SALLISAW — The chief of police in Sallisaw, already stripped of his powers after admitting he took $40 in petty cash, is suing the city whose residents elected him to serve as their top law enforcement official.
Shaloa Edwards was relieved of his duties in February 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 is accused of stealing small amounts of petty cash from the city. City officials turned over an investigation of the incidents to Sequoyah County District Attorney Brian Kuester in January. The chief has not been charged with a crime at this point.
In his lawsuit, Edwards claims the Sallisaw City Commission sidestepped the city's charter when his powers were taken away.
“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.”
City Manager Baker said last month that city officials had received complaints from six or seven police officers regarding Edwards' ability to perform his duties. Baker 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,” Baker said shortly after Edwards' powers were stripped. “From what I'm hearing from a lot of them, they've just lost confidence in the chief. Morale is very, very low.”
During the Feb. 11 meeting, 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 the meeting.
Edwards, 51, is still the elected chief, but he has no authority over the 22 other officers on the force.
According to documents released by Sallisaw city officials, Edwards 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 in a recent interview. “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 daily operations during the 90-day period, indicated 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.
Sallisaw is about 25 miles from the Arkansas border. The city has a population of about 9,000.