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BYLINE: Arwyn Rice
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Clallam County, WA
Staci Allison, left, sits in Clallam County Superior Court on Tuesday. -- Photo by Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The trial of a woman accused of theft from the Clallam County Sheriff's Office evidence room began Tuesday with suggestions from competing attorneys of greed, office infighting, a lack of supervisory oversight and support — and a cluttered, confusing evidence room.
Staci L. Allison, a former evidence technician who now lives in Montesano, was charged with first-degree theft and money laundering in the disappearance of more than $9,500, according to Assistant State Attorney General Scott Marlow during his opening statement Tuesday.
“The theme here, unfortunately, is one of greed, recognizing a weakness and taking advantage of that weakness,” Marlow said in his opening statement.
Previous reports said Allison was accused of stealing $8,644 from the sheriff's evidence room.
As much as $51,251 in cash was found missing from the evidence room in November 2006.
Allison was charged with the lesser amount because that's what prosecutors believed they could prove she took.
Today's testimony from prosecution witnesses will begin at 9 a.m. in Superior Court at the Clallam County Courthouse.
Allison was the evidence officer for the Sheriff's Office from 2003 through 2006 and was in charge of logging in, maintaining and returning or destroying evidence collected in criminal cases by sheriff's deputies and detectives.
The case began in Nov. 27, 2006, when a snowstorm trapped Allison at home, and her supervisor discovered a bin full of empty or partially emptied cash evidence envelopes near Allison's desk, Marlow said.
The discovery triggered an investigation by the State Police and led to Allison, who was one of only three people who had both a key and the security code to the evidence room, he said.
The focus of the prosecution will be on Allison's actions in deleting computer records the day before a state audit of the evidence room, bank records that show unexplained cash deposits and payday loan records, Marlow told the jury.
The defense told a different story.
Management ‘a mess'
“The whole management [of the sheriff's department] was a mess,” in 2006, though it was improved from an earlier administration, said defense attorney Ralph W. Anderson of Port Angeles.
“There were rivalries. Sides were picked,” Anderson said.
Allison's supervisor even kept a detailed list of Allison's failings, Anderson said.
“She did her job, though there were those who were out to get her,” he said.
Anderson told the jury that Allison's big gap in payday loans came during a time when Allison couldn't get new loans because of unpaid loans.
As for the computer system, it didn't work right, and Allison was trying to delete and re-enter data in an attempt to get it to work, Anderson said.
Former Sheriff Joe Martin lost his re-election bid to the present sheriff, Bill Benedict, in November 2006.
Three witnesses, each a member of the Clallam County Sheriff's Department, took the stand Tuesday.
Office Administrative Coordinator Chris James was Allison's direct supervisor in 2006.
James testified that she had been working with Allison to resolve problems with evidence room organization for six months, trying to clear up severe clutter that blocked the office's safe.
Anderson asked James if it would have been simpler to just go in and clean the room.
“I didn't want to micro-manage,” James said.
James said she preferred to help Allison resolve the problem herself, but Nov. 27, when the snowstorm trapped Allison at home and James in the office, she took the time to clear Allison's personal items from evidence shelves, to be replaced with evidence on the floor in front of the safe.
“The evidence room is for evidence,” she said.
The order for personal items to be removed from the room came from Chief Administrative Deputy Alice Hoffman.
During the process, James found a blue Rubbermaid bin full of cash evidence envelopes, she said.
She immediately informed Hoffman, who told her to find out why the cash evidence was not in the safe, she said.
Anderson asked if she had noticed the bin earlier.
James said no, she had not noticed it before that day.
Anderson also questioned James about a long, detailed list of Allison's “shortcomings,” including the report of a personal phone call while on duty.
That list was never entered into Allison's personnel file, which meant she had shown improvement on those items, James said.
List common practice
Hoffman testified that the list was common practice, that supervisors were expected to document problems for weekly meetings.
Hoffman said no one could have entered the evidence room without the key and a code.
Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Cameron testified on the state of the evidence room that morning and how it was discovered that money was missing.
He said he had gone to the evidence room to get a key, but it was not where it belonged.
After a search in which James became “animated” over the condition of the evidence room, James pulled out a blue bin and showed him the contents, Cameron said.
When James pulled an envelope out of the bin, some change fell out, which should be impossible for a sealed piece of evidence, Cameron testified.
Others were found to be opened, and the area was declared a crime scene, Cameron said.
Cameron took the keys of the two keyholders in the office, had the electronic alarm code changed and began the investigation, he said.
On cross-examination by Anderson, Cameron said that in the past six months, he had been in the evidence room a few times and had not seen the blue bin before that day.
“So you can't say how long those envelopes had been that way,” Anderson asked.
“No,” Cameron replied.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at .
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