Apache Junction officials will meet tonight to discuss Police Chief Robert Warner's future with the city, just two days after discrimination lawsuits surfaced from his past.
Two separate lawsuits, one alleging racial discrimination and the other sexual discrimination, were filed in connection with Warner's 12-year stint as police chief in Batavia, Ill. Some allegations resemble those made by Apache Junction police officers during a department audit completed in November. The audit report, written by consulting firm Carroll Buracker & Associates, cited employee complaints about a supervisor e-mailing pornography to subordinates, along with dozens of other examples of mismanagement.
Apache Junction officials said they were unaware of the Batavia lawsuits, filed after Warner left there, but Warner said he did inform then-City Manager Curtis Shook of their existence.
"I don't know what Mr. Shook did with the information," Warner said.
In December 1998, Batavia police Sgt. Edgardo Perez filed a lawsuit alleging that Warner gave him a disciplinary suspension for a "minor infraction," preventing Perez from getting a timely promotion. The lawsuit also described the Batavia Police Department as a place where racial slurs and discrimination were commonplace.
In a federal lawsuit filed in May 1999, Batavia police officer Rhonda Oker claimed she was a victim of sexual discrimination. Accusations by Oker included an incident in which Warner forced her to recite the "Serenity Prayer," which refers to accepting things that cannot be changed, when she complained about sexual harassment by her supervisors.
Other allegations in the lawsuit included a file drawer filled with adult magazines, a farewell party for Warner featuring a female stripper and held in a government facility, sex toys openly displayed and frequent sexually derogatory comments.
Oker's lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount in April 2001 — the same month Apache Junction police Sgt. Robert "Woody" Haywood fatally shot 16-year-old Ali Altug after Altug’s parents called police to help them with their suicidal son. The Oker settlement did not include any admission of wrongdoing from Warner or the city. Perez's case is pending, Warner said.
Warner said he has not had much direct involvement in fighting the Batavia lawsuits, which have been handled by lawyers for Batavia's insurance company. However, Warner said he did believe that they were relevant to his current job, and that he had a responsibility to tell Shook about them.
However, Apache Junction City Attorney Joel Stern said if Shook did know about accusations against Warner, he kept the information to himself.
"Curtis pretty much kept me out of the loop on that," Stern said, adding that it was "shocking" to learn of the lawsuits.
Apache Junction Mayor Douglas Coleman said he is not surprised that city officials were unaware of the lawsuit if Warner told only Shook, who left abruptly in April 2002 after being charged with drunken driving. Shook pleaded guilty to the offense in June 2002.
“The way that the former city manager left, I don't think there was a whole lot of coordination between him and the current city manager,” Coleman said, referring to George Hoffman, who was assistant city manager under Shook.
Apache Junction public information officer Pat Brenner also said the lawsuits, found during a Tribune investigation, came as a surprise. Brenner added that the city conducted a background check on Warner before hiring him in March 1998. The investigation revealed no allegations of misconduct, he said.
The Apache Junction City Council is scheduled to meet with Stern and Hoffman in closed session tonight to discuss Warner's future employment.
Stern said it will be Hoffman's decision whether to keep Warner, fire him or ask for his resignation.
"It would be nice for George to have a nice, clean slate to work with," he said, "and hopefully it will happen soon."