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Medication thefts prompt jail firings

Others disciplined in yearlong review

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

Stolen inmate medications led to the firing of three employees at the Kootenai County Jail in an investigation that began more than a year ago, Sheriff Rocky Watson said Monday.

Eight other employees were disciplined for the thefts, which included hydrocodone pills and simple pain relievers like ibuprofen, officials said. No criminal charges are warranted, though, said Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall, who was asked to review the case by Kootenai County authorities.

“I wouldn’t characterize (the thefts) as an isolated incident, but it did not seem like a ring or anything like that,” Marshall said.

“It appeared that it was going on for a few months.”

Watson’s announcement came one week after Marshall announced his decision not to prosecute in a letter mailed March 30 to Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh.

Idaho State Police sent McHugh its investigation in early March, but McHugh passed it to Marshall because of the close relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the prosecutor’s office, he said Monday.

Employees were fired or disciplined as an internal investigation that began in February 2008 progressed, Watson said.

The employees were not all disciplined at the same time, he said.

“It was a very complex, lengthy investigation,” Watson said.

“We take these actions very seriously.”

An inmate alerted jail officials to missing medications in February 2008, Watson said.

Watson was tight-lipped about details of the investigation, claiming privacy laws prevent him from releasing the names of fired or disciplined employees.

He declined to say when the first employee was disciplined and said he couldn’t discuss what changes had been made at the jail to prevent future thefts.

“We’ve reviewed the policies and procedures and made appropriate changes,” he said.

“It won’t happen again.”

Marshall asked ISP investigators to conduct additional interviews after reviewing the file a couple weeks ago.

But none of the pills allegedly stolen were ever recovered, and the statute of limitations had expired for a couple of the misdemeanor crimes investigated, Marshall said.

“We still have to prove a crime,” Marshall said.

The 11 employees connected to the thefts appeared to have been working with the medications “hands on,” Marshall said.

About 150 people work at the jail, Watson said, which houses about 400 inmates.

Watson characterized the thefts as “a breach of trust.”

“We’ve got a lot of very good employees over there, and a few taint it for everybody,” he said.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.
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