Sheriff’s candidate John Horch addresses errors made during his tenure at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office

John Horch
John Horch

Horch told Clark County Today that he trusts voters to listen to his explanation of the errors he has made and then make their own decision as to who they want their next sheriff to be

When John Horch decided to run for Clark County Sheriff, he knew at some point he would have to answer for some errors that he had made during his three-plus decades with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

“I knew it would come up,’’ Horch told Clark County Today during a phone conversation Friday (Oct. 28) morning. “I am embarrassed by it but I’m not going to run from this. I didn’t want this to be the reason I didn’t run for sheriff.’’

Horch is facing long-time Vancouver Police Department veteran Rey Reynolds in the Nov. 8 general election. He said that he trusts voters to listen to his explanation of the mistakes he has made and then make their own decision as to who they want their next sheriff to be. “They can ask me anything,’’ Horch said of the voters.

During the campaign, Horch was aware that information was circulating in the community about some past errors in his employee files and performance evaluations. As a result of that, Horch instructed his employer to fulfill Public Records Requests about his past performance, even though he says he could have delayed the release of that information until after the Nov. 8 general election.

“A couple of weeks ago, maybe a month ago, I was notified that a public disclosure request was done by several people,’’ Horch said. “I was told they would not have to provide the information until mid November. I did not delay that, which I could have done. I agreed to release that information early before the election.

Clark County Today has 53 pages of documents that were released through a Public Records Request. Horch offered the full file, which he said was 695 pages.

“I have some things on my record,’’ Horch said. “It was my own doing. I’m not blaming anybody else.’’

Many of the things that Horch is referring to took place at least 18 years ago, during what he describes as a difficult time in his life. Horch said he has previously disclosed publicly that he went through a period where he struggled with his alcohol use. 

“I’m very proud of my career,’’ Horch said. “I’ve done a lot of good things. I have been proud to be a public servant and help people. Nineteen years ago, I did go through a very tumultuous divorce. At that time, I was a sergeant and I was demoted. I also knew that I was drinking too much so I decided to stop drinking and I joined a recovery group. I’m in recovery and continue with a recovery group still. I haven’t had a drink since 2004.

“It was not a good year for me both personally and professionally,’’ Horch said of the time of his divorce. “Fortunately, I had people who believed in me. (Former Sheriff) Garry Lucas believed in me and my abilities and in a way he gave me a second chance. He promoted me again several times and I have never looked back.’’

Horch said he has used his personal experience to help others.

“When I was going through that time, I didn’t see it as a good time, but I’ve used it to show that you can go through adversity and suffer things but you can go through it and make it a positive,’’ Horch said. “It turned out to be the best thing for me. I don’t mind saying that. I’ve talked about it publicly.

“I have used my story to help other people who have gone through things,’’ Horch said. “It’s not the end of the world. You may get disciplined but you can come out the other side and be the better person. That’s what I’ve done in my career.’’

Some of those errors

In a Performance Evaluation Form for the 2000 evaluation period, it was stated that “Deputy Horch took a gun into evidence at the scene of a suicide. He forgot to turn the gun into property, until it was brought to his attention that the gun was missing. He found it in the trunk of his patrol car. No formal discipline was given.’’

“I have no recollection but it must be accurate,’’ Horch said. “It’s not uncommon that we forget things. There must have been a reason I wasn’t formally reprimanded.’’

In an April 2004 evaluation (dated May 12, 2004), Commander (Erin) Nolan wrote that “in the late afternoon on 4-20-04 I opened an email from Commander (Chuck) Atkins that detailed a domestic violence incident that involved Sergeant Horch personally that occurred during duty hours on 4-19-04.’’ The report later stated: “following the Sgts meeting Chief (Mike) Evans and I spoke to Horch, who related that there had been a history of a dozen or more DV (Domestic Violence) incidents during his relationship with his wife. He was clearly emotional. Arrangements were made to have Commander Atkins take a report from him.’’

In response to that report, Horch said that “I’ve never been under investigation for Domestic Violence. There has never been any incident of that. There has never been any police investigation. It’s just unfortunate that she (his ex-wife) was actually looked at as the suspect and they decided not to charge her. But, I was never under investigation for a Domestic Violence issue.’’

Horch followed, “a year after the divorce, she was making allegations against me. There were so many things that were being said. I was upset. I asked (then Sheriff) Garry Lucas to do an investigation. They had an independent review and nothing ever came of it so there’s no credibility to those allegations.’’

In a letter dated May 27, 2004, Horch received written notice “of your probationary release from the position of Enforcement Sergeant with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office’’ effective that day. The letter informed him that he had “reinstatement rights to your previous appointment as a Deputy Sheriff II.’’ The letter also noted the involuntary demotion carried with it a new rate of pay.

Later that year, Horch admitted to removing two diversity posters from walls at two separate CCSO precincts.

“After I was demoted in 2004, I was back in the precinct and I did something stupid,’’ Horch said. “It wasn’t about diversity. I was upset about being demoted. I didn’t want to look at those in the precincts so I removed them.’’ 

Horch said he received a two-week suspension (without pay) for removing the posters.

“That was the end of me thinking I knew better than the department,’’ he said. “That was the same time I thought I better get some help with my alcoholism.’’

Horch said he later served on the diversity board at the Sheriff’s Office.

“I paid the price for it,’’ he said. “I moved on and I became a better person for it.’’

In the same 2004 evaluation, it was pointed out that Horch had previously been given verbal and written reprimands for his performance, specifically due to his failure to file reports. Despite that, the evaluation stated that “additional problems with reports have surfaced.’’ In fact, the Late Report from Case Management in December 2000 indicated “Deputy Horch was on the list six times.’’

A review of Horch’s evaluations also included several positive comments.

In a Performance Evaluation Form for the period of June-October 2004, one entry noted that “John’s many years as a bomb technician has made him a highly trained and competent part of the agency and the metro team.’’ Another entry stated that “John is a competent deputy. He makes prudent decisions regarding investigations and call handling.’

In the overall comments (summary) of the June-October 2004 evaluation, it was stated that “John has endured a year of personal and professional turmoil. John has maintained a very positive attitude since these setbacks at work, except for the poster incident. He returned to patrol with a positive and enthusiastic outlook.’ The comments concluded that “John is able to perform all duties of a deputy sheriff, but needs to use better judgment in some circumstances.’’

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney

Clark County Today shared the 53 pages of documents from Horch’s personnel records with Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik. Those documents included reports of the incidents described in this story.

Golik joined the Prosecuting Attorney’s office in 2000 as a deputy prosecuting attorney and became prosecuting attorney in January 2011. He told Clark County Today that he reviewed the documents concerning Horch’s performance. He stated that he had never seen the documents prior to them being provided by Clark County Today.

“I have reviewed the documents attached to your email,’’ Golik said in a phone conversation Thursday.

Golik also told Clark County Today he had no plans for a further internal review of the documents detailing incidents of Horch’s performance, “I just saw this (information) for the first time. I have no intention of rushing into any possible (review) process.’’

Golik was then asked if the prosecuting attorney’s office had ever disclosed any incidents of Horch’s performance to area defense attorneys in cases where Horch was a witness, investigator or presiding officer.

“Not during my tenure,’’ Golik said. “I don’t have any knowledge that was done before I was the prosecutor either. It’s possible something like that was done in the early 2000s. So that’s possible this office did that but I don’t have any knowledge of that happening. I can also say that I would expect that I would have heard about that happening and I didn’t.’’.

Golik was also asked if the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office had ever recommended that Horch be placed on the Brady List. To ensure fair trials the Supreme Court of the United States created the Brady doctrine obligating the prosecutor of every case to gather and disclose all information about any individual upon whose testimony they will rely. The Brady List is considered to be the definitive public-facing database of information about police misconduct, public complaints, use-of-force reports, and more. 

“What I can do is I can give you a copy of our Brady policy,’’ Golik said. “I am willing to do that. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to make comment other than to give you that document at this point.’’

Horch is not currently on the Brady List for Washington state.

A source with extensive experience working with both the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office told Clark County Today, “this material should have been provided by the sheriff to the prosecutor long ago in any cases where Horch was a potential witness. 

“Under Potential Impeachment Disclosure guidelines, documented findings by the Sheriff’s Office that Horch mishandled evidence, had disregard for civil rights, and arguably showed bias should have been disclosed. The obligation for the Sheriff’s Office to provide this information to the prosecutor was established long ago by the United States Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland.’’ 

Rey Reynolds statement

Clark County Today contacted the Rey Reynolds campaign Friday seeking comment for this story. The campaign issued a statement that it has received many inquiries and requests for statements regarding released information of his opponent’s work history obtained by a previous public records request. 

The campaign stated that “Rey’s preference has been to focus on his own race and inform voters as to why he’s the best candidate rather than why his opponent is not. However, with the most recent discovery, Rey stated he can no longer stay silent on the matter.’’

The statement went on to state that Washington State Law dictates that all “Complaints, Grievances, Investigations, and Misconduct Records” for peace officers be retained for the entirety of the officer’s employment, plus a minimum of 10 years after separation (RCW 40.14.070(4)). 

According to the statement, several members of the public have approached Reynolds stating that they submitted a current public records request for John Horch’s IA (Internal Affairs) file, and the response was that there was only one page in his file. According to the Reynolds campaign, the response was that “any other IA investigations which may have existed were previously destroyed.” The Reynolds campaign believes that based on the previous request, there are many more pages that should be in that file. 

“This is extremely concerning to me,” Reynolds said in the statement. “The public’s demand for police accountability and transparency has grown exponentially in recent years, specifically from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and now we see that the Internal Affairs records of misdeeds of someone running to be in charge of the entire agency, and the highest elected official in the County, have been destroyed. That’s exactly the opposite of what this community is looking for, and a corruption I stand against. 

“Peace officers are to be held to a higher standard, and when I’m Sheriff, I will ensure that ALL officers, whether they’re line-level or administration, and to include myself in the position of Sheriff, are accountable for their actions. I believe that the vast majority of the deputies at CCSO are good, kind, hard-working and well-intentioned peace officers, and I’m committed to making sure the public has every ability to see that for themselves, including by maintaining accurate and complete internal affairs files.” 

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