SALLISAW — The elected chief of police in Sallisaw is charged with embezzling public funds after he admitted to taking $80 in petty cash last year.
Chief Shaloa Edwards, 51, was arrested Friday and has posted bail.
The felony embezzlement charges come after city officials forwarded an internal investigation to the Sequoyah County district attorney's office in January.
During a Jan. 17 interview with investigators, Edwards admitted to investigators “he took the money (but) that he didn't think it was wrong,” an affidavit filed with the case states.
“He stated that he had taken money on three occasions, once 40 dollars and twice 20 dollars,” Sallisaw police Capt. Beau Gabbert wrote in the affidavit. “I asked him if he knew taking public funds was a crime and he stated that he didn't think of it that way.”
The investigation started after a civilian employee of the Sallisaw Police Department reported that Edwards had requested $20 from the petty cash drawer and then later left an IOU for $40 inside the cash box. The IOU was signed “Shaloa,” records show.
Gabbert also wrote that he questioned city employee Pat Allen, who was in charge of the petty cash drawer, and that her statements conflicted with things Edwards had told others.
“I asked her if she ever loaned anyone money from the drawer and she stated, ‘No,' that she was not going to lose her job for anyone,” Gabbert wrote.
“I asked her what about the chief (Edwards) and she stated, ‘No,' that she never had nor would she.”
Unlike most police chiefs in Oklahoma, Edwards was elected. City officials had to amend city code to strip Edwards of his supervisory powers, which they did in February.
Last month, Edwards filed a lawsuit against the city of Sallisaw and City Manager Bill Baker, claiming the Sallisaw City Commission sidestepped the city's charter when his powers were taken away. Baker now has police supervisory powers.
“It failed to recognize that it could not, consistent with the Sallisaw City Charter, eliminate the position of police chief at its whim,” the lawsuit states, “or transfer the duties of police chief to anyone other than the duly elected police chief.”
During a recent interview with The Oklahoman, Baker said city officials had 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 in February. “From what I'm hearing from a lot them, they've just lost confidence in the chief. Morale is very, very low.”
Recusal granted in case
Even though Edwards is charged in Sequoyah County, he is being prosecuted by Jeff Smith, district attorney of LeFlore and Latimer counties.
Sequoyah County District Attorney Brian Kuester said his office was granted a recusal by the state Attorney General's office. He said such recusals are normal when a local law enforcement official is charged with a crime.
“Just because of the close working relationship I have with Chief Edwards, as well as the officers involved,” Kuester said, “I just didn't think it would be appropriate for me to decide.”
The charge filed against Edwards shows that he could receive between a year and 10 years in prison if convicted.
The law also allows a judge to order Edwards to pay “triple the amount in money embezzled.”