CEDAR CITY – A retired Cedar City K-9 police officer previously facing a third-degree felony walked out of court Thursday after prosecutors reduced the original charge to what amounts to a traffic ticket.
Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen, agreed Thursday to reduce the felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud he had filed against Jason Steven Thomas in July to an “unspecified infraction.” He also dismissed the charge of theft by deception filed simultaneously.
Thomas pleaded “no contest” to the charge.
Fifth District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox ordered Thomas to pay a $480 court fee or complete 48 hours of community service at $10 an hour within six months. In addition, in that same time period, he is to finish counseling and to pay a $43 court security fee. The infraction will be dismissed once all court orders have been satisfied.
The move to reduce the charges was a last ditch effort by the prosecutor to work out a plea deal with Thomas before the case went to a preliminary hearing scheduled the same day. According to Thomas’ attorney, Blake Hamilton, Christiansen had previously presented three other proposals for plea arrangements. Thomas rejected all of them.
The county attorney offered to reduce the charge to a Class A misdemeanor, a Class B misdemeanor and then an infraction, Hamilton said. However, all of them still referenced the word fraud, which Thomas refused to accept, maintaining his innocence.
“I didn’t want to accept anything that had the word fraud referenced in it because that’s a dishonesty crime and I’m not dishonest,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t going to plead to anything that said that because I was innocent. And trust me, the last one he offered, the infraction, I wondered if I’d made a mistake but it still had the word fraud and I just wasn’t going to do it.”
Hamilton worked out the final plea agreement to eliminate any mention of fraud. Christiansen, who had taken the case due to a conflict of interest by the Iron County Attorney’s Office, agreed to Hamilton’s proposal. Thomas also accepted the arrangement as it allowed him to maintain his integrity while avoiding the high attorney fees of a trial, the retired officer said.
“I feel like this was a complete win for me and I was able to walk away with my integrity intact,” Thomas said. “Honestly though, I feel like he should have dismissed it all together but he had to have a conviction at all costs. The fact that he was willing to reduce this all the way to an infraction and then an unspecified infraction, which my attorney said he only knows of it being used one other time, means he didn’t have a case and he knew it.”
Thomas added that he has learned a lot through this experience, specifically in how the justice system really works.
“When I go back into law enforcement, I will change how I do business,” Thomas said. “This experience has taught me a lot. It’s like this, a person’s defense is only as good as the money they can afford. In other words, people who don’t have money to pay an attorney are pretty much screwed and it’s wrong. These were bogus charges. They should have never been filed in the first place and to take them all the way to an infraction says he absolutely knew there was nothing there but he had to get a conviction at all costs and that’s so wrong but it happens all the time.”
Christiansen was not available for comment but issued the following statement, “The State is satisfied that the Court’s order holds Mr. Thomas accountable for his actions while taking into account his unique challenges and circumstances.”
The original charges stemmed from allegations that Thomas had mistakenly submitted documentation to workers’ compensation insurance for mileage reimbursement while driving his patrol car to doctors’ appointments. The total in question came to $1,149.
As soon as Thomas was told what he had done, he immediately paid the money back within 24 hours. Thomas had 68 medical visits dating back to 2007 to 2016 when he retired, of those, only five were incorrectly reported, Hamilton said. The alleged offenses happened between Oct. 24, 2013 and March 3, 2016, according to court records.
The second charge, a Class C misdemeanor, arose when Thomas inadvertently logged 10 hours he didn’t work on a time card he submitted to the Utah Peace Officers Standard and Training agency. He never received the money however, but fixed the mistake before payroll had issued a check.
During Thursday’s court proceedings, initially scheduled for a preliminary hearing, Hamilton had subpoenaed the POST representative Thomas was working for at the time who had already signed a declaration filed with the court, confirming the defendant’s story.
“I had a declaration signed by Wendall Nope from POST stating that this kind of mistake happens all the time. It happens all the time so he stated there was absolutely no fraud or intent to defraud,” Hamilton said.
Thomas’ former Police Chief, Bob Allinson, had also been subpoenaed to court. Allinson was prepared to testify on behalf of his officer, stating he did not believe Thomas’ actions were intentional, Hamilton said.
Thomas, a purple heart recipient, was shot at point blank range with a 12-guage shotgun in 2007 while trying to assist a man whose vehicle had become stuck in the snow on the wrong side of the road. The shooting was one of many incidents to come, ultimately sending the retired officer spiraling downward in the coming years.
In a previous Cedar City News article, Thomas described the series of events as the “perfect storm” beginning with the shooting and resulting in severe Post-Traumatic Stress that he maintains led to the mistakes he made with the vehicle mileage.
“These were thinking errors not criminal intentions,” Thomas said. “That’s all it was. I was confused, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress and I made a mistake and it was an honest mistake.”
Thomas told Wilcox during Thursday’s hearing, he did not accept the original facts of the case as written in the charging documents that alleged he had defrauded workers’ compensation insurance stating he “never intended to defraud anyone but had made an honest mistake,” that he rectified immediately.
Thomas worked for the Cedar City Police Department for 19 years before taking an early medical retirement in the spring.
He has plans to go back to work following a POST investigation. Hamilton said he believes POST will find his client innocent and decline any additional action. If that’s the case, Thomas will be free to return to law enforcement.
“I just want to move on with my life,” Thomas said. “I have done a lot of work since this whole thing started last March and I have come a long ways. I feel like I’m ready to go back to work. I feel better than I have in years.”
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