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Former deputy loses bid to get job back. Arbitrator rules against Jay Wallace in 911 case

An independent arbitrator said the county was right to fire former Island County Sheriff Deputy Jay Wallace for not properly responding to 911 calls and then lying in a police report about the case more than two years ago.

Wallace, a candidate for county sheriff in 2006, was fired by then-sheriff Mike Hawley in April 2006 on a much-publicized 911 case where a Bellingham woman was allegedly held against her will and assaulted overnight in a Freeland vacation home but escaped the following day.

Wallace has long claimed his dismissal was politically motivated.

Wallace, with the assistance of the deputies union, has been fighting to get his job back as well as back pay.

But last week, Gary Axon, an Oregon-based arbitrator, said the county had just cause to terminate Wallace’s employment in 2006.

A decision in the dispute has been expected since early February. Axon reviewed the evidence and interviewed witnesses in October 2007, and concluded on April 8 that Hawley was justified for firing Wallace for false reporting and failing to follow the sheriff’s office protocol for 911 hang-up calls.

Wallace maintained there was no credible evidence that proved he violated requirements of his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer.

The arbitrator saw it differently.

“There is no doubt the penalty is severe,” Axon wrote in his opinion. “Given the nature of the grievant’s position as a law enforcement officer and the mission of the Island County Sheriff’s Office, your arbitrator finds the grievant was discharged for just cause,” he added.

Wallace said he was astonished at the decision.

“I have never seen such a miscarriage of justice,” Wallace said.

“I am very disappointed in the arbitrator’s decision because it was not based on facts,” he added.

Wallace said the arbitration hearing on Oct. 16, 2007 also included a mediation portion and he was led to believe that the issue had been settled.

Wallace also said the county only presented tapes and Hawley’s statement, while he produced his wife and a fellow officer as witnesses.

Axon, however, wrote in his report that there were two problems with the witnesses’ testimony.

Wallace had not identified them during the internal affairs investigation that led to his dismissal and neither one was present at the Freeland home when Wallace responded to the 911 calls, Axon wrote.

Wallace maintains his innocence.

“The only thing I can salvage out of this is my name,” he said. “They ruined my career.”

The decision deals a serious blow to Wallace’s $1.5 million claim against the county. Wallace filed the claim for damages in February, and a decision from the arbitrator on his side would have aided his case.

The claim alleges that Hawley violated Wallace’s civil and employment rights. In addition to being falsely arrested, the claim also alleges that Hawley embarked upon a defamation campaign.

In the claim, Wallace is seeking $1,475,000 to cover past and future wages and benefits, attorneys’ fees, past and future medical expenses, plus general and punitive damages.

The arbitrator’s decision was handed down just days before the county hit a 60-day deadline to respond to Wallace’s claim.

Island County Risk Manager Betty Kemp said the county has handed the claim over to its insurer, the Washington Counties Risk Pool.

She added the county has not responded to Wallace’s claim in any way and had not received notice of a lawsuit. A damage claim is a necessary first step before a lawsuit can be filed against a government entity.

“The claim went to the risk pool on March 10 and lies with them at this point,” Kemp said.

Risk pool officials refused to provide any information about the status of the case to The Record.

The controversy began on Feb. 7, 2006.

Wallace was called to respond to a 911 hang-up call in Freeland, but he never made contact with the people inside the home.

Two hours later another 911 call came from the same address. Wallace did not respond to the home again, according to police records, but called in to dispatchers to say there were no problems at the home.

On the morning of Feb. 8, a woman called police from Freeland Park saying that she had escaped from the home after being beaten and raped. Police quickly concluded she had called 911 twice the night before.

Hawley ordered an internal investigation that concluded that Wallace had not only violated department policy by not contacting the people at the address after the first 911 call, and the sheriff also said Wallace later allegedly lied on a police report that detailed his response to the 911 calls.

Wallace, who was running for sheriff at the time, said his termination was a political attack and that he had made a mistake by telling dispatchers he saw a man, and not a woman, inside the home after the first 911 call.

Hawley did not seek reelection in 2006, but Wallace lost the sheriff’s race by a huge margin and Mark Brown was elected in November 2006.

A lengthy legal battle followed.

Charges against the former deputy were filed by the state Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 28, 2006 after a criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and Jerry Baker of the Oak Harbor Police Department.

In September 2006, Wallace pled not guilty in Island County Superior Court to charges of lying to police.

In February 2007, a Superior Court judge tossed out the state’s criminal case against Wallace.

Wallace doggedly maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal. He even took a lie-detector test and said the results of the test showed he told the truth about the 911 incident.

The Island County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild filed a grievance on his behalf asking the county to hire Wallace back. The county commissioners declined the grievance in July 2006 and the case went into arbitration.

The arbitrator said in his decision that the county had provided clear and convincing evidence there was just cause to fire Wallace because he had violated at least five polices.

“I also conclude the employer demonstrated Wallace intentionally entered false information in a police report,” Axon wrote.

“The arbitrator rejects the guild’s contention that this is a case of mistake, carelessness or error,” Axon wrote.

During his initial response to the 911 call, Wallace had told dispatchers that he had seen a man in the house and that the man looked like he was fine.

The arbitrator pointed out in his decision that during three different conversations with dispatchers, however, Wallace referred at least 10 times to seeing a man in the residence and never mentioned a woman.

In his police report that Wallace wrote a few days later, he referred to seeing a woman at the residence at least 19 times.

Wallace later said he meant to say “female” instead of “male” and “she” instead of “he” all along and simply misspoke, according to documents filed in the case.

“Wallace’s excuse that he made a mistake as to the gender of the person observed is totally implausible,” Axon wrote.

Axon also pointed out that Wallace, who has claimed he was subject to negligent supervision and training, should have known better after more than 20 years working as a police officer.

The arbitrator said Wallace was informed about the sheriff’s expectations when he was counseled concerning a similar situation after not appropriately responding to “calls for police services.” In 2005, Wallace was given a disciplinary notation in his file and a written counseling on how to appropriately and timely respond to calls requiring police service.

“His responsibility on Feb. 7 and 8, 2006 was to respond to the calls,” Axon wrote.

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

Axon concludes his 23-page report with a decision in favor of the county.

“The grievance is denied and dismissed in its entirety,” Axon wrote.

Wallace said this week that evidence that would have substantiated his account of the story never made it into the proceedings.

Deputy guild president Darren Crownover said the guild accepts the decision as final. He declined to comment further.

Sheriff Mark Brown was relieved to hear that his office had been cleared of any wrong-doing.

“I’m very saddened by this whole mess,” he said. “I hope we can move forward in a positive way.

“I hope a thing like this will never happen again,” Brown added.

Hawley, who still works as a lieutenant for the sheriff’s department, said he was happy about the outcome.

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

County Commissioner John Dean said it was a priority for him that the issue was thoroughly investigated. He said Wallace was treated fairly.

Dean said he tried to remain neutral in this case and had talked to Wallace while campaigning for the 2006 election, and had also discussed the problem with the sheriff’s office.

“I tried to keep an open mind,” he said.

Now that the arbitrator reviewed it, Dean said he is satisfied with the outcome.

“The county has won on all counts,” Dean said.

“I can trust this opinion,” he said. “I wanted to make sure justice is served.”

The case has been grabbing headlines for more than two years due to Wallace’s fight against the county and his campaign for sheriff.

Most recently, the case drew attention when details about the woman, who called 911, were released that painted the incident and the victim in a questionable light.

Victoria Walker, who had claimed to have been assaulted, was portrayed in court documents as a drug addict with a history of behavioral problems. She had run away from shelter in which the sheriff’s office had set her up after the alleged crime and then disappeared.

The county’s case against Matthew Friar, the man accused of holding Walker captive, fell apart.

According to court records, she also accused another man of a similar crime in another jurisdiction shortly after Walker disappeared from Island County.

Friar, a 26-year-old Bellingham resident, died last year of a drug overdose in Portland, Ore.

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