This is my response, as Walla Walla County sheriff, to the Aug. 8 Union-Bulletin article regarding tracking work hours in the Sheriff’s Office.
The buck stops with me.
By electing me as your sheriff, you hired me to be the one responsible that all members of this Sheriff’s Office conduct themselves appropriately and work the required number of hours. During my tenure, all members of the Sheriff’s Office, including Undersheriff Edward Freyer, have worked their requisite number of hours.
To date, when internal personnel issues have arisen, they have been addressed. If there were issues with the amount of hours my command staff was working, I’d address them. Contrary to assertions made in the U-B article, Undersheriff Freyer has never taken time away from work he was not entitled to.
In fact, the reverse is true. Undersheriff Freyer works far more hours each year than is required of him; by far more hours, I mean hundreds of hours. He does this not for additional compensation (because as an appointed command staff officer he is not eligible for paid overtime), but because he recognizes there is work to be done and it is the right thing to do for our community.
By focusing on vacation time, the article did not address the 2012 changes in county compensatory time policies for appointed positions and the lawfully adjusted and appropriate flexible schedules required for an appointed exempt employee such as the undersheriff.
The article admitted that the U-B “investigation” was limited to “key card data, computer access data, and payroll sheets.”
Key card data refers to an electronic record generated when an employee enters our main building using their electronic key card. It does not account for the numerous times Undersheriff Freyer enters our building via the front door or when another employee lets him in. It does not account for when the undersheriff enters the jail or works long hours off-site.
The key card is simply that, a key card, not an employee tracking system. The joke now is when one deputy lets another one in to the building, they comment, “better use your card too or you won’t get credit for working today ....” I’m glad our folks have a sense of humor.
Computer access data is the record of when one logs on to their county computer. Computer access data tells us nothing in relation to the long hours our undersheriff has worked when not on his computer.
Payroll sheets contain records of regular hours worked and other information such as sick time and vacation time. Due to the change of county policy, they do not currently contain compensatory time hours or keep track of the adjusted and flexible schedule of an appointed exempt employee. We simply could not afford to pay our command staff officers overtime for all the extra hours they work. I support the county commissioners’ review of policies in this area and also agree with our county personnel/risk manager that this is a very tricky and complex area of the law.
More specifically, the article mentioned certain time frames when Undersheriff Freyer was supposedly inappropriately away from work.
For example, a deputy is quoted as saying, “(Freyer) was gone two weeks after he was there a month.” This would refer to February of 2011. Our records and recollections indicate that Undersheriff Freyer worked every weekday that month, including the President’s Day holiday with the exception of Feb. 25 and Feb. 28.
Prior to accepting the position of undersheriff, Eddie explained to me that he had a prior commitment to teach his Polly Klaas case study and child abduction response course at the Petaluma Police Department on those two days. I allowed the undersheriff to teach on these two days. Despite teaching those two days, he worked in excess of 40 hours during both those weeks of Feb. 21 and Feb 28.
The statement, “(Freyer) was gone two weeks after he was there a month” is false.
This U-B article also insinuated that Undersheriff Freyer was away “nearly the entire month of July (2012).” Our records and recollections indicate that is not true.
Undersheriff Freyer was called out shortly after midnight on June 24, which was a Sunday, due to a lost 14 year old boy in the Snake River off Hood Park.
Eddie responded immediately and commanded the search and rescue efforts of multiple agencies as I coordinated the investigation into what had occurred. Eddie worked over 18 hours that day, leaving the scene after 6 p.m. Sunday. He returned at day break the following morning and worked relentlessly over the next seven days in an effort to locate the lost teenager.
While this operation was under way, a second boy, a 12-year-old, fell into Cargill Pond and was lost. Eddie immediately transitioned to this rescue effort.
Sadly, both boys drowned. The second boy was located later the same day and the first boy was located in the afternoon of June 30. Eddie was present for both.
Undersheriff Freyer worked in excess of 90 hours that week, none of which would show on his key card or computer access data. Eddie was thanked by both families for his compassion and hard work. His care and efforts make a difference.
Due to his excessive hours worked the week before, I insisted that he take the following Monday, which was July 2, off as adjusted time to be with family. He then took Tuesday as a vacation day, Wednesday was a holiday, and he took Thursday and Friday as vacation days; all of which are reflected on his July 2012 payroll slip.
Eddie returned to work on July 9 and was interviewed that day and then again on July 12 in his office by Luke Hegdal, the same U-B reporter who wrote that the undersheriff didn’t work “nearly the entire month of July.”
Undersheriff Freyer worked every weekday the rest of July 2012 and also worked on two Saturdays, July 14 and Saturday July 21.
From July 10 to July 13, Eddie led the panel for entry level deputy sheriff oral interviews. On July 20, Undersheriff Freyer had Deputy Tom Cooper in his office regarding issues with Cooper’s job performance.
In addition to his normal workload, Undersheriff Freyer worked extensively during the month of July 2012 on two projects; a confidential law enforcement matter and the upcoming New York Store Shooting/Chavira death coroner’s inquest which was held August 8 through Aug. 10. Much of this work was done at the Walla Walla Police Department where the inquest was to be held or in the field due to the protest marches that took place at the Courthouse and the New York Store.
After the inquest, I was pleased when Caesar Chavira’s father approached Eddie and told him that although he was not happy about the results of the inquest, he was very grateful for Eddie and the professional job the Sheriff’s Office did in this investigation.
The Aug. 8 U-B article discussed Undersheriff Freyer’s off-duty work away from the Sheriff’s Office. It stated that additional sources confirmed that Eddie spoke openly about his work outside the department as if there is something wrong or unethical about this practice.
The reason that Eddie has talked openly about it, is because there’s nothing to hide.
In our world it’s very common and there’s nothing wrong, illegal, immoral or unethical about it. I stand by my statement that off-duty work has never interfered with any Sheriff’s Office employee’s official capacities, nor has it negatively impacted work product or service to our county.
Due to his nationally recognized expertise, Eddie Freyer is a highly sought after and recruited individual. I am very grateful that he serves here alongside us.
To understand better, maybe one needs to understand just who our undersheriff is.
He is a humble man who would never toot his own horn, but Undersheriff Freyer is veteran of the U.S. Army and a 30-year veteran of the FBI. While at the FBI, he gained a national reputation as a child abduction expert, as well as a tactical and risk assessment expert.
His work as the lead FBI agent in resolving the Polly Klaas child abduction case is legendary; the pilot episode of the TV show “The FBI Files” was about this case and Eddie’s work.
Eddie was a member of the West Coast enhanced FBI SWAT team in San Francisco for 17 years. When he retired, he was the team leader.
Eddie and his former team have been deployed around the globe working on the most challenging and dangerous of special operations. Eddie and his team were boots on the ground within 24 hours of the 1998 Nairobi, Kenya, embassy bombing that left an estimated 212 dead.
Eddie and his team spent over a month in Africa tracking down the terrorists who committed this act. In the aftermath of the Atlanta games bombing, Eddie was selected by the FBI to conduct risk assessments and develop operational plans for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Eddie and his team were deployed as one of the tactical elements during these games which took place without incident. Eddie is the founder of the High Sierra SWAT challenge, a training exercise that is now known as Urban Shield.
Undersheriff Freyer is simply one of this country’s finest.
Due to his national reputation, expertise and accomplishments, our undersheriff is a very sought after commodity. When a child is abducted somewhere in the United States, it is not uncommon for Eddie’s phone to ring. Eddie provides training to first responders and investigators across our state and across our country on child abduction response.
Eddie has also been recruited to work off-duty for private companies for many years sharing his expertise. When the Peace Officer Standards & Training Commission was selecting its expert members from around our country to develop new first-responder tactics to save lives in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Eddie was called.
Eddie is bringing back cutting edge techniques to our community. He has already begun talks with area fire district leadership and our schools on how we can do better and save lives in an emergency. Eddie insists that he pay for his own travel expenses so that no county taxpayer dollars are spent.
He realizes how tight our budget is and insists that these dollars be spent on other things which directly benefit members of our Sheriff’s Office.
Eddie has taken a leading role for the safety and security at the Balloon Stampede and Walla Walla County Fair & Frontier Days.
Not surprisingly, these events have run smoothly and without major incident.
I agree with the State Auditor’s Office conclusion that there was no wrong doing in this matter and am saddened that this unwarranted and unfounded political attack has hurt Eddie and his family so deeply.
Our undersheriff is an honorable and talented man committed to his current job. This county assuredly gets its money’s worth and then some from Undersheriff Freyer.
I, for one, am very grateful to have someone of Eddie’s caliber, capabilities and experience here in our community working diligently to make it better.
Thank you to the Union-Bulletin for allowing me this opportunity to visit with you. The Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office and I remain at your service.
Sheriff John Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-524-5400