Police payroll reflects theft

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Lewisburg police sergeant was overpaid approximately $900 because of a discrepancy between hours worked and hours reported, the city attorney has reported to the City Council.

Furthermore, Police Chief Chuck Forbis has told City Manager Eddie Fuller the sergeant's "actions amount to an act of theft," a Class E Felony, causing "substantial doubts concerning his honesty."

Dismissal would appear to be the appropriate discipline, according to an official's interpretation of police policy.

Reporting and getting paid for more hours than actually worked could be seen by the city as something to prosecute as felony theft, City Attorney Bill Haywood wrote to the Council. However, the Council might also decide to drop the matter and take no action, Haywood said.

The City Council met Tuesday night after this edition went to press. Updates will be posted on the web at marshalltribune.com.

Sgt. Douglas Alexander, the school resource officer at Lewisburg Middle School, declined to speak about his situation after the Council's meeting in November when Haywood felt obliged to start an investigation.

City Manager Eddie Fuller told Haywood "that Sgt. Alexander did offer to pay back the funds, but that he [Fuller] decided not to [require that] as it was not a significant amount and he felt Sgt. Alexander did file these extra hours innocently," the city attorney's report states.

"The total amount of the unwarranted pay is between $800 to $1,000," Haywood reported to the City Council in a memo dated Thursday.

A simplified version of what happened is that this is like an employee who reports working through lunch and adds time at the end of the workday for more hourly pay and, in some instances, overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly wage.

While Alexander's time sheet entries are sometimes characterized as a mistake, the city attorney reports Police Chief Chuck Forbis explained the department has no policy on compensatory time and officers are not guaranteed a meal break.

"They are not paid comp time if they miss their meal breaks," Haywood wrote.

The city attorney is "empowered by the ... City Charter, and obligated separately from this Council by the state ... to initiate investigations where reasonable suspicion exists involving public officials..." Haywood told the Council.

His written report concludes that he has refrained from giving an opinion to the Council and offered the information so the Council may take disciplinary action or renounce any wrong doing, as it deems appropriate.

He listed five possible actions by the Council.

* Drop the matter and take no further action.

* Dismiss Alexander and request reimbursement of $900 for overpayment by mistake.

* Retain the school resource officer and request reimbursement of $900 for overpayment by mistake.

* Pursue criminal prosecution for felony theft.

* Pursue any other action suggested by the Council.

"All possibilities are within the Council's powers of decision making and will be defended or pursued by the city attorney," Haywood said.

The city attorney "interrogated more than 10 potential witnesses, including all City Council members, the mayor, chief of police, city manager and Sgt. Alexander to determine the facts surrounding this situation," he said.

Some 35 pages of time sheets and other documents related to Alexander's hours were reviewed by Haywood for his investigations. Many of the pages were faxed from Lewisburg Middle School.

Haywood also reviewed two memos from the police chief dated April 30: One to Alexander, the other to Fuller.

* Forbis wrote to Alexander about "submission of false time sheets" and describes his observations about Alexander's arrival at the police station where he gets a patrol car and drives to LMS, and Alexander's return to the station and departure when he goes off duty.

A few months before the April 30 memo, Forbis spoke with Alexander about work hours and advised him he is subject to the same meal break policy as other officers. During the intervening months, Forbis compared dispatch logs to time sheets and found discrepancies. On April 28, Forbis met with Alexander and Lt. Rebekah Mitchell was present.

Forbis reminded Alexander of their previous conversation about hours worked and pay rates. Alexander had no explanation at that time.

* Forbis wrote to Fuller about Alexander's "time sheet discrepancies" and a review of pay period records from Jan. 8 though the end of a pay period just before the April 30 memo.

"I have found that Sgt. Alexander has submitted several time sheets in which he falsely submitted, and was paid, for overtime he did not work," Forbis reported to Fuller. "This activity has resulted in Sgt. Alexander being overpaid during this calendar year, more than $800."

Forbis enumerated five violations of general orders contained in police department policies. Recurrence of such acts changes the level of violation and each false time sheet is a separate act of theft and a perpetrator employed by the police department is subject to dismissal.

Alexander has been the school resource officer at LMS for many years, having returned to that position after he served for a couple of years as police chief. He returned to the SRO job in the fall of 2007.