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Firing of former deputy upheld

Mike Hawley -
Mike Hawley
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An arbitrator found that former Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley had just cause in firing Jay Wallace, a former deputy and sheriff candidate, for dereliction of duty and dishonesty in his response to 911 calls two years ago.

Gary Axon, an arbitrator from Oregon, did not mince words in his strongly-worded opinion released April 11, but found in favor of the former sheriff on all counts.

Axon wrote that Wallace’s version of events was “totally implausible” and “unworthy of belief in light of the documented evidence.”

Most seriously, Axon found that the overwhelming evidence showed Wallace lied in a police report. It’s an allegation that led the state Attorney General’s Office to charge Wallace with false swearing, a case that was dismissed after evidence was suppressed.

“I find the employer presented clear and convincing proof that grievant Wallace intended to deceive and was dishonest,” the arbitrator wrote, referring to the Sheriff’s Office as “employer” and Wallace as “grievant.”

The Island County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild filed a grievance on behalf of Wallace alleging he was terminated without just cause. The binding decision means that Wallace will not be reinstated with back pay, as he had requested, though he can appeal the arbitrator’s decision to Superior Court. His complaint for damages against Hawley, the Sheriff’s Office and Island County remains unresolved. Wallace is asking for $1.475 million.

Hawley, who’s now a lieutenant with the department, said he couldn’t comment in detail about the decision because of the impending litigation. But he said Axon followed the clear evidence.

“I was pleased to learn of the arbiter’s ruling upholding my decision to terminate Deputy Jay Wallace,” Hawley said. “The process was thorough and fair validating every element in support of Mr. Wallace’s immediate dismissal.”

The events that led to the firing and subsequent arbitration are outlined in the opinion. On the night of Feb. 7, 2006, Wallace responded to a 911 call at a home on Shoreview Drive in Freeland. He knocked on the door and looked through the window. He told an I-COM dispatcher that he saw a man pulling on a pair of pants, but he did not make contact with the man.

Two hours later, early in the morning of Feb. 8, a dispatcher informed Wallace that another 911 call was received from the same home. Wallace did not respond to the home, but told the dispatcher that everything was fine.

Later that morning, 26-year-old Victoria Walker called 911 – for what turned out to be the third time – and reported she had been held against her will, beaten and raped by 26-year-old Matthew Friar at the home.

“While grievant was taking his lunch break at home, some 15 miles away at the residence, a woman was allegedly being beaten and raped,” Axon wrote.

Friar was arrested and charged in connection with the incident, but the charges were later dropped —

On Feb. 14, Wallace submitted his report on the incident, which he backdated to Feb. 8. In the report he wrote that he saw a woman, not a man, through the window. The lawyer for the Sheriff’s Office argued that Wallace tried to re-write history in his report to cover up his inadequate response to the 911 calls, the opinion states.

Axon pointed out that on the night of the incident, Wallace referred to the person as a male at least 10 different times in three separate phone calls to dispatchers, according to recordings of the conversations.

Also, Wallace wrote that he asked the dispatcher what supervisor was on duty that night, but no such conversation was recorded.

In his defense, Wallace argued that he simply misspoke when he called the person he saw a man. Wallace’s wife and Island County Deputy John Sawyer, who was on duty the night in question, testified that Wallace told them that night that he saw a female in the house.

Axon, however, discounted their testimony, pointing out that Wallace didn’t name them as witnesses during the lengthy internal affairs investigation. Also, they weren’t present at the home and couldn’t speak to what he did or didn’t do.

The attorney for the Sheriff’s Office presented evidence from the victim, the suspect and a neighbor who spoke to Wallace on the night in question. That evidence conflicts with Wallace’s version of events.

“The arbitrator rejects the guild’s contention that this is a case of simple mistake, carelessness or error,” Axon wrote. “The employer presented ample evidence to show that grievant Wallace intentionally provided false information in a police report.”

Axon did not refer to a report, written by Sgt. Jerry Baker with the Oak Harbor Police, which seems to contradict Sawyer’s testimony in the arbitration hearing. Baker investigated Wallace’s conduct as a criminal matter. Baker wrote that in an interview Feb. 17, 2006, Deputy Sawyer said he remembered Wallace referring to the person he saw inside the residence as a male. Former Cmdr. Mike Beech with the Island County Sheriff’s Office was present at the interview.

The arbitrator also rejected Wallace’s argument that the two 911 calls were “significantly less important” because they were “warm line calls,” which are usually mechanically-generated glitches that do no result from a person trying to call the police. Hawley mixed up 911 warm line calls and 911 hang-up calls in his report, the guild attorney argued.

Axon wrote that it is Sheriff’s Office policy to respond to all 911 calls.

The arbitrator also did not address the politics of Wallace’s termination. Wallace had announced his candidacy for Island County Sheriff before the incident. Hawley had decided not to seek another term. After he was fired, Wallace claimed that Hawley was trying to derail his bid for office by pursuing trumped-up charges.

Wallace continued his candidacy, switched to a Democrat after the Republicans rejected him at the convention, but lost in the election to Mark Brown.

Monday, Brown said he was just happy that a decision was finally made.

“I’m extremely glad it’s over so we can move forward from this point,” he said.

Wallace said he did not want to comment on the decision. The attorney for the guild did not return a call for comment.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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