Sequoyah County Times, sequoyahcountytimes.com
BYLINE: Sally Maxwell Senior Staff Writer
An audit of the Sallisaw Police Department was given to City Manager Bill Baker on March 4.
The audit was prompted by accusations by other police officers about Sallisaw Police Chief Shaloa Edwards.
Edwards said he was talking with his attorney, Chip Sexton of Fort Smith, Ark., on Tuesday, to determine his next course of action. Edwards denied some of the accusations and admitted one other.
Edwards continues to serve as Sallisaw’s elected police chief during the investigation. Baker emphasized that Edwards, elected by Sallisaw voters and is in his second term of office, cannot be removed from office by Sallisaw City Commissioners.
However, the commissioners’ voted on Feb. 11 to change a city ordinance to enable them to strip Edwards of his official duties while an investigation into the allegations took place. The investigation has a 90-day limit.
The allegations against the police chief came from other police officers through the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the officers’ union. FOP members attended the Feb. 11 meeting and, in a letter, also blamed Edwards’ leadership as the cause of low morale in the police department.
After the Feb. 11 meeting, Edwards said that disgruntled officers whom he had disciplined prompted the investigation, and he said he welcomed an audit of his department.
Edwards said city officials did not support him when he tried to discipline officers, and those officers went behind his back to city administration.
The audit was conducted by Ronald C. Cottrell, CPA, of Grove, and was conducted Feb. 27 through March 1.
The audit found that “No deposits of cash collected were noted from 12/9/11 through 3/1/13.”
Baker said this was an audit of a cash fund kept at the police department for small purchases, such as those paying for a police report or other small fees.
Edwards said that he had taken money from this cash fund when, at the end of a pay period, he did not have enough money to buy lunch, and, rather than dip into his savings account, he borrowed money from the fund and left an IOU. Edwards said he has since paid the money back, and apologized. He said he did not know it was against city policy to borrow from this cash fund.
The audit found that the city’s ledger revealed that $200 more was recorded in city records than in police department records from 2010 through 2011, but that no deposits were noted for 2012 receipts, resulting in a potential shortage of $487.
Edwards said Tuesday that Pat Allen, who has been ill and not serving as the receptionist at the police department, and Randy Freeman, who replaced Allen when she became ill, oversee that cash account. He also said that the cost of copies, sometimes requested for insurance purposes after a wreck, had dropped from $5 per page to .25 cents a page. He said Allen and Freeman were responsible for making the deposits from the police department account to the city account.
Baker said the audit indicated that not all receipt books for that cash fund were made available.
In the list of 18 allegations made by police officers, one accuses Edwards of taking furniture from a FEMA trailer placed at the landfill/gun range.
Although the audit shows all furniture accounted for, Baker said he did an inventory of the trailer’s furniture when that allegation was made, on July 13, 2012. He said the audit was the same as his inventory, but furniture was missing before the inventory.
Baker said, “The chief was heard to say he had it.”
The furniture was a coffee table, an end table, and two mattress sets with bed frames.
On Tuesday, Edwards said all he had was one bed.
Another allegation accuses the police chief and his wife of taking purses and handbags from the evidence room, which was allegedly caught on video tape.
Baker said two police officers report they saw the tape. Baker said he has not seen that tape, but has talked to the officers who did see it. Baker said he does not know the location of that video tape.
Two more allegations accuse Edwards of taking computers and other electronics home, and never checking them back in, and that a pistol owned by the city was checked out to a civilian, not a police officer.
The audit reports, “We reviewed all purchase orders and associated vendor invoices for the purchase of small asset items such as computers, cameras, and tactical team’s special weapons for the period of Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2012. We observed weapons assigned to each officer, comparing serial numbers with the invoices for the purchase. We also observed other items purchased such as computers and cameras in the possession of selected officers and on hand in the police department offices. We were able to account for all items purchased during the period, except for two of the 20 metal shelving units for the police evidence room.”
The audit also found several disparities in the evidence room, where information was found to be incorrect or lacking about the disposal or dispersal of evidence.
Both Baker and Edwards pointed out that a fire in the police department on July 6, 2012, was a problem, not only with the handbags and purses but other evidence as well. Baker explained that most likely the handbags, purses and DVDs were confiscated by police as knock-offs of brand-name items or were being sold by unlicensed sellers and then confiscated.
Two officers told Baker they had bags of DVDs in their offices and one officer said the “…supervisor told the officers it was OK to take the counterfeit items.”
Some guns reported destroyed in the fire were actually found in the evidence room, and a box of counterfeit sunglasses, reported to have been destroyed in the fire, were found in the evidence room.
The audit found that, “Evidence room procedures for documentation and disposal are not being consistently followed. Procedures need to be updated.”
Edwards said Tuesday that “housekeeping,” or record keeping in the evidence room was a problem before the fire, and has been improved since
The audit also found:
— “…the police department was following the City of Sallisaw’s purchasing manual for purchases of supplies, materials and services.
— The police department’s accounting software is outdated.
— Equipment issued to patrolmen is entered into the Offender Data Information System (ODIS) software program for tracking purposes. Each patrolman has access to ODIS and it is his or her responsibility to review and update the listing. Several officers had not properly documented equipment issued to them, nor were the entries complete or current.
— There is no inventory of the supply safe at the police department and there are no procedures regarding access to or the manner in which officers request supplies. The safe holds uniforms, ammunition, handguns, holsters and small items located in two metal lockers.
The audit does not address all items on the list of 18 allegations submitted to Baker by the FOP.
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