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Fired deputy fires back at sheriff, dispatchers

A fired Island County deputy is taking the gloves off and telling his version of the events that led to his dismissal this week.

Jay Wallace was fired Monday following a two-month-long internal investigation which found that he had shirked his duty when he failed to adequately respond to two 911 calls from a woman being assaulted in Freeland.

Wallace, a Republican candidate for sheriff, says that Sheriff Mike Hawley’s decision to fire him was politically motivated. And Wallace says that will not stop him either from running for sheriff or fighting to reclaim his job.

During the internal investigation, Wallace says he was prevented from speaking publicly about his case.

“The gag order on me is off,” Wallace said.

Wallace criticized his old boss for stopping him from talking about the case.

“That didn’t stop Hawley from talking to the press, and everyone else, about what occurred when I responded to the 911 call from Shoreview Drive in Freeland,” Wallace said.

He said his troubles began after he announced his candidacy for sheriff. Hawley is not seeking reelection, but three other candidates have already tossed their hats into the ring for the sheriff’s job.

“I did not have any problems in this department until I announced I was running for sheriff,” Wallace said. “It became ‘Get Jay’.”

While none of the other candidates have publicly asked Wallace to get out of the race, Wallace said he will stay in it until the end.

“I will continue to run for sheriff even if I have to run as an independent,” he said during an interview Thursday.

Wallace says if he is elected sheriff he will correct problems with low morale amongst deputies.

Wallace said Hawley doesn’t support him as a replacement, but he won’t say who he believes Hawley supports.

“I don’t want to play dirty politics,” Wallace said. “I still have support from some people in the police department. But they are afraid of retaliation from management.”

To get his name on the primary ballot, Wallace has to get 25 percent of the delegates at next week’s Island County Republican Convention.

“I have not received any pressure from the Republican Party although I have lost some support from some people. I can appreciate that they do not want to get involved in the altercation,” he said.

The fight to reclaim his deputy job may last longer than the coming election.

Wallace can appeal his discharge through the Island County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild or the Island County Civil Service Commission.

Guild attorney Patrick A. Emmal notified the sheriff’s office by letter of a pending grievance.

“I drafted the notice of grievance letter and sent it to the Island County Sheriff’s Office,” Emmal said.

“We allege that Wallace’s contract was violated. It doesn’t appear that the discharge was for just cause as is required by the contract,” Emmal said.

Employment with the Island County Sheriff’s Office is regulated and monitored by the Island County Civil Service Commission, an independent board of three citizen volunteers appointed to four-year terms by the Board of Island County Commissioners.

Wallace said he plans on appealing his case through the Civil Service Commission.

Even so, the investigation into Wallace’s response to two 911 calls in early February is not completely resolved. The state Attorney General’s Office is still reviewing a criminal investigation into the case that was conducted by the Oak Harbor Police Department.

In a review of documents of the 911 incident, Wallace’s version of the events of Feb. 7 and 8 appears to contradict reports compiled by the sheriff’s detectives.

Wallace’s dismissal stems from an incident where Matthew M. Friar, 27, of Bellingham allegedly assaulted a woman and held her against her will in a small home near Freeland Park.

The victim made two 911 calls, but later escaped mid-morning on Feb. 8.

She then borrowed a cell phone from a citizen at Freeland Park to call police again.

In court records, the victim stated that she did not see a deputy because Friar had put her in a closet. The woman also said she only heard the deputy and saw his headlights.

Wallace, however, claims he saw the woman and she did not appear to need police assistance.

Friar was initially charged by the Island County prosecutor on three separate counts; unlawful imprisonment, harassment with threats to kill his victim and assault in the fourth degree-domestic violence.

The case in Island County was eventually dismissed because the victim disappeared and there were inconsistencies in the various police reports of the incident. Friar was transferred to Whatcom County, where he was jailed on outstanding warrants.

On the night of Feb. 7, and several hours later on Feb. 8, two 911 hang-up calls were received by the Island County dispatch center.

According to court documents and 911 reports, Wallace responded to the first 911 call the victim made from the home, but he left without contacting the woman.

He didn’t respond to the second 911 call after being notified by the dispatch center, according to court documents.

Wallace, who has been a deputy for 12 years, disputes that scenario and blames inadequately trained 911 personnel for his failure to respond adequately to the calls.

In a press release issued by Wallace earlier this week, he said the dispatcher lacked adequate training to provide all the necessary information at the time of the first call at 11:23 p.m. Feb. 7.

Wallace claims he was not properly informed that the call was likely valid and not a mistake.

The dispatcher informed Wallace that the call was from an open, or “warm line,” meaning that no statement or comment was heard.

“I wasn’t told there was a voice recorded on the line,” Wallace said in his satement.

“The sheriff has not addressed the flaws in the dispatch system,” Wallace added.

Wallace said he responded to the call and looked through a window to see “a naked woman hopping on one leg as she put on a pair of jeans.”

“I saw the woman, she was standing to the left of the front door. I made eye contact with her. She did not say anything to me and she had the opportunity. She ran back to the bedroom and I thought she was going to put on a top but she never came out.”

“The front living room area was undisturbed. I didn’t see any broken dishes or furniture tipped over. There was no signs of an emergency.”

“Mike Hawley thinks I should have kicked in the door,” Wallace said. “But there were no exigent circumstances.”

“The public does not want its police to be breaking down door and chasing naked girls into the bedroom,” he said.

Wallace said he observed a wine bottle on a table and a fire blazing in the fireplace. He said he spoke to a neighbor that night and was told that two daughters had inherited the property from the previous owner.

“I told her I saw a thin female with shoulder length hair staying at the residence. The neighbor told me that a male with short dark hair was the only person she had observed,” Wallace said.

The neighbor said the man had taken cigarette butts from her outside ashtray and had ridden his bike across her property.

Wallace said he went back to the cabin and walked around it several times, “knocking and looking.”

“There was evidence, some clothes on the ground, that someone may have fled out the back door. I turned down my radio and just listened. I think the the male fled the residence out the back door.”

“The female had retreated to the bedroom and was not responding to me,” he added.

After talking to the neighbor, Wallace said he accidently told dispatch that he saw a man at the Shoreview resident.

“I made a Freudian slip and said ‘man,’ because that’s who the neighbor was talking about,” he said, adding that he had seen a woman instead.

When a second 911 call was received several later from the same number, Wallace was again advised of the call.

“There was no evidence of an emergency when I there the first time, so I made the decision to make myself available to ‘back up’ another officer who was responding to a call on Scurlock (Road) in Freeland.

“There were only two of us in the south district that night. We were repeatedly handing verbal domestic calls including another 911 open line call.”

Wallace says he had stopped at home in Greenbank for lunch when dispatch contacted him about the second all from the Shoreview home. He made the decision not to respond based on what he observed several hour earlier.

“There didn’t seem to be an emergency. I thought she was partying,” Wallace said.

Wallace said because it was a busy night he decided not to take his lunch break.

“I asked my wife to make me lunch to take with me. It was a busy night with the verbal domestic that other officer was involved with and a commercial burglary at the Clinton Library,” he said. “I took a sandwich, banana and Diet Coke with me in the car. I was home less that 10 minutes before I headed south to back up the other deputy.”

“No one interviewed my wife about that night,” Wallace added.

There may be a dispute in the date Wallace’s written report. Wallace wrote a report detailing the incident, but he signed and dated it Feb. 8.

“I did write the report several days later. I used the date of the incident, not the date I actually wrote it.”

Wallace says that it is common practice in law enforcement to write reports several days after the incident.

Wallace had been the subject of two separate probes; an in-house administrative investigation by the sheriff’s office and a parallel criminal investigation by the Oak Harbor Police Department.

The criminal investigation was forwarded to the county prosecutor on March 2, who then sent it to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Wallace says he was hurt when the investigation first started, but as it progressed, “I got mad.”

“I have nothing to hide and I don’t lie,” he said. “The actions against me are completely frivolous.”

“They are taking the word of two felons over a decorated police officer. I have been in law enforcement for 32 years and received 116 commendations and three medals of honor from his career with the San Francisco Police Department,” he said.

Community Events, April 2014

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