After more than a year of delays, criminal charges were dropped Friday against a sheriff's sergeant accused of falsely claiming overtime work hours.
Sgt. Joey Banuelos was charged in November 2011 with two felony counts of filing a false claim and one misdemeanor of petty theft of $870.
"I'm happy for Sgt. Banuelos and his family," said Dan Mitchell, president of the local Deputy Sheriffs' Association. "As always, the DSA supports our members."
Banuelos was placed on paid administrative leave in May 2011, but that was changed to unpaid leave earlier this year, Mitchell said.
Banuelos "was known as one of the hardest-working members of the force, and nearly 30 witnesses were prepared to testify in his behalf," his attorney Tom Worthington said in a prepared statement Friday. "He worked whenever and wherever needed if that's what was required to 'get the job done.'"
Prosecutor Gary Thelander said he dismissed the case because he had insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt — not because he agrees with Banuelos that his "flex time" was justified and legal.
Investigators suspected the sergeant worked only a few hours while claiming he put in a full day teaching an active shooter training course for fellow officers last spring. Several days later, he allegedly claimed he worked while he attended a funeral, officials said.
Banuelos' two felony charges were "wobblers," which means a judge could have decided to change them to misdemeanors.
Worthington said Banuelos was simply using former Sheriff Mike Kanalakis' long-standing flex time policy.
"Sgt. Banuelos consistently said that the overtime was for hours he had put in earlier for no pay," Worthington said. "Under the former sheriff, deputies and other sworn personnel were allowed — in fact, encouraged — to utilize this process when a commander needed a deputy on very short notice. ... Deputies were asked to work overtime with little or no notice, keep track of the time, and then were allowed to take off an equivalent amount of time on a different day."
Worthington said his client plans to ask for reinstatement to his former position.
Banuelos is a longtime member of the department who served as a patrol sergeant since January 2011. Before that he worked in the SWAT and special operations units.
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.