A high-ranking Williams police officer has lost his job after a dispute over a meal.
Accounts of what happened vary, with two restaurant employees saying the off-duty officer threatened to arrest them over some chicken, and the officer saying he did not.
The Williams police chief, Herman Nixon, said the officer was fired for using his position and authority for personal gain, by attempting to get a refund on the meal.
“Right after it happened, I stripped him of his police powers,” Nixon said.
Williams Police Lt. Michael Graham, who formerly ranked second-in-command in the department, said he plans to file a wrongful-termination lawsuit over his July 28 firing, and that his restaurant complaint is a real case of fraud that the police ignored.
“He ordered some chicken that we didn’t have available at that moment,” during a July visit, said Tavi Padilla, the restaurant manager on duty at the time at a Williams KFC/Taco Bell.
Another manager offered another type of chicken and a voucher for a free meal later during the July 9 visit. But Graham wanted his money back, which is against store policy, according to Padilla.
“He told me, ‘Look, fat a--, I don’t want to talk. Just give me my money or I’m taking you to jail. Do you know who I am?’” Padilla told other Williams police officers via a written statement.
Padilla took off his apron, ready to go to jail, he said.
Corey Fritsinger, 19, is another manager at the store and the owner’s son.
“He told me that he was the police lieutenant and told me I had to give him his money back. I said that whether he’s the president of the United States or just a regular person, I can’t give him his money back,” Fritsinger said.
Fritsinger later left the counter to phone his father.
“He asked me how old I was and said he was going to take me to jail personally,” he said. “He said, ‘I’m putting you in the back of my car.’”
ASKED FOR HANDCUFFS
The Williams Police Department promptly responded to a public records request from the Arizona Daily Sun by providing documents on the case.
Statements from Graham’s call to police dispatch that day record Graham as saying to a dispatcher: “I’ve got a problem with the manager. I’m going to take him for fraudulent activity, so I need a car.”
Another Williams police officer said Graham asked to use the other officer’s handcuffs to make the arrest, according to reports, and Graham offered to write up the related arrest paperwork.
Graham was on leave from the department at the time, following a serious April motorcycle accident in which he received multiple injuries, including a brain injury.
His memory of the events is different.
“The thing that I’m proud of: I didn’t lose my temper. I didn’t raise my voice. This isn’t worth it,” Graham said, especially in light of the brain injury sustained in the motorcycle accident.
Graham said he never spoke to Padilla, never yelled at anyone in the store, never said he was going to arrest anyone, and ultimately called police to settle the dispute when the store employees would not refund his wife’s payment but could not provide what she ordered.
“I told them, ‘You’re committing fraud. You can’t take someone’s money, not give them any product, and refuse to give the money back,’” Graham said. “... I didn’t yell. I didn’t use profanity, and I left. So how was that disorderly?”
ASKED HIM TO LEAVE
Padilla said Graham threatened to arrest others in the store, and Padilla asked him to leave.
“We had a full lobby. I don’t need people yelling, being the way he was in the lobby ... we have kids in there and stuff,” Padilla said.
Then other police arrived.
Graham said he called the Williams police, and that although he out-ranked the officers who arrived, he did not order them to handle the case in any particular fashion.
“I could have ordered them to make the arrest. I didn’t,” he said.
The fellow officers told Graham his complaint was a civil matter, and that they would not take action, just as had been the case with past customer complaints over the non-refund policy at the restaurant.
“It’s a civil matter because you’re a lazy f-----,” Graham said he responded to one subordinate officer.
That generally aligns with what the other police officers reported hearing.
One officer reported Graham took an aggressive stance and was speaking to him while standing inches from his face.
Sgt. Darrell Hixson wrote Chief Nixon a memo on July 9, outlining what he said were police department policy violations by Graham in the encounter: neglect of duty, not supporting fellow officers, disorderly conduct, not creating harmony and cooperation within the department, not conforming to rules and regulations and oppression under the color of law.
Graham said he finds each of the alleged violations unsubstantiated.
Graham was called in for a pre-disciplinary hearing on July 23.
Asked to explain his position, he said: “Well ... I screwed up, Chief,” according to a transcript of that hearing.
Graham said he actually made that comment before the hearing, and that it pertained to a data problem Graham was having with a computer, and nothing else.
Graham did not answer other questions during that hearing and did not receive answers to questions he asked, according to the transcript.
Graham was ordered to turn over his phone, badge, weapons and other police equipment while being investigated in mid-July, Nixon said.
Police then served a search warrant at his home to retrieve the items, according to records.
Graham was officially terminated on July 28.
Nixon filed a form on July 29 with a state board that oversees police officer training, notifying the board that Graham may have violated Arizona law.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.