Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alleged fire station break-in was not fully investigated

Firefighters claimed Sun Valley city training records, personal emails missing

Express Staff Writer

Cam Daggett

A Sun Valley Police Department report of an apparent break-in at the Sun Valley Fire Department’s Elkhorn Fire Station in February indicates that the alleged crime was never fully investigated.

The 12-page report, recently released to the Idaho Mountain Express by Police Chief Cam Daggett, contains no account of any investigation beyond taking statements from those reporting the incidents.

Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said earlier this month that he was “disappointed” by the department’s investigation and “inadequate” follow-up.

Parts of the report are dated March 7—when the Police Department was informed of the alleged break-in—and parts are dated Dec. 4, 2012.

A chronology of events attached to the report by Daggett states that on March 12, then-Interim Executive Assistant to the Mayor Virginia Egger asked the Police Department to turn over its evidence on the case to the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office at the request of the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, which had been asked by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas to undertake an investigation of possible misuse of city funds and property by city employees.

“Our feeling was that by handing the investigation over, our investigation was stopped,” Daggett said at the time that Briscoe made his initial comment. “We felt someone else was going to be pursuing it.”

But on Tuesday, Briscoe said his administration never directed Daggett to stop the investigation. 

“In fact, the opposite was true,” he said.

Briscoe said he and Egger met with Daggett several times, both before and after the evidence was turned over to the Sheriff’s Office, and he asked Daggett on more than one occasion to continue the investigation.

“The initial report didn’t list any suspects or questioning of anybody,” Briscoe said. “I asked Cam to question people.”

Briscoe said Daggett always gave the same response.

“He told me it was in process,” Briscoe said.

Daggett was on vacation this week and could not be reached to provide a response to Briscoe’s recent statements.

Both Briscoe and Daggett have said they consider the case closed.

Attorney General’s Office spokesman Bob Cooper said Thomas never requested that an investigation of the apparent break-in be part of the Attorney General’s Office’s investigation.

The police report states that Interim Assistant Fire Chief Mal Prior claimed that on Feb. 21, he noticed that training records for the year 2011 were missing. In a written statement included in the report, Prior told the department he thinks the documents went missing sometime between Feb. 11 and Feb. 19. He also claimed that some of his personal emails stored on a city laptop were deleted and that nine pages of personal paperwork listing uncompensated work hours over the past three years were missing.

In the report, Interim Acting Fire Chief Ray Franco stated that he saw scratches on the door to his office “like someone had tried to open it,” but did not know how long they had been there.

Code Enforcement Officer Reid Black stated that a department-issued avalanche transceiver was also missing.

Daggett said in an interview that the reportedly missing files and the allegedly tampered-with laptop were kept on Prior’s workstation, in an open area just past the building’s front entrance.

On Jan. 17, Scott H. Birch, chief investigator for the Office of the Attorney General, began an investigation of the city concerning the alleged misuse of public funds by former City Administrator Sharon Hammer and former Fire Chief Jeff Carnes; Carnes’ wife, Building Official Assistant Tina Carnes; and Carnes’ son Nick Carnes, a paid, on-call firefighter. An investigation conducted last year by Boise-based attorney Patricia Ball, at the request of former Mayor Wayne Willich, indicated possible nepotism in the Fire Department that may have resulted in irregular purchases on city credit cards and in time-card padding.

Hammer’s contract with the city was terminated without stated cause on Jan. 19 and Jeff, Tina and Nick Carnes resigned Sept. 21.

A report on Birch’s findings was presented to Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas on Oct. 15. Thomas has said he will not file criminal charges, largely due to insufficient evidence.

“The only person or people who would want this info, I believe, is Jeff, Tina or Nick Carnes to protect themselves from their activities at Sun Valley Fire Dept.,” Prior states in the Police Department’s case report, referring to the items he reported missing. When contacted Tuesday, Prior declined to comment further on the alleged incident.

The report states that entry into the Fire Station is granted via an electronic keypad. Daggett said the keypad does not record when an entry occurs nor whose code is used to enter. According to the report, more than 50 city employees had an active code during the time Prior said the apparent break-in occurred.

During that time, Black was responsible for maintaining the list of people with codes. Black states in the report that he removed Jeff, Tina and Nick Carnes from the list during the week of Jan. 6. On Jan. 5, Mayor Dewayne Briscoe had placed Jeff and Tina Carnes on paid administrative leave for the second time, the first being under former Mayor Wayne Willich from Dec. 20 through Jan. 3.

Ketchum Attorney Robert Fallowfield, who represents Jeff, Tina and Nick Carnes, said Prior most likely misplaced the items he reported missing.

“A cursory review of the police report shows the Carnes family had no access to the Fire Department for some two months prior to the alleged break-in,” Fallowfield said. “Nothing was even supposedly taken except Mal Prior’s personal papers, and who’d want them?”

Brennan Rego:


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