Oak Harbor police officer charged with theft for allegedly lying on timecards
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
October 29, 2008 · 6:27 PM
A long-serving Oak Harbor police officer is facing a felony charge that could spell the end to his career.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he filed one count of theft in the first degree against Officer Patrick Horn today. Banks said Horn is accused of submitting time sheets for hours he did not work over a three-and-a-half year period, thus stealing more than $8,000 in wages.
If convicted, Horn could lose his law enforcement commission and the right to possess firearms. He would also face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $20,000.
Horn has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 12.
Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace said he and officers in the department feel torn about the case. They feel sorry for Horn, as well as for his wife and three children.
"He's very well liked in the department," Wallace said. "He always demonstrates compassion to offenders and victims."
On the other hand, police officers are held to a high standard of accountability.
"In my opinion, he did this knowingly and willingly exploited a shortcoming in the system," Wallace said, adding that the shortcoming has been corrected.
Wallace said the recent investigation into Horn began after three of Horn's fellow officers felt that Horn was being paid for hours he didn't work. Lt. Tim Sterkel conducted an audit to compare Horn's payroll time sheets against radio logs kept by the 911 dispatch center.
Sterkel found that Horn took many hours off and didn't report it while working in 2005 through 2008, court documents state. It's a somewhat complicated case because of a "weird system" for documenting hours in the police department, Banks said. If an officer works more or fewer hours than scheduled, he or she must submit correction chits showing the modification of hours.
Once it became clear that a crime may have been committed, Wallace said, he passed the case on to Lt. Evan Tingstad with the Island County Sheriff's Office. It's standard practice to have an outside agency investigate allegations within a department.
Tingstad found that Horn was paid for a total of 263 hours he didn't actually work, his report states.
Horn denied any wrongdoing during an interview with the investigator.
"He adamantly maintained he didn't do that and that's not the kind of person he is," Wallace said.
The News-Times was unable to reach Horn or his attorney for comment.
Tingstad's report states that he also audited the time sheets and radio logs for 16 other officers and found discrepancies, but not at the magnitude of the Horn case. One officer had eight hours over a 19-month period that he could not account for, the report states.
Wallace said an investigator will follow up with these officers.
According to Wallace, Horn started with the department about 12 years ago after working with the Air Force security police.
The Oak Harbor resident has had an eventful career. He's been involved in a couple of car chases, including one that left his car damaged.
About seven years ago, Horn and a fellow officer shot and killed a 26-year-old Connie Pearsall, who was in the process of stabbing his wife in the head. An internal investigation found that the shooting was justified and that the officers probably saved the woman's life.
"He is a very intelligent officer," Wallace said. "He was able to show a lot of investigative skill over the years."
In one of the more humorous cases, Horn solved a burglary at a hardware store years ago. He saw a couple of brothers walking down the street in sporting-goods clothing with the tags still on. Horn arrested them.
On the other hand, this isn't the first time Horn has been accused of a crime. Near the beginning of his 12-year career with the department, Horn was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree assault for allegedly harming his 7-year-old son. But the charge was dismissed for lack of evidence. An internal investigation also found that there wasn't enough evidence to warrant a disciplinary hearing.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.