Top two Fayetteville police officials leave amid controversy

The Fayetteville police chief and the second-in-command are stepping down just as allegations of internal strife in the department surface.

Chief Steve Heaton will retire on Friday after seven years on the job, while Major Kevin Gooding will close out a 35-year law enforcement career later this month. His resignation is effective April 30. An interim police chief is expected to be named by the end of this week, City Manager Joe Morton said Monday.

Heaton and Gooding had already planned to leave before the allegations came out earlier this month, Morton said. Both men are among several city employees who elected to take part in the city’s early retirement program, a budget-balancing measure approved last year by the city council.

Efforts to reach Heaton and Gooding on Monday were unsuccessful.

City officials learned of the alleged problems in the department earlier this month during exit interviews with employees who left to take jobs in other fields, Morton said.

“They made some allegations that we felt needed to be investigated further,” Morton said.

Earlier this month, Morton, Fayetteville mayor Greg Clifton and city council members also received anonymous letters accusing Heaton and, to a lesser degree, Gooding of creating a hostile work environment where workers are subject to a lot of stress and harassment. They said there is high turnover among police officers who feel pressured to write tickets. The complaints also noted that one veteran police officer was fired for insubordination, while another officer experienced harsh discipline.

Fayette councilmember Ed Johnson said he was concerned that the letter writers didn’t use the proper chain of command to relay their concerns. He noted there are “stipulations and policies in place to prevent them from being retaliated against.”

Fayetteville officials praised Heaton and Gooding for their service. Morton noted that both men will be working with city managers and departmental personnel to provide an orderly transition within the police department during the next few week.