Atwater’s embattled Police Chief Samuel Joseph is no longer employed by the city, City Manager Lori Waterman confirmed on Monday.
The police veteran of about two decades has been on leave since Jan. 22 when then-City Manager Art de Werk was heading up the city. Joseph and the city severed ties on Nov. 15, Waterman said.
“The city is actively recruiting a full-time police chief, and hope to have a new police chief in place by early next year,” she said.
Citing personnel matters, City Attorney Doug White said he could not comment on the reason for Joseph’s departure. The former chief’s attorney, Michael Rains, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Joseph’s employment has been a point of contention ever since he was placed on leave, with his supporters often bashing City Council members who voted to hire de Werk: Councilmembers Paul Creighton, Brian Raymond and Cindy Vierra.
Joseph’s departure also comes a week after an election that did not favor his supporters. Vocal supporter Dan Hernandez did not win his race for a seat on the City Council, according to the certified numbers from the Merced County Registrar of Voters. Mayor Jim Price, whose past voting also supported Joseph, lost his bid for re-election against Mayor-elect Creighton.
Councilmember James Vineyard did not run for re-election. Raymond won re-election.
The day after Joseph was placed on leave, the Atwater Police Officers Association took a vote of “no confidence” in the chief. The union has not released exactly how many officers were at the meeting or the specific number of officers who supported the vote.
The advertisement on the city’s website says applications to be the next police chief must be in by Dec. 19 and says the position pays between $111,225 and $141,955 annually.
Interim Police Chief Drew Bessinger came on in July. Before that, Sgt. Armando Echeverria served as the interim.
Months after Joseph was placed on leave, problems with the Police Department’s evidence room came to light when a letter from District Attorney Larry Morse II surfaced. It informs area defense attorneys that some evidence may be missing. The Sun-Star has confirmed investigators believe the missing evidence may include guns, drugs and cash.
The Atwater Police Department shut down its evidence room pending completion of an investigation led by the California Department of Justice. That investigation is ongoing, according to officials.