Travis Lyons must wish he could rewind his week and erase it.
Lyons, a University Place animal-control officer, was fired Friday. Around the same time, Pierce County prosecutors charged him with second-degree theft, evidence tampering and official misconduct.
He’s accused of stealing money from a crime scene: a marijuana crop busted Wednesday by sheriff’s deputies. According to charging documents, Lyons, 28, swiped more than $1,400 in cash stacked on a dresser. He denied it at first, then blamed his fellow officer, and finally admitted the theft to a deputy a day later, records state.
“I wanted to tell you that I did take the money yesterday and I want to come clean about it,” Lyons said.
Charging documents say three sheriff’s deputies responded Wednesday to a reported burglary in progress in the 7700 block of 35th Street Southwest. The deputies soon spotted the burglars – a pair of juveniles – and discovered the pot-growing operation in the process.
Deputies called Lyons and another animal-control officer to handle a dog at the scene. Animal-control officers in University Place don’t carry guns, and they don’t have the authority to make arrests, but they respond to requests for law enforcement assistance.
During the search of the house, a woman who identified herself as the resident showed up. She said the marijuana crop was legal, tied to a Tacoma dispensary. She also said money was missing from her bedroom.
Deputies had noticed a pile of cash in the bedroom during the initial sweep. Looking again, they realized it was gone. A search of patrol cars revealed no trace of it. A search of the animal-control car led to a different result. The money was tucked under the driver’s seat.
When questioned, Lyons denied knowing anything about the money and blamed his partner. His partner blamed Lyons. The next day, Lyons called a deputy and told a different story. He said he’d taken the money and thrown it over a fence for safekeeping during the search. After the first sweep, he went back to the spot and gathered the money. A patrol car drove up. Lyons panicked, he said, and hid the money behind the seat of his car.
Asked why he’d taken it, Lyons said, “I’m not sure. I’ve just never seen money in a stack like that,” court records say.
University Place City Attorney Steve Victor confirmed Lyons’ firing Friday. His partner has been suspended. Victor said that reflected standard procedure, not suspicion.
“As a normal practice, we suspended both of them,” Victor said Friday. “(The second officer) is still on suspension pending completion of our internal review and any follow-up investigation.”
Lyons pleaded not guilty at his Friday arraignment in Pierce County Superior Court. Bail was set at $2,500.
Note: An earlier version of this story had a misprint in the headline. The animal-control officer did not work for Pierce County as had been previously posted.