The Sheriff’s Office filed a lawsuit against Alexis Dominguez, a sheriff’s deputy recruit, asking that he pay back $15,000 as reimbursement for the cost of six months of police-academy training and six months of lost salary after Dominguez went to work for Prince William police in November.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 28 in Prince William County General District Court. A hearing has been set for April 11.
This year, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors allocated $32,000 to the Sheriff’s Office, a state constitutional office, for the police-academy training. Stoffregen’s office then reimburses the county for the costs of training his employees in a 26-week basics course and later in-service training.
But the issue for Stoffregen is enforcement of the contract.
“Dominguez signed an agreement that if he left before three years of service, he would be responsible for the cost of training,” Stoffregen said. “I’m losing that training money and the county should reimburse me. We are only authorized so many positions a year at the academy, and when that money is gone, there is no money to replace it.”
Personally, he said he has only high regard for Dominguez.
The lawsuit is the latest budget dispute between the Sheriff’s Office and the county. Last August, passage of a $25.3 million surplus budget package was stymied when three supervisors walked out of a board meeting over funding for Stoffregen’s Office and the police department.
Prince William County Police Chief Charlie T. Deane, with whom Stoffregen only recently worked out a written agreement on turf issues, called the lawsuit “inappropriate,” but wouldn’t elaborate further.
Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, is bracing for a fight. “I understand this has been over 4,000 hours of training for the sheriff’s department,” he said. “It costs the police department dramatically more money to train the sheriff’s deputies than he currently transfers to the police department. However, no one has ever questioned this, because it’s still training going to public safety programs in the county.”
Connaughton said that if Stoffregen is successful in his lawsuit against Dominguez, he will bring a resolution to the board to get the money right back to the officer.
Dominguez did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Connaughton said his reading of the contract only requires Dominguez to serve the county, which he is now doing.
Stoffregen initiated the contract two years ago to stop defections to other law enforcement agencies after the Sheriff’s Office paid for the cost of training. Lawsuits against other former deputies are in the works, he said.
Last year, five county police officers went to the Sheriff’s Office instead, but the county took no action, Connaughton said.
The attempt to recoup costs will not end with Dominguez. Stoffregen is also planning to bring a lawsuit against one Haymarket police officer, and one other Prince William officer. He did not sue two deputies who went to Fairfax County because they had fulfilled almost all of their three-year contracts, he said.
He is always willing to negotiate with someone who is leaving, he said.
He also said he would not hire officers away from Prince William if the situation were reversed — and there was a contract with the police department.
Although Dominguez now works for the county, County Attorney Sharon Pandak said she cannot represent him.
“In my role as county attorney, I wouldn’t provide defense to him on a matter unrelated to his work as a county police officer,” she said. Professional ethics also dictate against it since she has given legal advice to Stoffregen on a similar issue involving another former deputy.
Stoffregen has turned to Occoquan attorney Paul Giles to file his lawsuits. It isn’t costing the Sheriff’s Office anything, he said, since Giles won’t get paid unless Stoffregen wins.
Dominguez may get financial help from the Prince William County Police Association or the Fraternal Order of Police, said Jackson Miller, head of the county police association, although Dominguez has not asked for help.
The Potomac News asked to look at the lawsuit and its file on Feb. 7, but Prince William General District Court clerks would not provide it. The newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of the suit; the request is pending.
Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.