King County prosecutors on Tuesday charged a former Algona police officer with first-degree theft and abuse of office for allegedly stealing from a multi-city Police Explorer program for youth.
According to charging papers issued by King County Superior Court, former Lt. Lee Gaskill will be arraigned Aug. 17 at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Court papers order Gaskill not to communicate with any employees of the Algona Police Department, the City of Algona, any members, officers and directors of the South Valley Police Explorer program and all witnesses listed in the case.
“The defendant has already demonstrated a willingness to interfere with orderly completion of the investigation by shredding large amounts of documents and removing other documents from his office after learning of the administrative investigation (by the City of Algona),” the charging papers state.
Additionally, charging papers allege that Gaskill “wiped” his iPad, thereby destroying any retrievable data, and that “at least one witness was instructed by Mr. Gaskill not to cooperate with the investigation.”
The charges surprised Gaskill’s attorneys, Jim David and Alan Harvey of Northwest Legal Advocates, LLC. In their e-mail reply to a request for comment on Tuesday, the two said that they had just learned from the media about the formal charges against their client.
“We are surprised at this turn of events – first learning of charges from the media,” the e-mail stated. “Chief Gaskill was originally arrested and released without charges being filed. Immediately after his arrest, we pointed out to the King County Prosecutor’s Office that the investigation was seriously flawed and tainted. We had been involved in an open dialogue with the Prosecutor’s Office. As recently as yesterday, the prosecutor in the case was saying they would alert us in the event charges were filed. We are disappointed they breached their agreement regarding the case. But again, flaws in the process and investigation have been evident throughout this matter. Chief Gaskill will move forward with the hope of fairness in the system.”
Gaskill resigned from the Algona Police Department on April 24, rather than face possible termination at a Loudermill hearing conducted by the City. A Loudermill hearing is part of the due process requirement that must be provided a police officer before a firing or the imposition of discipline.
In a resignation letter delivered to Algona Mayor Dave Hill at the hearing, Gaskill said that he was resigning because he felt he was being denied due process in the employment proceedings.
An independent investigator hired by the City wrapped up her work in April.
“The findings were that the accusations were sustained on three instances and exonerated on two others,” Hill said, declining to elaborate.
Gaskill allegedly took $7,000 from the fund, according to the affidavit of probable cause, the document on which the prosecutor has based the charges.
Among the unauthorized purchases Gaskill allegedly made using the Explorer’s fund credit cards were: $43.70 at a gun store for a 20-round handgun magazine (Explorers are not issued guns); $426.01 at Fry’s Electronics for a home theater speaker system; $71 at the Daffodil Bowl in Puyallup; $95 at a gas station; $104.27 at Blumenthal’s Uniform for brass insignia for chief of police; and $337.58 at Costco for a HO Sports Delta 3 Towable (an inflatable boating recreational device used to tow people behind a power boat).
According to warrant paperwork, authorities suspect Gaskill made many more purchases, among them unauthorized purchases at “numerous restaurants, doughnut shops, gas receipts and department stores.”
Additionally, after being informed he was being investigated in February, Gaskill – through his attorney – notified investigators that they could pick up Police Explorer-related items at his house.
Algona Police Officers then went to Gaskill’s house where they collected from Gaskill’s wife a popcorn maker, a hot dog bun warmer and cooker and four cashiers checks totaling $19,206, all written in February after the investigation began, and made payable to the South Valley Explorers, with the remitter listed as Lee J. Gaskill.
Gaskill served nine months as Algona’s interim police chief and had been involved in the Pacific, Algona and Sumner Police Explorers since its formation in 2008. The organization provides practical policing experience to youth interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement. The organization is funded by donations and staffed by volunteers.