SALLISAW — The elected police chief here has been stripped of his supervisory powers amid allegations that he fostered a hostile work environment, mistreated employees and nearly led the department to the “point of being dysfunctional,” city officials say.
Shaloa Edwards was relieved of his duties last week after the Sallisaw City Commission voted unanimously to change city code and allow City Manager Bill Baker to assume control of the police department for a 90-day period.
Edwards, who is accused of stealing small amounts of petty cash from the city, already is under investigation.
Baker said city officials have received complaints from six or seven police officers regarding Edwards' ability to perform his duties as police chief. He said problems at the Sallisaw Police Department have “really come to a head within the last year.”
“Just in general, part of their complaints is retaliatory action taken against some of the officers … favoritism,” he said. “From what I'm hearing from a lot them, they've just lost confidence in the chief. Morale is very, very low.”
The local police union also took a vote of no confidence regarding Edwards' ability to run the police force.
Baker said nearly every Sallisaw police officer attended last week's city commission meeting.
“They presented that to the council at the (Feb. 11) meeting,” Baker said.
Edwards, 51, is still the elected chief, but he has no authority over the 22 other officers.
In the meantime, Baker said city officials will conduct an investigation and audit of the police department.
Edwards had little to say about the investigation when contacted Monday by The Oklahoman.
He said his attorney has advised him not to discuss the case.
“I'm still, I guess, considered a police officer … I still have powers to arrest people and stuff,” he said. “But I have no power whatsoever to run the department.
“I've been going to work and just sitting there. Make 'em look at me.”
Edwards said the public, for the most part, is behind him.
“It's been great,” Edwards said. “They're pretty disappointed in the city.”
He said the public is upset “because it's elected (the police chief post), and they feel like they've been gone around.”
“The public support has been super … I can't ask for any better,” Edwards said.
Petty cash incident
According to documents released by Sallisaw city officials, Edwards already has confessed to taking city funds. He told investigators he didn't see anything wrong with it.
“It's all been paid back,” he said.
“It's not like I tried to steal the money.”
Edwards is being investigated for leaving an IOU for $40 inside a petty cash drawer at the police station.
The chief also told investigators that he took $20 two other times.
Sallisaw police Capt. Beau Gabbert, who is overseeing the department's day-to-day operations during the 90-day period, indicated that Edwards was questioned in mid-January.
“I asked him if he knew taking public funds was a crime, and he stated that he didn't think of it that way,” Gabbert wrote.
Baker said it is against Sallisaw city policy to take public funds for personal use.
Sequoyah County District Attorney Brian Kuester said his office received the report from the Sallisaw Police Department last month.
“That investigation has not yet been reviewed nor a decision made as to what, if any, charges will be filed,” Kuester said.
Sallisaw is about 25 miles from the Arkansas border.
The city has a population of about 9,000.