sparks over the years, Danielson said, she described to him how two officers had raped her and threw her naked from a van. Some details from the talk more than two decades ago are now fuzzy, Danielson said, but he recalled Sparks mentioned one of the officers took a nail file from her before the attack.

“I never had any doubts about her story,” Danielson added.

The OPA investigation ultimately found Sparks credible and questioned “the veracity of [Smith’s] account,” but found “insufficient evidence … to reach a conclusive finding,” a case summary states.

When recently reached by phone, Smith said he hasn’t read the OPA summary, but was informed it found Sparks’ claims were unsubstantiated.

Retired since 1996, Smith, who owns a home in Magnolia and property on Stuart Island, and collects a $4,000 monthly police pension, said he and his daughter, R.S., remain in touch and “get along very well now that we discovered each other.”

He added he’s hired an attorney and has no plans to settle the lawsuit.

“It’s popular now to accuse someone for something 40 years ago,” said Smith, who, after retiring as a police officer, went on to work as a warrant officer for the city for a few years and as a contractor for the U.S. Marshals Service in Seattle, records show. “It’s all about the money.”

Sparks maintains she’s motivated by something else, however.

Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “STAND IN YOUR TRUTH,” she said: “I want him to be seen for who he is and what he did. He’s not a protector, he’s a predator.”

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