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Fired homeland security chief’s prosecution deferred

The region’s fired Homeland Security czar — arrested for drunken driving in October — was given a deferred prosecution, approved last week by Stevens County District Court Judge Pamela Payne.

It was the second time in as many years that David L. Byrnes had been arrested for DWI, only to have the charge reduced or deferred.

Byrnes is now appealing his firing by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to the Spokane County Civil Service Commission.

The hearing on Byrnes’ termination, originally scheduled for Monday, was postponed to Jan. 13 at the request of the sheriff’s office, Nancy Paladino, chief examiner for the commission, said today.

Byrnes, who served as the Homeland Security coordinator for 10 Eastern Washington counties and was a civil service employee of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, was fired Oct. 30 by Knezovich. As Homeland Security coordinator, Byrnes oversaw the distribution of $16 million in government grants to agencies in Eastern Washington.

Sheriff’s records related to his firing, released in response to a Public Records Act request, show Byrnes was fired for three charges of misconduct: being arrested for driving while under the influence of liquor; violation of the department’s alcohol policy and failure to report to duty.

The same records show the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office refused to release its reports of Byrnes’ October arrest to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, claiming it was barred by state law from releasing non-conviction arrest information, even to another law enforcement agency.

Ultimately, the arrest records were released to Spokane defense attorney Dallas Cooney, hired by Byrnes. A Stevens County deputy arrested Byrnes after getting a call that a pickup, registered as his personal vehicle, had driven into a ditch along Shore Acres Road, near Loon Lake, shortly before 8 p.m. on Oct. 6.

A woman passing by called authorities after the male pickup driver refused assistance, appeared intoxicated and began walking northbound in the southbound lane in the darkness, the reports say. When contacted, Byrne was carrying an unopened bottle of Cutty Sark scotch in a paper sack and admitted that he had been drinking at Geronimo’s in Springdale.

Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said Tuesday he did not object to a deferred prosecution requested by Byrnes’ attorney. Rasmussen would not divulge the blood-alcohol levels from two breath tests that Byrnes voluntarily took.

Under that court-approved agreement, Byrnes will be on probation for five years. Under its terms, he had to acknowledge he has alcohol problem and must seek treatment. He is prohibited from alcohol or drug use for five years and must install a breath-alcohol ignition interlock on his vehicle.

Byrnes was arrested in Spokane County for DWI on Feb. 23, 2007, but that charge was reduced to reckless endangerment.

“Mr. Byrnes did not receive any special treatment from this office,’’ Rasmussen said.

If Byrnes violates any terms of his probation, he waives his right to a jury trial and would be sentenced by the judge, likely to at least 30 days in jail, and fined.

“The good news here is that he is currently in alcohol treatment and things appear to be on track,’’ said Cooney, Byrnes’ attorney.