Findings in an independent audit to identify weaknesses in the Apache Junction Police Department’s operations, procedures and policies could put Police Chief Robert Warner’s job in jeopardy.
“Do I have concerns about the leadership of the department? I do,” City Manager George Hoffman said last week.
Hoffman, who has sole authority over Warner’s employment status, said he has been in constant communication with auditing firm Carroll Buracker & Associates, which began an ongoing audit of operations in August by interviewing police officers and other personnel.
“We communicate about issues, patterns and trends at the department,” Hoffman said, but he would not disclose any specifics.
Over the past two years, Warner had been criticized for continuing to employ police Sgt. Robert “Woody” Haywood despite complaints from other officers that Haywood was a danger to himself and others.
Haywood shot and killed 16-year-old Apache Junction resident Ali Altug in April 2001 after Altug’s parents called police because their son was cutting himself with a serrated bread knife.
Parents Reha and Sande Altug received a $1.65 million settlement from the city after filing a civil complaint. Haywood, who suffers from panic disorder, left the department but was never charged with a crime.
The Altugs also have called for criminal charges against Warner, who they claim knew Haywood was mentally unstable but continued to let him go out on patrol.
Public outcry over the incident and pressure from the Apache Junction Police Officers Association labor organization prompted the audit, which was authorized by the City Council in June.
Audit results won’t be released until December, Hoffman said, but that doesn’t mean city officials will wait until then to take action on information brought to light by the audit or other means.
“Employment action could occur for any employee at any time,” he said.
In January, Scottsdale City Manager Jan Dolan fired then-Police Chief Doug Bartosh shortly after a similar departmental audit was completed.
Dolan cited Bartosh’s failure to take audit findings seriously as a reason for his termination. Now, Bartosh is one of 19 candidates vying for the Chandler police chief position, which opened up in February when Chandler Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris took early retirement.
Harris also was criticized for the department’s handling of an officer-involved shooting. An independent audit was authorized.
Warner did not return phone calls seeking comment, but Apache Junction City Councilman John Insalaco acknowledged that the chief has drawn criticism from city officials.
“We know that he’s under the gun a little bit,” Insalaco said.
Warner’s future at the department became a topic of water-cooler discussion
last week when a community newspaper published an article based on unnamed sources that he would be fired within the next week.
Still, Hoffman would not give any specifics about whether he planned to ask for Warner’s resignation.
“My preference is to get stuff out on the table,” Hoffman said. “But when you get into areas of employment law, I have to be cautious.”