Update (Thursday, May 25 at 10:53 a.m.): Washougal police now say Washington State Patrol will take over investigation into alleged harassment by Mayor Sean Guard. This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.
Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, facing a potential police investigation, has withdrawn his name from the 2017 mayoral race.
The two-term mayor pulled his name just a few hours after news broke Monday that Washougal police had asked an outside agency to investigate a potential harassment case against the mayor.
Guard, a Washougal native and the town’s mayor since 2010, had been all set to run for a third term. He even filed early with the Clark County Elections Office on May 15.
But just a few days after he filed, Guard found himself caught in an online controversy when local businessman Glenn Kincaid, posted what appeared to be dozens of sexually explicit messages between the mayor and an unnamed Washougal woman.
Kincaid told the Post-Record that several other women with similar claims contacted him after he posted the screenshot messages to Facebook. None of the women have yet come forward with public allegations against Guard.
Last Thursday, Washougal police said a citizen had made a formal complaint against the mayor and that police were in the early stages of an investigation to determine whether a crime, potentially harassment, had been committed.
“On May 17, 2017, the Washougal Police Department received a citizen’s complaint of potential harassment,” Washougal Police Detective Kate Tierney said last week, adding then that local law enforcement detectives were, at that point in time, “in the early stages of this investigation to determine if any crimes were committed.”
Tierney said Monday that the local police department expects to hear back from the unnamed outside agency by the end of this week.
Not the first time mayor has been in trouble with the law
The allegations and investigation follow a contentious series of online posts made by Kincaid earlier this month, in which the Washougal resident charged the Washougal mayor with harassing at least one local woman via phone messenger, sending her sexually explicit messages for more than a year.
“I watched this escalate for a really long time,” Kincaid told the Post-Record last week. “I am a successful businessman here for 28 years. And I had this information about our mayor. So I went on Facebook three nights ago and I showed everyone the screenshots I’d taken from this girl’s phone.”
Since then, Kincaid said, he has heard from several other women who have similar complaints. None of the women have yet come forward to speak on the record about their allegations.
In Washington, harassment is a gross misdemeanor in most cases and a class C felony under certain circumstances.
This is not the first time that Guard has come under police investigation. In 2010, after being charged with second-degree criminal impersonation of a police officer, Guard entered a “Newton plea,” which meant, he told the Post-Record at that time, that he was pleading guilty without agreeing to the facts entered, “but acknowledging that there is a simple possibility that a jury could possibly” have found him guilty. The impersonation charge came after Washington State Patrol officers, following up on reports of a person — allegedly Guard — using emergency lights to get slower traffic to move out of his way in the left lane, pulled the mayor over on Interstate 5 near Kelso, Washington. A judge later ordered Guard to pay a $500 fine and do 25 hours’ worth of community service as restitution.
Washougal council members weigh in
Guard told the Post-Record on Monday evening that “things out there have been changed and moved around” in reference to the alleged messaging, but said that, overall, he had no comment about the potential investigation.
Asked if he would sue for defamation if the messages were from a fake account or had been altered to look like they came from his personal account, Guard said he wouldn’t be able to under state law.
“Public officials are fair game,” Guard said. “Under Washington state law, I can’t sue for slander, libel or defamation.”
While state law actually does allow public officials to sue for libel, it sets a higher bar for public figures, requiring that they prove “actual malice” — in other words, Guard would have to prove that the people posting online allegations about his alleged harassment “had knowingly printed, spoke or otherwise communicated a false statement of fact.”
After hearing about the potential police investigation, several Washougal City Council members weighed in on Guard’s situation, with the majority standing by their mayor until they had all of the facts.
Washougal City Council member Brent Boger said he believes the allegations are a political move on the part of Kincaid.
“(Kincaid) has a great deal of malice toward the mayor,” Boger said. “There are some divisions in the Clark County Republican party … (and) Kincaid is part of the far right.”
Boger added that Kincaid and Guard have known each other since high school days and that, while Boger has only known of Kincaid through political channels, he would take what the Washougal businessman says with a grain of salt.
“I would be skeptical of Kincaid,” Boger said, adding that he thought it “pretty unlikely” that the police would bring charges against the mayor.
Asked about his reasons for divulging in a series of public Facebook posts what appeared to be sexually explicit phone messages from Guard — or someone pretending to be Guard — Kincaid admitted that politics played a role, but added that he was trying to protect the unnamed woman involved in the messages.
“I’m a conservative Republican patriot,” Kincaid said. “I’m actually more of a Libertarian … and the mayor doesn’t do anything for us … there are 200 Republican conservatives out here who wanted to get that incumbent RINO (Republican in Name Only) Guard out of there. I had no idea I was going to do it all by myself.”
In a statement released Monday evening, Guard said he has “endured vicious attacks” against himself and his campaign over the past week, and added that he believed the attacks were “completely politically motivated by precinct committee members of the far-right wing of the Clark County Republican Party.”
Guard said people had started to go after his family and supporters, so he decided to put the needs of his loved ones over his political aspirations.
“If these attacks were only directed at me, I would fight these accusations to the end. When they start attacking my family and supporters, however, that is unconscionable. I value my family and friends above all else, and to put politics above that is just not me,” Guard said. “I have been humbled by the immense outpouring of support that we have received in the last week and I am heartened that so many people do not condone Trump-style politics.”
Guard also said he has no plans to resign and intends to carry out the rest of his term, which ends at the end of December.
“I plan to finish out my term and call it good,” Guard told the Post-Record on Monday evening.
Washougal City Council member Joyce Lindsay said she also believed the allegations were politically motivated.
“I find it interesting that this has become an issue during the week of filing,” Lindsay said. “I think it’s political. It’s my opinion that we have to wait on a report from police before we address this (as a council). … If there are no charges, there’s nothing for us to do.”
Two will compete to be Washougal’s next mayor
Three other Washougal residents had thrown their hats in the mayoral race late last week, including Washougal City Council member Dan Coursey and former Councilor Molly Coston.
Another contender, Trianna Reed, a 2002 Camas High graduate and office manager, withdrew her mayoral bid.
Coursey, who won the City Council Position 7 race against Coston in the November 2015 General Election, said people have been asking him to run for mayor for about two months and added that his decision to run had nothing to do with the potential harassment charges against the mayor.
“I wanted to see if other people were going to step up and do it,” Coursey said.
Coston, a former senior project manager in the telecommunications industry, was on the council from June 2005 through December 2011.
“Mayor Guard has done a good job in office, and it is apparent to me that the allegations made against him are politically motivated,” Coston said on Sunday. “I have not read the Facebook posts, but the fact that the complaint was filed during the candidate filing week is very suspect.”
Coston, 69, said she waited to file as a candidate Friday afternoon, because she wanted to see who else had filed for the mayor’s position.
“I believe that Washougal deserves good solid leadership that is not guided primarily by political agendas, but by experience and professionalism,” she said. “The city has progressed greatly in the past 10 years since I sat on City Council, and I will continue that progress.
“I understand how the city works,” Coston added. “I have connections throughout Clark County, developed through the years.”
Coursey, 63, said, as a council member, he has a voice in city government.
“I have great confidence in everything with the city, including (City Administrator) David Scott,” he said. “Nothing to do with my filing has anything to do with the job they are doing.”
Instead, Coursey said, he believes it’s simply time for a change.
“I don’t think it’s good to have one person to have an office for three or four terms,” he said. “It’s good to have new eyes on things, so you can look at new options and give new input on city government.”
There are no term limits for the mayoral or council positions in Washougal. The primary election will be held Aug. 1, and the general election is set for Nov. 7. For more information, visit www.clark.wa.gov/elections.
Reporter Dawn Feldhaus contributed to this story.