Former California police chief Michael J. Ward has been charged with felony counts of stealing and forgery, after Ward allegedly sold department firearms and weapons accessories and forged a fellow officer's time sheets — all in the course of an "intimate relationship" with that officer.
Ward, 43, resigned from his position as police chief May 2. He did not give a reason for his resignation, California Mayor Norris Gerhart said earlier this month.
Dale Embry was appointed interim police chief of the department until a new chief could be selected. Gerhart on Wednesday wanted to assure community members that the California Police Department continues to take care of residents effectively.
Embry started to inventory all of the department's equipment May 4, according to a Missouri Highway Patrol probable cause statement. Embry discovered during the course of that inventory that several items were missing — a Glock 22 pistol, a Colt AR-15 rifle and two EOTech holographic sights.
Ward had purchased the rifle in August 2017, one such holographic sight in September 2016 and another in August 2017 — all using California Police Department funds.
Ward allegedly sold the pistol and rifle in January at River City Pawn and Gun in Jefferson City.
Officer Rafael Ayala told the investigating trooper that Ward had asked him in early 2017 if he knew of anyone who wanted to purchase an AR-15 rifle. Ayala said he contacted his uncle, also named Rafael Ayala, and arranged for him to purchase a rifle from Ward for $800.
There was an EOTech sight on the weapon when the elder Rafael Ayala purchased the rifle. The trooper's later inquiry with the manufacturer revealed the sight's serial number matched that of one sold to a third party from which Ward obtained it for the CPD.
Several months after Ward allegedly sold a rifle with one of the missing sights to Officer Ayala's uncle, Officer Ayala said, Ward had a new rifle with an EOTech sight at the department — what Ward referred to as "his personal rifle he had purchased."
Several weeks later, Ward allegedly asked Officer Ayala if he knew of anyone who would be interested in purchasing an EOTech sight.
Officer Ayala said he contacted a different uncle, Jose Ayala, and he took the sight to Jose and gave Ward $350. The serial number on that sight also matched that of one missing from the department.
Officer Ayala said Ward contacted him after his resignation and Ward had asked if he could purchase the rifle back from Officer Ayala's uncle.
The same day — May 15 — the investigating trooper spoke with Officer Ayala the trooper also spoke with Officer Daniel Hurt. Hurt said Ward had taken him to River City Pawn and Gun in Jefferson City to sell two weapons.
"Officer Hurt stated Ward told him he was selling some of his personal weapons so he could purchase a fence" for a female officer, according to the probable cause statement.
Hurt also stated Ward told him he had found a "loophole" to pay the female officer while she was on medical leave. She went on medical leave in July 2017, according to the probable cause statement.
The probable cause statement said the female officer was not eligible for paid medical leave due to her tenure with the department. The statement says Ward was in an intimate relationship with the officer and told her he would donate time he had accrued so she would continue to be paid. Instead, he forged time sheets so that it showed she was working 40 hours a week.
The trooper talked to the female on May 15 and said she verified her relationship with Ward and his offer to donate his vacation, sick and comp time to her.
The trooper spoke with Kevin Feltrop on May 21. Feltrop was a former officer with CPD and stated he had been "good friends" with Ward, according to the probable cause statement.
Feltrop said Chief Embry contacted him because the missing Glock pistol had been assigned to him before he was promoted to sergeant at the department. Feltrop said he had turned the weapon without any issues — but said, according to Embry, the firearm had been listed as "defective."
The trooper contacted Chief Embry on May 21 to obtain time sheets and pay stubs for the female officer and Ward. The time sheets for both were from July 8, 2017, through Sept. 15, 2017, and the pay stubs for both were from May 12, 2017, through Aug. 25, 2017.
The documents allegedly showed the female officer had been on medical leave during those times, that she had not signed any of her time sheets until one in September.
A warrant for Ward's arrest was filed Wednesday. Ward's bond was set at $25,000.
The three counts he faces — two of stealing and one of forgery — are class D felonies.
Dustin Dunklee, of Morgan County, was appointed Wednesday to be a special prosecutor in the case. Dunklee will take the place of Moniteau County prosecutor Shayne W. Healea "due to circumstances that create a conflict of interest and/or appearance of impropriety," according to Healea's motion to appoint a special prosecutor.
This article was edited at 10:45 a.m. May 24, 2018, to add a comment from California Mayor Norris Gerhart.