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Probation officer: Still a defendant, official reinstated

Thomas CrowellThomas Crowell has been reinstated as chief probation officer for Del Norte County, at least until his criminal case has been resolved.

The county Board of Supervisors  unanimously voted in closed session to reinstate Crowell to the full duties of the position he held before he was arrested on suspicion of two counts of embezzlement last November.

He was primarily reinstated because the allegations don’t involve something that occurred within the scope of the probation department, they don’t involve public funds and the initial felony charges filed were reduced to misdemeanors by the state Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the case, said County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina.

All five supervisors were interviewed by the Triplicate on Wednesday and shared sentiments similiar to Sarina’s. They also noted he has not been convicted of anything.

“I think it’s kind of like getting a speeding ticket. The only reason we took any action at all is originally we were told they were felony counts, and as it turned out that’s not the case,” said Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen.

Crowell, 46, now is charged with two counts of theft by embezzlement.

“The disposition is not an automatic dismissal of the office if it’s a misdemeanor,” said Sarina, adding Crowell will likely be back in his office on Monday.

After a brief period on unpaid administrative leave following his arrest, Crowell was brought back to work for the county on paid administrative leave in a limited capacity to handle the county’s transition for AB109 — a state-mandated reform to the California prison system that releases certain eligible inmates to county supervision following their prison term.

“The bottom line is that we have somebody charged with misdemeanors not related to county operations,” said Supervisor David Finigan. “There’s no reason to pigeonhole him.”

Crowell is alleged to have stolen $400 on two separate occassions from a bank account belonging to Law Enforcement Administrators of Del Norte County last September, court documents state.

The withdrawals from the bank account were discovered in October and brought to the attention of LEADN’s president, sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven, who subsequently questioned Crowell, documents state.

Crowell told Steven he was having financial problems, court documents state.

Authorities from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office were called in to handle the matter and discovered Crowell had “gambled about $82,000” at local casinos from January through October last year, documents state.

Sarina stated the board’s decision was based on the charges and not any investigative reports.

“The amount of information that has come out on this one has been extremely limited, so it’s been based on the charges,” said Sarina. “When I attempted to get a copy of the Ramey Warrant I wasn’t able to get one.”

LEADN is comprised of all the local law enforcement agencies, from parks to Pelican Bay State Prison. It helps provide training to officers and devises plans to improve service to the community.

Crowell was the vice-president of the association at the time cited in the allegations.

LEADN members are required to pay dues, which for most members are either paid by the local agencies they belong to or reimbursed, said sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey, treasurer for LEADN.

While the money, once paid to LEADN, is no longer considered public funds, the primary sources of those funds are taxpayers.

County Auditor-Controller Clinton Schaad stated the county hasn’t received any billing statements for LEADN in several years.

“We would pay for it, we just haven’t had a billing in quite awhile,” said Schaad.

Membership dues are directly from the budget of at least some of the agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, Athey said.

Police Chief Doug Plack also stated the dues paid to LEADN comes from his department’s budget.

“Legally, this isn’t our money and when they charged it as a misdemeanor I was surprised,” said Supervisor Martha McClure. “I was terribly conflicted because we have people on probation for crimes like that.”

While conflicted in her choice, she stated that people can redeem themselves after getting in trouble.

“People are inherently good I think,” said McClure. “We don’t always have to go for the jugular.”



Del Norte Triplicate:

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