A Lakewood police officer accused of embezzling money from a fund supporting families of four police officers who were gunned down in 2009 was released Wednesday afternoon after a first appearance in federal court.
Lakewood and surrounding South Sound communities were shocked by news that Officer Skeeter Timothy Manos, 34, of DuPont was charged with 10 federal felonies for allegedly embezzling more than $120,000 from the fund, of which he was treasurer.
Manos, wearing blue jeans and a green polo shirt, said little during the brief appearance before U.S. District Court Judge J. Richard Creatura in Tacoma.
"Your life has changed dramatically today," Creatura told Manos. "Your family will have to deal with these changes. Those changes can cause disruption for you and your family."
Creatura ordered an evaluation of Manos from the district mental health specialist this week.
A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 27 at 11 a.m.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, Manos was arrested without incident at Lakewood City Hall early Wednesday.
In a statement, the Lakewood Police Department said:
"The department is stunned and saddened by the news of the alleged theft. What makes this news particularly difficult to take is that the alleged theft was from donated funds intended for the victim officer’s families.
"The Lakewood Police Department has and will cooperate fully with authorities during the course of the investigation. If the allegations are found to be true, the Lakewood Police Department supports prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."
U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan called it "a sad day for our community.”
“These acts betrayed the memory of our fallen heroes, their families, fellow officers and all who supported the fund," she said in a statement. "I commend the Lakewood Police and the Pierce County Prosecutor for coming forward promptly with evidence of these crimes.”
The investigation was initiated by a Lakewood officer, and Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar responded decisively in referring the matter on to prosecutors without delay, said Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz.
According to the criminal complaint, Manos set up a secret bank account, distinct from the primary account established by the Lakewood Police Independent Guild, for donations to the Lakewood Police officers’ families. Manos diverted approximately $151,000 intended for the families to this account. Manos then used about $120,000 from the account for purchases at Costco, Home Depot, for Alaska Airlines tickets to Las Vegas, and for cash withdrawals at various casinos.
Some of the cash withdrawals were made at the Bellagio casino in April 2010, and at the Hawks Prairie Casino in December 2010. The stolen money was just a portion of more than $3.2 million the public contributed for the benefit of the families of the murdered officers.
Lakewood Police Officers Tina Griswold, Ronnie Owens, Greg Richards and Mark Renninger died Nov. 29, 2009, in just outside of Lakewood in unincorporated Pierce County. The shooter, Maurice Clemmons, was shot and killed by a police officer in Seattle two days later.
Jack Connelly, a lawyer representing the widows and children of two of the slain officers in a lawsuit against the state, told Patch on Wednesday that he was “pleased that Chief Farrar was on top of (the allegations) and that they made the arrest, and hopefully will take action against anyone that embezzled from those funds. It’s a very sad thing to see anybody betraying their trust like that. Hopefully justice will prevail.”
Connelly respresents Kim Renninger, widow of slain Sgt. Mark Renninger, and Kelly Richards, widow of Officer Greg Richards, and their combined six children in a suit against the Department of Corrections.
Connelly said he talked about the new allegations Wednesday with Renninger, who did not want to comment publicly. "The families are understandably upset by the betrayal," he said.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said in a statement:
“Stealing from the children of our fallen officers is disgraceful. While these allegations are despicable, we should not lose sight of the honorable work the Lakewood Police Department does for our community. I want to thank U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, the FBI, Police Chief Bret Farrar and the Lakewood Police Department for their swift and thorough response."
"While I am disappointed that such a serious breach of trust was committed, I am very proud that the Lakewood Police Department was able to ‘police’ its own."
The Police Guild also released a statement:
"The Lakewood Police Independent Guild was stunned to learn about the arrest of Officer Manos. We would like the public to know that we have cooperated and will be cooperating with the investigation."
Manos joined the Lakewood Police Department in September 2004, the department said, and worked as a Washington State Patrol trooper from 2003 to 2004.
The case is being investigated by the FBI with the assistance of the Lakewood Police Department and the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.