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15-month sentence for ex-Lynnwood cop in theft

Lynnwood's police chief says the department is putting Paul Watkins' crimes behind it.

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By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer
@dianahefley
Published:
SEATTLE -- In the 24 years Paul Watkins was a Lynnwood police officer, he often went to court to stand on the side of justice and to hold criminals accountable.
On Friday, the former Lynn­wood deputy police chief was on the other side. He was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for stealing thousands of dollars from the police department and was ordered to pay back $75,000.
Watkins, 50, abused his position of trust, lied about stealing and attempted to obstruct justice when he threw out evidence, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones said. His actions besmirched the reputation of honest Lynnwood police officers, who now must regain the public's trust, Jones said.
Watkins apologized to his family, the community and his former fellow police officers.
"I know what I did was wrong," Watkins said in court. "My message is simple: I'm sorry."
Watkins left the courtroom flanked by his daughters. The judge ordered Watkins to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons as soon as it decides where to lock him up. That could take up to eight weeks. Watkins also was ordered to serve probation for two years after his release from prison. His bank accounts and financial affairs also will be strictly monitored, Jones said.
Lynnwood Police Chief Steve Jensen sat in the second row watching Watkins' sentencing. He is hopeful his officers can move forward and put this dark chapter behind them, he said after Friday's hearing.
Morale is high and the public has been understanding that Watkins' actions were his own and not representative of Lynnwood's police force, Jensen said.
The investigation shook the department and community. Watkins was a well-respected leader in Lynnwood.
Jensen called in the FBI in June after he learned that evidence from a 1996 robbery investigation was missing. Watkins signed for the evidence, including $14,000, guns and cocaine, but told Lynnwood officials he'd dropped it off in an evidence locker.
Federal agents found some of the missing evidence in Watkins' Everett-area home. They also watched him throw away evidence, including a damaged laptop computer and shredded documents, in public trash bins the night before they planned to search his home.
Federal agents are convinced Watkins caught wind of the investigation, though they aren't sure how. The judge on Friday factored Watkins' obstruction into his punishment.
Investigators discovered that Watkins had a history of financial problems. He has sought bankruptcy protection as recent as 2004.
Watkins later admitted to stealing thousands of dollars from the police evidence room between 2001 and 2005. At the time, he was the commander of investigations and oversaw seizure and forfeiture of property. He pleaded guilty to one count of theft in November.
Jensen has said he believes Watkins was able to circumvent measures to secure evidence because of his reputation for trust among the other officers.
Watkins' two daughters made emotional pleas on his behalf Friday. One daughter, Sarah Watts, told the judge that her father stole money to help her heal. She was nearly killed in a crash while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Kuwait in 2001. After the crash she said she turned to drugs, alcohol and gambling and needed money.
"At the time, he thought it was the only way to save me," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone argued that Watkins didn't make just a one-time mistake. He stole money on more than four dozen occasions over four years and lied about his actions when he was confronted by investigators, he said.
"Despite all the good things he's done, he stands before you a common criminal, a common thief," Blackstone said.
The judge addressed Jensen and the few other Lynnwood police officers at the hearing. While they may face criticism, they will restore honor to the department while upholding their oath to serve and protect the community, Jones said.
He also offered words of advice to Watkins' family. They have a duty now: to provide love and support to Watkins as he begins to restore his life.
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or hefley@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » LynnwoodPunishment

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