11:14 PM PST on Sunday, January 16, 2011

By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Vern Horst, who served as chief investigator for the Riverside County district attorney’s office under Rod Pacheco, has resigned from the post.

Horst was among a handful of Pacheco-appointed executives eligible to remain for 90 days after new District Attorney Paul Zellerbach took office on Jan. 3.

But on Wednesday Horst issued a letter saying that would be his last day.

He said in an interview that he was leaving without a waiting job, and at age 47 is three years from eligibility to collect retirement. He has worked more than 26 years as a peace officer.

“Hopefully I can take the things I learned from this experience and use them — … they are going to help me, whatever the future holds.”

Horst applied for, then withdrew, an application for a voluntary demotion to assistant chief late last year. That would have removed him from his executive, at-will position that was more vulnerable to dismissal by Zellerbach.

He declined to discuss any severance package. He was appointed to the job in 2008. The pay range was $117,262.91 to $153,246.29.

“I care about this county,” Horst said. “It’s been a fresh start, a new day for the organization,” he said. “I believe in it and support that, and this is one way I can show that,” he said of his decision to leave.

He described his relationship with Zellerbach as “good, and because of that this had made (the departure) a lot easier.”

He said he worked with Zellerbach over the years, both as a homicide investigator with the sheriff’s office when Zellerbach was a prosecutor, and as a sergeant on courthouse security when Zellerbach was a judge.

“I didn’t have to do what I did,” Horst said. “I could have had 90 days.”

Zellerbach did not return a phone call seeking comment. .

The district attorney investigator’s unit for Riverside County includes about 150 sworn officers who are typically seasoned detectives from other agencies.

Their traditional role is to further investigate cases the prosecutor’s office believes is headed for trial.

But under Pacheco that changed, and some investigators were assigned to front-line police work such as gang raids.

It was Horst who had to explain in November 2009 an office decision to boycott the Riverside County sheriff-operated Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center after nine investigators were turned away from a county sheriff-run SWAT training class.

Sheriff’s officials said other applicants had higher priority for the very selective class, and questioned the need for SWAT training for the investigators.

The investigators were sent to a similar class at Golden West College, a two-year college in Huntington Beach.

Horst also was the subject of a May 2010 rank-and-file union survey which was critical of his performance as chief investigator.

To read entire story, click here.