The sudden resignation of a Payson police officer last month has delivered another blow to a department shaken by demotions and disciplinary action.
Sgt. John Heflin stepped down Aug. 24 in lieu of termination after Chief Don Engler learned Heflin had consumed alcohol at least two times while on duty.
Both times, Heflin claimed, he drank only one beer while on his dinner break.
However, three officers told Engler they smelled alcohol on Heflin’s breath “several times during the last two weeks,” according to an administrative investigation.
Heflin’s resignation comes after the second highest official in the department was demoted last year and two other officers were disciplined for untoward actions.
With Heflin, his actions clearly violated the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) standards, which state being under the influence of liquor on duty is cause for revocation of an officer’s certification, Engler said.
The other officers’ actions did not warrant termination, said Engler.
During a 20-minute taped interview, which the Roundup requested access to recently, Engler questioned Heflin on his actions.
“I think you understand the gravity of this situation, the situation that you have put yourself in, the situation that you put your troops in and the situation that you put me and the department in,” Engler said.
At first, Heflin denied drinking on duty and pinned any odor smelled on him Aug. 23 to a drunk driving call where a woman had alcohol spilled on her.
“You know if the statements are proven to be inaccurate that there is no recourse where we can go from that point,” Engler said. “These are certified police officers that I believe to be very credible. They think the world of you basically, and you have put them in a difficult situation.”
Engler added that none of the officers “are in an adversarial relationship with you in any way.”
After a long pause, Heflin said that there might have been times when he drank on his break after coming back to work the graveyard shift.
“Was last night one of those occurrences?” Engler said.
“Yes,” Heflin said.
Engler asked how many other times.
“Once last night and once the very first week I came back to graveyards and that was one beer,” Heflin said.
“One beer each time?” Engler said.
“Yes sir,” Heflin said. “Yes, I will admit that there have been a couple of times, but ... it is not an everyday thing, that is not happening.”
Heflin said stress and a recent injury had prompted the drinking. Medication had made it impossible for him to work, so he had stopped taking it. It is unknown if Heflin’s injury happened on the job.
The Roundup requested a comment from Heflin, but did not receive one as of press time for Tuesday’s newspaper.
“Chief I am struggling with the medication,” he said. “If I take the medication and try to work I just can’t do it, I can’t take the medicine.”
“And I guess your reasoning behind this was that the medication wasn’t working and the alcohol helped you physically or mentally or ...” Engler said trailing off.
“Chief as I told you ... I was having a very difficult time with things and I felt awful,” he said.
Engler gave Heflin two options: resign or be fired.
After some 15 years with the department, Heflin resigned.
Engler notified the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board of the investigation and they have yet to rule on the matter.
The incident was not sent to the Gila County attorney’s office because it is not criminal in nature, Engler said.
The Roundup archives document years of Heflin’s work in the community. Nearly all are positive, from helping negotiate a standoff to pulling a woman out of a frozen lake in February.
Heflin’s resignation means there is one less person available to fill the lieutenant position, which has sat empty since Engler demoted Don Garvin.
Garvin reportedly had an affair with the wife of a Department of Public Safety officer and exchanged sexually explicit messages with a woman applying for a job as an officer.
In the past two years, Engler has also disciplined other officers for various offenses. Most notably, narcotics officer Josh LaManna was demoted after he was found to have sent sexually explicit text messages and photos to a drug informant and Sgt. Dean Faust was suspended for three days in July 2010 after allegedly harassing his on-again, off-again girlfriend while on duty.
Engler notified AZPOST after each incident and each time, they upheld Engler’s disciplinary decision.
“I take pride in the fact that I investigate every incident which I become aware of by any means and do not ignore inappropriate behavior,” Engler said. “I address every incident with some type of appropriate discipline after completing the following procedure.”
The process includes collecting facts and sending those to the Gila County attorney’s office if criminal allegations are involved. Before any discipline is imposed, Engler waits for the attorney’s office response.
If no criminal charges are brought, Engler notifies the AZPOST of the case.
“This portion of the process is conducted to determine if any violations of AZPOST certification rules have occurred,” he said. “If a determination is made that there has been a violation of these rules it can have an effect on the discipline imposed.”
Engler then talks with other law enforcement departments to determine how cases are being disciplined throughout the state.
“I often incorporate this information into my final decision on the discipline imposed as I believe that it is important for our department to stay within the norm of disciplinary procedures throughout Arizona,” Engler said.
Engler also looks at when the incident occurred, who was involved, if community members were put at risk, possible repercussions for the community, PPD, the town of Payson and the employee in question.
“Many factors go into each disciplinary decision and there is no way to list each and every consideration given in even one circumstance let alone several,” he said.
A huge factor is if the officer accepts responsibility. “In each of the recent cases which the Payson Roundup has reported on, the officers have accepted that responsibility and recognized their errors in judgment readily,” Engler said.
While some officers have made errors, many more have not. Some of these have received undeserved negative feedback from community members, Engler said.
“I am very proud of the members of the Payson Police Department and I know without a doubt that our community is receiving a very high quality of police service,” he said. “Our officers are passionate about their duty to serve the community and fellow mankind.
On finding a new lieutenant, Engler said, “They’re have been some challenging times along the way, but we will get there.”
In the interim, supervisors are covering additional duties.