State lawmaker accuses challenger of being unfit for office, cites protection orders

A campaign flyer sent out by David Sawyer’s campaign on Monday accusing state House hopeful Branden Durst of having domestic violence orders against him. -
A campaign flyer sent out by David Sawyer’s campaign on Monday accusing state House hopeful Branden Durst of having domestic violence orders against him. - Courtesy

Tacoma legislative hopeful Branden Durst is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. David Sawyer in what has become a contentious and personal race for a 29th Legislative District House seat.

Durst, who also is a Democrat, served in Idaho’s Legislature from 2006 to 2013 before he moved to Washington and resigned from his position in Boise.

This week, Sawyer’s campaign released a website and a mailer saying Durst is unfit for office. The mailer says Durst’s family is afraid of him, citing temporary domestic violence and harassment orders granted by King County court commissioners at the request of Durst’s ex-wife.

The 29th District includes parts of Tacoma, Lakewood, Parkland, Spanaway and Frederickson. Durst, Sawyer and a third candidate appear on the primary election ballot. The top-two vote-getters will advance to the November election.

The Claim:

Sawyer’s flier sent to voters in the 29th District says Durst “frightens his own family,” and sent “scary” text messages in March 2015 to his family including one reading: “You may want to go lock your front door.”

It also says Durst’s ex-wife was granted a domestic violence protection order and a harassment protection order against him and claims Durst “doesn’t want you to know.” It adds Durst has owed as much as $10,000 in back child support for his two children with his ex-wife.

The Facts:

Durst and his ex-wife were married in Washington in 2006 and divorced in 2014. King County Superior Court records show court commissioners issued temporary protection orders for domestic violence and harassment against Durst for parts of the last three years after requests by his ex-wife. The orders were rolled into the divorce case and into ongoing child custody proceedings.

The temporary domestic violence order was granted for more than a year beginning in November 2013. Durst’s ex-wife accused him of punching doors and walls near her, wrestling her for car keys, tackling her young son and verbally threatening her and her mother in separate incidents. Durst denies the events happened.

Judge Suzanne Parisien in 2014 said Durst violated the protection order with inappropriately frequent communications, according to a transcript of court proceedings. But ultimately she decided not to renew the temporary domestic violence order, saying “I don’t think that the evidence supports domestic violence protection order. And I ... take them very seriously,” according to the transcript.

“Durst has engaged in what I would call to be foolish and frankly immature choices with regard to some of his communication and contact with Ms. Durst, and I do find that he did violate the DVPO before,” Parisien said.

Parisien also references a domestic violence evaluation that Durst voluntary completed that says he was not a domestic violence risk, along with testimony from the ex-wife where she said Durst “never physically hurt me,” according to Parisien.

In March 2015, after the first order expired, Durst’s ex-wife filed a temporary harassment restraining order that was granted by King County Court Commissioner Henry H. Hudson and lasted until December 2015.

The text messages quoted in Sawyer’s flier were part of her evidence in the filing and revolved around a dispute in the pair’s long-simmering custody arguments. Durst had their children one weekend and unsuccessfully tried to arrange picking up their son’s prescription medicine.

Durst said his ex-wife was not responding to him, so he sent his son into her home to pick up the medicine. He said the door was unlocked.

In the petition and later, his ex-wife said Durst entered the house without permission, stealing the medicine. Durst later texted about the unlocked door as well as the cleanliness of the house, something the ex-wife said he couldn’t have known without entering the house.

Durst’s texts also made a snide comment about the ex-wife and her boyfriend.

Durst said he didn’t intend the messages to be threatening, and testified in court records that he was “extremely frustrated” because of his failed attempts to get his son’s medicine and worried the door was unlocked. He added it was a flippant comment.

Durst’s ex-wife did not return messages and phone calls from The News Tribune requesting comment. But she wrote in the protection order petition the text messages were interpreted as a threat:

“I was very afraid of Branden and what he had done since he was so mad and angry,” she wrote. She later added: “I am very frightened of Branden. He is so erratic and unpredictable I don’t know what he will do next.”

Durst also is alleged to have followed his ex-wife at times and abused the pair’s court-set rules for communication, according to court records. Records show long and frequent messages from Durst at times on an online messaging system between the two.

In an interview, Durst said he did owe around $10,000 in child support at one time and still owes more than $2,500. He said he has had a difficult time finding work in part because of the protection order.

Durst has remarried. A check of court records did not show any criminal domestic violence charges against him.

Durst stressed he doesn’t think “all accusations of domestic violence are fake or are unsubstantiated, because they happen in our community.”

Conclusion: Mostly true. Many points in Sawyer’s flier and website hew closely to basic facts from Durst and his ex-wife’s court history, although they don’t reflect Durst’s response to the accusations. It also refers to the protection orders without mentioning they were temporary and have expired.

Durst’s ex-wife has testified in the past she has been afraid of him, but the court file also has statements from other family members who said they are not afraid. Durst is allowed unsupervised visits with his children, and another ex-girlfriend with whom he shares a child has told the court there is no ill-will or anger in their relationship.

Sawyer has already changed the campaign website to say Durst “frightened” his family, rather than “frightens,” as it appears in the flier.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826