Probation officer: Still a defendant, official reinstated

Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Thomas 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 statedthe board's decision was basedon 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 paidto LEADN, is no longer considered public funds, the primary sources of those funds aretaxpayers.

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."

Reach Anthony Skeens ataskeens@triplicate.com .

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