GULFPORT -- A former Long Beach police officer has been sentenced to 24 full years in prison for the statutory rape of his teenage girlfriend while he was on duty and in uniform.
Patrick Klis, 46, will not be eligible for early release. He will also have six years of reporting supervision after prison and must register as a sex offender the rest of his life.
In Harrison County Circuit Court on Thursday, Judge Chis Schmidt said the evidence shows Klis "was grooming the girl for the ultimate trophy."
Klis, in his guilty plea Dec. 4, admitted he began a relationship with the girl in October 2013 -- when she was 14 -- and first had sex with her on her 15th birthday.
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Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker said Klis created fake Facebook profiles to communicate with her, and there were more than 9,000 pages of their Facebook communications, including nude pictures and sexually explicit conversations.
Parker said it was one of the worst cases of betrayal of trust he's ever seen.
Klis asked the judge to consider his police work and military service.
"That service is what makes this case so disturbing and deplorable," Parker said. "Klis received recognition and trust throughout the community. Not only did he betray that trust, but as was seen in his Facebook messages, he laughed at it."
Schmidt said the evidence, and Klis' own admissions, showed he would pick up the girl and her friends as they sneaked out of their homes. They would accompany him on police calls or wait for him to return from calls at an abandoned house where he and the girl had sex. Klis admitted he and the girl had sex numerous times.
His "scandalous" behavior endangered the lives of the girl and her friends, Schmidt said.
The girl sat quietly in the courtroom but did not speak. A letter she had written was handed to the judge, but he did not read it aloud.
Klis pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape. He faced up to 30 years per count. He had been indicted on five counts of unlawful sex acts.
Klis is a retired Seabee with six combat tours in Iraq. He had been a Long Beach officer Department for 6- 1/2 years before his April arrest, after which he was fired.
Klis and family members told the judge he had PTSD from his war activities, seeking out improvised explosive devices, and as a police officer had shot the son of a friend.
"I was an empty shell," he said. "I just wanted to die."
Klis said he thought sex with the teen girl would give meaning to his life, "but it did not."
In December, Klis had told the judge he was a friend of her family and had found himself attracted to her.
"I encouraged her to have sex with me and she eventually agreed," he said.
The Harrison County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation after a concerned parent gave a tip.
Klis' voice broke as he addressed the judge, saying he probably would have killed himself if he hadn't been arrested. He and relatives said he sought treatment for PTSD through the Department of Veterans Affairs after his arrest, and they felt he was beginning to have peace in his life.
His wife on Thursday told the judge Klis was a different man after war, and she didn't realize he was suffering from PTSD. She said they have been raising their 2- 1/2-year-old grandchild.
"I didn't have a clue," she said. Since he began receiving treatment, "I've watched a dead man come alive," she said.
His mother and stepfather gave similar testimony.
'Life now tainted'
Klis apologized to the girl, her family and his family, to his military family and to law enforcement in general for creating a perception of "mistrust" for other officers.
"I had a good name and reputation and all the good I've done in my life is now tarnished," he said. "I'm deeply ashamed and remorseful."
Schmidt said he received 18 letters requesting leniency, including a form letter with 104 signatures and a letter from a respected Catholic clergy member. Those who supported leniency, he said, included military and law enforcement personnel.
Klis did not fault the girl, Schmidt said, and spared her the embarrassment of a trial and saved the court trial costs. But Schmidt said the punishment must reflect the nature and circumstances of the crime.
Schmidt imposed a 15-year prison term for each count, ordered them to run consecutively and suspended nine years, leaving 24 to serve and six years of probation.
District Attorney Joel Smith said: "There is no excuse for these predatory crimes against children in our community, especially when committed by someone whose job was to protect and serve."