Another One Bites The Dust

Officer’s resignation under pressure leaves Payson understaffed

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Yet another resignation under pressure has punctuated a rocky year for the Payson Police Department, plagued by scandals, suspension and missteps.

Down five officers due to a combination of budget constraints and officer gaffs, the department recently lost another patrol officer.

Josh LaManna resigned May 22 in lieu of termination for “inappropriate on-duty behavior” and could face criminal charges of trespassing, said Police Chief Don Engler.

Back in May of last year, Engler demoted LaManna from a narcotics officer to a patrol officer and imposed a 10 percent pay cut for a string of violations, including sending salacious pictures and sexually explicit cell phone messages to a confidential drug informant.

Many in the community called for LaManna’s firing at the time.

Engler said the latest grievance is not related to LaManna’s slip-up last year.

On May 21, Engler said he received new information on something LaManna had done while on duty. He confronted LaManna on the issue and the next day, he resigned.

On Monday, the Roundup filed a Freedom of Information request for the recent report. Engler said it would take several days to complete the report and release it. Due to the complexity of the case, Engler said he wanted to wait until he released the report before discussing it further. Read Friday’s Roundup for additional information.

The Gila County Attorney’s Office is looking at charging LaManna for possible criminal trespass at a Payson home, Engler said.

The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board could also take away LaManna’s officer certification.

With LaManna’s resignation and Sgt. Don Kasl’s expected retirement next month, the department now has eight officers less than it had several years ago.

Three of those positions cannot be filled due to a budget hold, Engler said.

The department is trying to fill the other spots, but hasn’t found qualified applications, he said. One applicant is currently going through the background process and the department is holding an open testing next weekend.

Besides LaManna, Officer Mark Hillegas also resigned in lieu of termination this year. In January, Engler discovered Hillegas falsified an abandoned vehicle report with the Motor Vehicle Division to claim a motorcycle.

The Gila County Attorney’s Office charged Hillegas with four counts of falsifying documents.

As a first-time offender, however, he was offered a diversion program, said Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.

“He entered the misdemeanor diversion program in February, wherein, he was required to admit to all the misdemeanor violations contained in the complaint and complete the required diversion terms, including community service and a program fee,” she said.

In September, Sgt. John Heflin also resigned to avoid termination after he admitted to Engler that he had consumed alcohol at least two times while on duty.

Engler has also disciplined several other officers in recent years for untoward actions, including one officer who had an affair with the wife of a Department of Public Safety officer and another who harassed his on-again, off-again girlfriend while on duty.

The town will pay Kasl and LaManna a combined $57,000 in unused sick and overtime.

Even though LaManna resigned, he is still entitled to the money he accrued according to town code, Engler said.

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