December 10, 2008 in City

Judge defers prosecution for fired official

He faced charge of drunken driving
By The Spokesman-Review

The region’s fired Homeland Security coordinator – arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in October – was given a deferred prosecution, approved last week by Stevens County District Court Judge Pamela Payne.

The deal puts David L. Byrnes on probation for five years. If he violates his probation, he’d face a fine and a sentencing from the judge, likely of at least 30 days in jail.

It was the second time in as many years that Byrnes had been arrested for alleged drunken driving and then had the charge reduced or deferred.

Byrnes is 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 Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said Nancy Paladino, chief examiner for the commission.

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. 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 based on three charges of misconduct: his drunken driving arrest, 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 about 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 Byrnes’ Spokane defense attorney Dallas Cooney. 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. Oct. 6.

A woman passing by called authorities after the pickup driver refused assistance, appeared intoxicated and began walking northbound in the southbound lane in the dark, 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 an 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 alleged drunken driving 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 his probation, he waives his right to a jury trial and would be sentenced and fined.

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

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