Oak Harbor police officer in dispute returns after long, paid leave
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
December 29, 2009 · 1:26 PM
An Oak Harbor police officer who has been on paid administrative leave for well over a year while he was being investigated for timecard fraud will come back to work next year, but he won’t be on patrol.
Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace announced Thursday that a compromise has been reached between the department and Officer Patrick Horn. Under the agreement, Horn gets to keep his job, but he admits that he knowingly falsified his timecard.
“He took time off without authorization and without recording it on his time sheet,” Wallace said. “He also worked overtime without authorization.”
Wallace said Horn, a 12-year veteran of the force, will be suspended without pay for 30 days. When he returns, he’ll be administratively reassigned away from patrol for two years.
“It’s a path to reconcile him back into the patrol division,” Wallace said.
Horn could not be reached for comment. His attorney didn’t return a call for comment.
Horn’s trouble may not be over. He may end up having to defend his peace officer certification with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Falsifying timecards could be considered “disqualifying conduct” under state law.
Wallace said the entire episode has generated a great deal of contention in the department. Just about everyone in the department was interviewed. Some people felt Horn was being unjustly treated, but most were critical of the officer.
“I don’t think this is a very popular decision in the department,” Wallace said of the compromise agreement with Horn. “People feel like he has burned a lot of bridges over the last year.”
Over the last 16 months, Horn has been paid while not working. Wallace placed Horn on administrative leave on Aug. 12, 2008.
“The process was certainly way too long, in my opinion,” Wallace admitted.
Part of the reason that it took so long to resolve the case was that it turned into a criminal matter. The investigation began after three fellow officers complained that Horn was being paid for hours he didn’t work. At the time, the police department had a complicated process for keeping track of hours which, Wallace said, was “trust based.”
The system has been changed since the problem came to light.
The investigation began with a detective in the police office, but it was passed to an investigator from the Island County Sheriff’s Office after it appeared to be a criminal matter. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks charged Horn in October of 2008 with one count of first-degree theft. Horn was originally 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.
But Banks dismissed the case right before the trial in March after Horn’s attorney was able to show that the officer had, in fact, worked some of the hours he was accused of lying about. Also, Horn wrote in some hours he hadn’t worked to compensate for time off the clock, Banks said. It’s against policy, but not criminal.
There were still some hours that weren’t accounted for, Banks said at the time, but the number was a lot smaller than originally thought. As part of the agreement to dismiss the case, Horn agreed to pay the city of Oak Harbor $3,387 as a settlement.
City officials, however, sent the uncashed check back to Horn as the police department pursued an internal investigation that took another nine months.
Under the agreement with Horn, all of the information about timecards and work hours will be sent to the state Auditor’s Office and they will decide how much money Horn owes the city, though he could always appeal the decision.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.