CEDAR CITY – The attorney for a retired K-9 police officer, who is facing charges for workers’ compensation fraud, said he believes the court will throw the case out during next month’s preliminary hearing.
Jason Steven Thomas is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 17. He is facing a third-degree felony for fraudulently obtaining worker’s compensation insurance, as well as attempted theft by deception, a class C misdemeanor. The case was turned over to Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen by the Iron County Attorney’s Office due to a conflict of interest.
Formal charges will not be filed against Thomas until after the November hearing, when the court will determine whether the state has enough evidence to move forward. However, Thomas’ attorney, Blake Hamilton, said he believes the court is likely to dismiss the charges since the state lacks the ability to prove intent – an element necessary for a conviction.
Thomas, 41, was employed with the Cedar City Police Department for 19 years before taking an early medical retirement June 30 of this year. Cedar City Manager Paul Bittmenn confirmed this fact during a phone interview with Cedar City News, stating Thomas’ choice to retire was separate from the criminal case, for which charges were filed in July.
Just days after the state filed charges against Thomas, he and his attorney spoke candidly with Cedar City News about the events leading up to the fraud charge and the allegations launched against him during that time.
Hamilton called the entire situation a “travesty” and said his client never intentionally tried to steal money or defraud anyone.
“This officer was employed with the agency (Cedar City Police Department) for 19 years,” Hamilton said. “He is a highly decorated officer and what this boils down to is mistakes – not fraud and theft. There’s no intent here and I think the evidence will show that.”
The attempted theft by deception charge is listed on court documents as less than $500. The actual amount is around $250, Thomas said.
The former police officer said the attempted theft by deception charge arose from a “one-time mistake” he made when he inadvertently wrote down wrong information on a time card logging 10 hours of a day’s work that he didn’t perform.
At the time, Thomas was providing K9 training to other officers under an agreement with the Utah Peace Officers Standard and Training – or POST – Council. Knowing the days and hours he would be working, Thomas said he filled out his time sheets in advance.
On the day in question, Thomas didn’t work as scheduled but said he forgot to remove the hours before submitting the time sheet to POST for payment. However, he maintains he caught his error before money ever exchanged hands.
“I never even got paid for it,” Thomas said. “How do you charge me with a theft charge when I never even received any money? I caught the mistake before POST issued the check. I was the one who called them and told them about the mistake. I never received any money. I did a lot of training for POST, and this was the only mistake like that I ever made and now I’m being charged for it?”
The workers’ compensation fraud charge as listed in the court record is between $1,000 and $5,000. Hamilton told Cedar City News the exact amount totals $1,149.
The fraud charge stems from an issue with some of the money paid to Thomas by Workers’ Compensation Insurance to reimburse vehicle mileage the retired officer accrued when driving his personal car to doctors’ appointments. However, Thomas mistakenly billed Workers’ Comp five times for mileage he logged driving to the medical visits in his police vehicle.
According to Hamilton, Thomas had more than 65 medical visits from 2007 to the time of his retirement, and of those, five of them were incorrectly reported. This element alone, Hamilton said, shows there was no intent to defraud Workers’ Comp.
Both Thomas and his attorney told Cedar City News that Thomas has suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder since 2007. This resulted from an incident when Thomas was shot at point blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun while trying to assist a man whose vehicle had become stuck in the snow on the wrong side of the road.
The first bullet hit a protective vest but a second and third shot hit him in his head and side where the armor didn’t cover. The shooter – later identified as Bryan Featherhat – eventually fled the scene but not before firing off more rounds, leaving Thomas severely injured with a bruised lung, broken ribs and penetrating wounds.
In 2010, Thomas received a purple heart for his bravery in the incident from then Police Chief Bob Allinson.
But the shooting was only one of many incidents to follow over the next few years that would act as triggers for this one event, sending Thomas spiraling downward over time, Hamilton said.
- 2011 – Thomas lost his K-9 partner, Gino, of eight years after the dog was hit by a car, sustaining fatal injuries that included a broken back, broken leg and chest wounds. His death occurred two days prior to the fourth anniversary of the 2007 shooting.
- 2013 – Thomas was the lone officer in a high-speed chase down Main Street for Nicholas Scott Anthony, a man he knew had a gun and had already fired on two people. The event Thomas said, brought back memories of the 2007 shooting.
- April 2013 – Thomas’ second K-9, Pajko, underwent surgery for neck injuries sustained while assisting officers in an arrest after a man, police were trying to apprehend, slammed on top of the dog. Pajko was later released to back to work.
- July 2013 – The officer was again injured when a man under the influence of drugs attacked him during a routine medical clearance at the hospital. Thomas was left with multiple contusions, abrasions and a moderate concussion.
- 2014 – Thomas was again injured during an incident when he was ran over by a suspect. That incident put him back in the hospital for surgery, this time on his shoulder.
- 2015 – Thomas was forced to bury his K-9, Pablo, after the dog undergoes surgery for Bloat.
Finally, there was another event in 2014 Thomas called “pivotal” that he said played a huge role in ultimately deciding how his life would go for the next two years.
In Feb. 2014, the officer was given the responsibility of delivering a death notice to a woman whose husband had been killed in a mining accident.
When he went to the door, Thomas said he saw the man’s son who was the same age as his own boy that had been born in 2007, two months before the shooting. The whole event seemed surreal as the officer envisioned his own family standing in front of him.
“It shook me up,” Thomas said. “It may not mean anything to someone who doesn’t understand but in the big picture it was just another kink in the rein. I remember standing there thinking what it would’ve been like for my wife and kids if I had died that night in 2007. Afterwards I remember clearly, calling my wife and bawling. It set me back again.”
Thomas describes the series of events as the “perfect storm” beginning with the shooting that kicked off the Post-Traumatic Stress and only grew worse with every incident.
The things that went on in Thomas’ life over the nine year period were an inordinate amount for any officer to go through, Iron County Sheriff Lt. Del Schlosser said, adding that he doesn’t know another officer in Iron County that has ever experienced as much as Thomas did during those years.
“The shooting and all the other stuff is a lot for one officer to go through – it’s not common for an officer to have to face that much, especially in that short of time,” Schlosser said. “Just losing two K-9 partners is tremendously painful. There hasn’t been one other officer in Iron County who has had to go through losing two of their partners.”
It’s the accumulation of these events that Hamilton said he believes ultimately led to Thomas incorrectly reporting the mileage and forgetting to remove the hours from the time sheet.
Court documents originally stated the alleged offenses happened in Iron County between Oct. 24, 2013 and March 3, 2016. However, that detail was later changed in an amended document to show the single date of Oct. 24, 2013 – three months after the last assault against Thomas and two months after the death of Pajko.
Hamilton maintains his client did not intentionally write down mileage that wasn’t owed to him but rather was confused as to what exactly Workers’ Compensation was paying for. Part of that confusion he maintains is a result of the PTSD and head trauma that Thomas was suffering from at the time.
“What this boils down to is a simple mistake,” Hamilton said. “Jason had experienced some serious incidents starting with 2007. He had some head trauma and was suffering from untreated PTSD. He was confused as to what exactly Workers’ Comp was paying for.”
As soon as Thomas learned of the mistake he immediately paid the money back, returning all of it within 24 hours, Hamilton said.
“Jason felt stupid when he found out what he had done and realized that he didn’t understand what they were paying him for. He was embarrassed and he rectified it immediately,” the attorney said.
In addition, the defendant’s attorney questions how the state is prosecuting charges where the victim, in this case Workers’ Compensation Insurance, has been made whole. He also maintains neither Workers Compensation Insurance nor POST has any motivation to prosecute the defendant.
Hamilton also brought up concerns with how the State Bureau of Investigations conducted the investigation. Among Hamilton and Thomas’ concerns is that they believe the investigator misconstrued statements the officer made under the protection of Garrity to build his criminal case.
Under the Garrity right, police officers can make incriminating statements to their superiors during an internal investigation that cannot be used against them in a criminal investigation.
The defense attorney also takes issue with the fact that there was not a pattern of any wrongdoing preceding the specific incidents in question.
The Beaver County Attorney would not speak to the specific allegations launched against the defendant.
Christiansen however adamantly denied ever saying he hoped Thomas would “just plead guilty” as reported by other media but said his goal is to work with the former Cedar City police officer and his attorney in resolving the case.
Bittmenn issued the following prepared statement on behalf of Cedar City officials:
“We would like to thank Officer Thomas for all of the years of public service he dedicated to our community. We are aware of the current allegations, and the Cedar City mayor, council and city staff have no further comment at this time.”
On Aug. 18, Thomas’ case was transferred to 5th District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox from St. George after Judge Keith Barnes recused himself from the case due to a “potential conflict.”
Thomas was issued a summons in the case and was ordered to turn himself in to the Beaver County Jail in August for a book and release.
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