Charge against Oak Harbor police officer dismissed
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
March 17, 2009 · 4:21 PM
A felony theft charge was dismissed Monday against an Oak Harbor police officer accused of lying on his timecards.
But Officer Patrick Horn may not be out of trouble. The end of the criminal matter opens the way for the police department to conduct an internal investigation that may or may not result in discipline.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks charged 43-year-old Horn with one count of theft in the first degree last October. Horn was accused of submitting time sheets for hours he did not work over a three-and-a-half-year period, allegedly stealing more than $8,000 in wages.
Horn’s trial was set to begin March 17, but some new information from Horn’s attorney, Christon Skinner of Oak Harbor, changed everything.
“They finally gave us what I’ve been asking for since last fall, which is an explanation,” Banks said.
Skinner said he worked with a retired IRS fraud investigator who audited the time sheets and was able to show that Horn had worked many of the hours he was accused of lying about. The case was partially based on discrepancies between 911 radio logs and time sheets, but it turns out that officers didn’t always check in with the dispatch center when they started work.
“The 911 system was never intended to be a time clock,” Skinner said.
Also, Banks said there were occasions when Horn wrote in hours he hadn’t worked to compensate for time he worked off the clock. It was against policy, but Banks said the defense had evidence that it happened.
“We got to a point where he were talking about a smaller number of hours than we originally thought,” Banks said.
Skinner said the police should have handled the issue internally and it would have been resolved months ago.
“This is a really good example of an experienced prosecutor looking at the evidence and saving the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Everyone involved agrees that the police department used a complicated and outdated method of keeping track of officers’ hours, which contributed to the misunderstandings in the case. The system was changed after the Horn case was investigated.
Under an agreement with Horn, Banks dismissed the charge against him with prejudice, which means it can’t be refiled. According to the motion to dismiss, there were still 150 hours of undocumented work that Horn was compensated for. Horn agreed to pay the city of Oak Harbor $3,387 as a settlement for a potential civil claim for unclaimed time off. Court documents, however, make it clear that Horn denies he was overpaid or that the payment is any admission of guilt.
“It’s something we offered as a way to make things right,” Skinner said, adding that some of Horn’s time “chits” over the years went missing.
Police Chief Rick Wallace said the administrative investigation into Horn was on hold during the criminal case, but now it can proceed. He explained that Horn will be required to answer questions and cooperate. Ultimately, Wallace will decide what, it any, discipline to impose.
Skinner said Horn wants to go back to work at the Oak Harbor Police Department, where he’s been an officer for 11 years. He’s been administrative leave for the last six months.
“From everything I’ve heard, he’s a good cop,” Skinner said.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.