F’ville’s top 2 cops out after complaints

Fayetteville Police Chief Steve Heaton and Maj. Kevin Gooding have decided to call it quits this spring.

Though an outside investigation into a number of complaints is ongoing, both men late last week signaled their departure from the department. Heaton will be retiring April 19 while Gooding’s last day will be April 30.

Both men were set to leave the department though both will be available to meet with the investigator.

City Manager Joe Morton said the city will begin an orderly transition in the department’s management. The city is in process of selecting an interim chief in the next few weeks, Morton added.

Morton said Heaton announced on April 4 that he does not desire to be considered for re-employment on a part-time basis after his retirement.

“As such, Chief Heaton’s last date as police chief will be April 19 and he will remain on administrative leave through the completion of the previously announced external investigation and until his effective retirement date no later than July 31,” Morton said.

Heaton in mid-2012 was part of a larger group of city employees that had opted to take early retirement in the spring and move into part-time status until such time as the city wanted to make the chief’s position full-time.

“I haven’t done anything wrong and I welcome the investigation,” Heaton said. “I will answer any questions the investigator might have and will clear up any misperceptions.”

Heaton on Sunday said he believed the department is at the place where some changes are needed and that he thinks it is time to move on.

“I believe a new person can make changes so that the department can move forward,” Heaton said. “I think the city overall has been happy with me but I believe the department may need some change.”

Morton also said Gooding announced his resignation effective April 30, noting that Gooding had previously discussed with Heaton his intentions of resigning in the spring. His resignation is consistent with those intentions, Morton said.

Gooding said he has 35 years in law enforcement, adding that he told Heaton last fall that he was considering retiring.

“Regardless when I leave, I will cooperate with the investigation and I’ll stand on my performance and record during these 35 years in law enforcement,” Gooding said, adding that he had retired from an agency in Florida before coming to Fayetteville.

As for the department’s short-term leadership, Morton said both Heaton and Gooding will be working with city management and departmental personnel over the next few weeks in providing an orderly transition of the department. And the city is instituting a selection process to fill the management positions with interim appointees.

Letters from five people identifying themselves as Fayetteville residents, a Fayetteville business owner or as concerned citizens surfaced recently, lodging a number of concerns and complaints against Heaton and, to a lesser extent, against Gooding, some city employees and the Fayetteville City Council.

Central to the complaints are several allegations concerning the police department that are being investigated by an outside investigator.

The complaints dealt primarily with allegations leveled against Heaton and Gooding, the top two people in police administration. Portions of the information from the complaints was obtained from police officers, according to copies of the letters received by The Citizen.

Among the allegations were complaints of a hostile work environment with high stress, harassment of employees, a high turnover rate among officers, a lack of support for officers, pressuring officers to write tickets and a diminished number of officers on duty per shift. Other allegations noted the firing of a 17-year black officer for insubordination and an “extreme” discipline experience by another black officer.

Still other concerns in the far-reaching letters deal with issues that are outside the city’s sphere of control.

In a matter related to some of the complaints about recent crimes at the Fayette Pavilion, Det. Mike Whitlow said extra law enforcement officers and civilian volunteers with the recently formed Fayetteville Auxiliary Force will be highly visible and looking for suspicious activity at the Pavilion. Diversified Developers Realty, the Pavilion property managers, has also partnered in the effort and is providing more visibility through its security team. Cameras and other technology are expected be part of the overall plan to cast a watchful eye over the Pavilion area, Whitlow said.

“The police department needs everyone’s help. Shoppers and business people in the Pavilion are most likely to notice a problem. It always makes sense to be aware of your surroundings for your own personal security and you may help to prevent a crime in the city by calling 911 immediately to report suspicious activity. Recent serious crimes at the Fayette Pavilion are not typical, but call for a concerted effort by the police and citizens to turn criminals away,” Whitlow said.