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March 3, 2024

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Horch admits early job issues at Clark County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff candidate struggled in 2003-04, was demoted

By , Columbian staff reporter

With one week left before the Nov. 8 general election, Clark County sheriff candidate John Horch addressed concerns about disciplinary actions in the early years of his 33-year employment with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Horch’s 649-page employment file, which he shared in its entirety with The Columbian, shows internal affairs investigations into incidents of misconduct and failure to meet management job standards, particularly in 2003 and 2004.

During that time, Horch was promoted from deputy to enforcement sergeant. While on probationary status for the promotion, Horch was eventually demoted back to deputy after incidents of failing to effectively supervise and file reports in a timely fashion.

Horch told The Columbian on Thursday the discipline reflects a time when he was struggling outside of work with a divorce and a drinking problem, which affected his ability to focus and make good decisions on the job. After that time, he said he made an effort to turn his life around.

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“I didn’t have a good year, year and a half there, out of my career,” Horch said. “I was not paying attention to my job as a supervisor, as a newly promoted supervisor, and I got demoted for it, which is, looking back, probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me because it made me grow as a person, and then at work, too.”

A performance evaluation dated early 2001 notes throughout that past year, Horch failed to complete reports as quickly as he should have, or sometimes not at all. It also noted an incident in which he failed to log a gun into evidence and an incident in which the then-deputy broke the computer in his patrol vehicle by touching the screen too hard when it wasn’t responding. For breaking the computer, the records show Horch received a written reprimand from current Sheriff Chuck Atkins, who was a commander at the time.

His performance evaluation that year read, in part, “Deputy Horch had numerous problems with organization, time management, work habits, response to deadlines, follow through and independence. He was issued a verbal reprimand, followed by a written reprimand for failing to write crime reports, failing to complete correction notices and failing to investigate crimes. The problem was still continuing at the end of 2000, so the additional incidents were referred to Internal Affairs for action.”

His evaluation of his performance in 2001 was much more positive, the file shows. The evaluation of his first six months as a sergeant in 2003 was complimentary and did not note any concerns about performance or discipline.

But the record of his work in 2004 reflects slipping job performance that his supervisor noted correlated with a year of “personal turmoil.” The performance evaluation noted an instance of Horch improperly handling a domestic violence report from a spouse of a Vancouver police officer.

The evaluation also states the personal problems were resulting in Horch not being present at work enough or meeting the standards of supervision expected of a sergeant. Because of this, the report states he was demoted back to deputy before the end of his probationary period.

“John has endured a year of personal and professional turmoil,” the report states. “John is able to perform all duties of a deputy sheriff, but needs to use better judgment in some circumstances.”

After his demotion, Horch was suspended for 94 hours after he was found to have taken down posters promoting diversity hanging at two of the agency’s precincts. Once an investigation was opened into the incident, Horch admitted he was responsible for it and said he did it out of anger over his demotion, the file shows. Horch then reordered the posters and replaced them.

“After I was demoted, I did something stupid. I was pretty angry, and I thought, ‘They don’t believe in diversity. They just put them up,’ ” Horch said. “It was not a good year for me, I got suspended, and then said, ‘No, I’m not going to go this route’ and changed my life and found a recovery group and haven’t looked back. So, again, it had nothing to do with diversity.”

Horch said a few years after the incident, he served on the county’s diversity committee. His file shows a certificate of appreciation from that committee.

Three years later, Horch was promoted back to sergeant and has since climbed the command ranks in the agency to his current post as the chief criminal deputy, with only the positions of sheriff and undersheriff above him in the department’s organizational chart. Horch was honored as the 2010 Enforcement Sergeant of the Year, according to his file.

Since the suspension, Horch said there has been no other disciplinary action against him at the sheriff’s office. But he said some on social media have spread rumors of a more insidious history, claiming that at one point, he resigned in lieu of being fired. In response to those allegations, Horch said he’s hired a lawyer.

The supervisors who imposed Horch’s discipline during that time are familiar faces, such as Atkins and retired Sheriff Garry Lucas; they’re also familiar because they are listed among Horch’s endorsements in the sheriff’s race and among the financial contributors to his campaign.