A civil service board appeal hearing got under way Thursday for a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy hoping to overturn his termination.
The three-member panel has 30 days to make a decision following the completion of the hearing.
Walter Skowronski was fired April 26 after a sheriff's office internal affairs investigation found him in violation of several policies.
Those included: conduct unbecoming of an officer; neglect of duty; requirement to read, understand and comply with off-duty employment orders; and violation of law for criminal attempt to commit theft and false statements in writing.
The alleged violations stemmed from a discrepancy in his timesheet and the hours actually worked for a shift as off-duty security at The Avenue Forsyth, now called The Collection at Forsyth, outdoor mall.
The decision to fire him resulted from that incident and “a pattern of disciplinary problems,” said Sgt. Gregg Boyer with the sheriff’s office internal affairs division.
Boyer, who is presenting the agency’s case, said Skowronski had been found in violation of policy five times in the past three years before he was dimissed.
He also received an eight-hour suspension two weeks before his termination for violating recovered property policy by leaving suspected marijuana in his trunk for nine days instead of depositing the evidence after his shift.
In the final incident investigated, Boyer said Skowronski turned in a timesheet for four hours of work at the mall, but the agency later received a phone call from the security director, who said the private officers never saw him arrive for that night’s shift.
Skowronski did not announce his arrival on the radio, as required by policy, and admitted that he worked only 45 minutes, in which he parked his patrol vehicle in an empty corner of the property and completed sheriff’s office reports.
However, the timesheet he turned in said he’d worked four hours, Boyer said.
“He would’ve received $140 if this hadn’t been brought to our attention by the Avenue,” he said.
Skowronski said he handed in a pre-filled timesheet on March 20 by accident.
On Thursday, he asked Boyer, who was on the witness stand, “Was I ever asked if I would return the money had the mistake been brought to my attention?”
Boyer responded that he had not.
The director of security at the Collection, Durden Cordarreo, said Skowronski returned to the management office at the outdoor mall after he’d been asked to complete a statement by the sheriff’s office. Durden said he believed Skowronski came to correct the timesheet because he’d been caught.
He said Skowronski also expressed frustration that the office didn’t contact him to address the issue first.
Skowronski maintained that he returned to take corrective action and ensure the mistake wouldn’t happen again. He said he’d made some mistakes during his employment, but always admitted to them and strived to correct the problem.
“Termination was overkill,” he said.
Past violations for conduct unbecoming of an officer derived from use of bad language, which he said became a habit from his time serving in the military.
He considered his history of disciplinary actions to be “minor infractions,” and disagreed with the finding of the internal affairs investigation that he attempted to commit a theft for the incident that caused his dismissal.
His direct supervisor at the time, Sgt. William Weeks, said he agreed with Skowronski at first that the error had been clerical in nature. But Weeks said he changed his opinion after he spoke with the security director at the mall.
Weeks did not recommend termination, but a steep number of hours for suspension.
He spoke to Skowronski’s character as a deputy, stating “he owns up to his mistakes” and “when things got real critical, you could depend on him.”
Witnesses called at the meeting’s outset were all on the sheriff’s office side.
As of Thursday afternoon, Skowronski had yet to call witnesses for his case prior to the deadline for this article.
The sheriff’s office attorney, Brian Hansford, was present but announced prior to the hearing that he would not be representing the agency, as a change to the rule approved last week.
Commissioners voted to allow the county or Constitutional officers to hire counsel even if an employee opted not to. The previous rule stated if the employee didn’t have an attorney, the county would not either.
The change arose at the request of the sheriff, who pointed to his rights as a Constitutional officer.
Hansford did take a few notes during the hearing, some of which were shared with Boyer.
On Skowronski’s side, Amy Radley, former chief deputy solicitor for the Forsyth County Solicitor General’s Office, appeared to do the same for him.