Ex-cop given 15-month sentence

The Seattle Times
BYLINE: Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter

Lynnwood, WA

The former deputy chief of the Lynnwood Police Department tearfully apologized in court Friday for shaming his family, the community and the department he had served for 24 years.

"I'm sorry for the tarnish my actions have brought upon the police force," said Paul Watkins, shortly before he was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison for stealing more than $61,000 in seized cash from the department's evidence room.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones said public trust in law enforcement was damaged by the actions of Watkins, whom he chastised for repeatedly lying to officers who were investigating the thefts. Watkins, 50, pleaded guilty last year to one count of theft from a federally funded local agency. Jones ordered Watkins to pay $75,000 in restitution. He also placed him on two years' supervision to include moni-toring of his financial affairs after he serves his prison term. Seated behind Watkins in the courtroom were about two dozen family members, friends and former colleagues from the Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Kirkland police departments. His two adult daughters spoke on his behalf.

Seated on the opposite side of the courtroom, behind the prosecutor's table, were numerous current Lynnwood police officers, several of whom later said they felt betrayed by Watkins' crime.

Watkins' attorney, Scott Engelhard, had asked for an eight-month sentence, saying Watkins used the money to help one of his daughters after she was injured in Kuwait while serving in the military. He also noted that Watkins was a first-time offender with an otherwise unblemished record of service.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone said, "He was making over $100,000 a year. He was living beyond his means and spending money uncontrollably well before his daughter was injured." Blackstone had recommended an 18-month sentence, citing Watkins' repeated abuse of his position of trust.

He said Watkins "didn't just dip into the till a couple times for emergencies ... he did it over and over again... . And when confronted about the thefts, he lied about it." Watkins was arrested in October after a months-long federal investigation into repeated thefts from the Police Department's evidence room, which he oversaw from 2001 to 2003 as commander of the Criminal Investigation Division. Watkins had been a highly respected member of the police force before his arrest.

The investigation began last spring when the FBI was contacted by Lynnwood Chief Steven Jensen shortly after a commander discovered that a package containing more than $14,000 in cash, two handguns and cocaine had been picked up by Watkins from the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office in 2001 but never returned to the department. Because he was so trusted, Jensen said, Watkins was able to circumvent protective policies he had helped put in place.

Prosecutors said Watkins stole a total of at least $61,000 in 47 separate occasions over four years. He was fired from the department after the thefts came to light. Sarah Watts, Watkins' daughter, said her father had taken the money to help her after she was injured while serving in the Air Force in Kuwait. Had it not been for him, she said, she would have been dead of the drug, alcohol and gam-bling addictions that followed her injury.

"He didn't do it because he was a cop," Watts told Judge Jones. "He did it because he's a father." But Jones said Watkins evaded the truth for as long as he could. He said his "reign of thievery and deceit came to an end" only when he was caught.Jones told the officers in attendance that while Watkins' actions eroded public trust in law enforcement, the officers could help restore it by honoring their duty to "protect and serve."

"That's how you restore the honor and dignity," he said.

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LOAD-DATE: March 23, 2008
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