wvgazette.com — Keith Peoples, the fifth Charleston Police Department officer accused of double dipping by working an outside security job while on the clock for the city, allegedly racked up hundreds of hours of overlapping time, prosecutors said Monday.
But defense attorney Dwane Tinsley, calling Peoples “a policeman’s policeman,” said during his opening statement in Kanawha Circuit Court that recordkeeping by the city and Charleston Town Center Mall was “a comedy of errors.”
Peoples’ trial on charges of obtaining money by a fraudulent scheme and computer fraud, both felonies, began Monday, one year after he was indicted and placed on paid administrative leave,
In 2007, the Police Department launched an investigation into allegations that some officers had been double dipping while on duty, Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Scott Reynolds said.
The probe uncovered 478 overlapping hours between Peoples’ police shifts and overtime and his security job at the mall, he said.
According to a spreadsheet prepared by department investigators, Peoples, 45, was repeatedly paid for working for both employers at once, he said.
The investigation did not determine where Peoples was at any given time, Reynolds said.
“The only thing we can be sure of is that he couldn’t have been both places at the same time,” he said.
Tinsley maintained that Peoples tried to account for the apparent overlaps, but that the investigators weren’t interested in the truth, only in turning the department’s 2003 Officer of the Year into a scapegoat.
“They turned a blind eye to the truth,” he said. “They didn’t want to hear it.”
The investigation focused solely on officers who worked second jobs at Town Center Mall and not at other locations, he said.
Peoples, a 17-year veteran of the force, was a dedicated, hardworking officer who would use a magnetized card to swipe out of the mall’s electronic timekeeping system when he would follow up on a tip as a member of the department’s warrants division, Tinsley said. He diligently swiped out every time he left until the mall’s security officer told him he was swiping so often that he was messing up the system, he said.
After that, Peoples would call in whenever he left the mall to return to his police duties, he said.
“Police work was priority — that was number one, and the businesses knew that,” Tinsley said.
The defense intends to call a forensic accountant who will use the state’s own evidence to rebut the charges against Peoples, he said.
In 2007, a Kanawha County jury convicted James L. “Chip” Nowling, a former juvenile detective, of felony double dipping. During his trial, Nowling maintained that double dipping was common practice in the department, an impression that was repeated by former Charleston Police Chief Dallas Staples, who is expected to testify during Peoples’ trial.
The jury found that Nowling illegally earned at least $20,000 by working more than 1,700 conflicting hours over a two-year period.
A judge placed Nowling on three years’ probation and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service.
Nowling, who is black, argued that he was being singled out because of his race. Peoples also is black.
In the wake of Nowling’s conviction, three other officers were convicted of misdemeanor obtaining by fraudulent schemes for double dipping.
Each of the three former officers who accepted plea deals to misdemeanors — Eric L. Eagle, Lola Hart and James Sands — is white. Sands was next in line to be promoted to captain when he resigned prior to his guilty plea in November 2007.
Prosecutors said Nowling and Peoples both were offered the same plea deal as the others, but chose to go to trial instead.
Peoples’ trial continues Tuesday in front of Kanawha Circuit Chief Judge Jim Stucky
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Wal-Mart staff notified South Charleston police on Wednesday that Joshua Michael Elswick, 18, of 4th Avenue used his position as a cashier at the Southridge Centre location to take $1,465 in cash from his register, according to a complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
Store officials said money in the registers started to come up short while Elswick was working between Feb. 24 and March 15, the complaint said. The store set Elswick up on a register audit and found that Elswick’s register was short on those audit days, police said.
The store’s security officials checked the video surveillance footage of all the registers Elswick was working on and found that the man could be seen hiding money in his pants pockets and in his boots and socks, the complaint said. Police said after viewing the tapes that Elswick could be seen opening the register whether or not a purchase had been made and pretending to drop a customer’s change to hide money, according to the complaint.
Store officials said that Elswick also could be seen on the tape giving customers the appropriate change, then taking more money from the register and hiding it on his person, according to the complaint.
Authorities have issued a warrant for Elswick’s arrest. He faces charges of felony embezzlement.
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