SHELBURNE, Vt. (WCAX) Shelburne's top cop said he stepped down for medical reasons but new documents obtained by WCAX News highlight town concerns about how the chief was running his department. James Warden's attorney has stated the chief was on medical leave and retired, but internal documents show he faced a three-day suspension and lost his title. Now, we are learning about multiple concerns expressed about the department's operations just weeks prior to the former chief's sudden step-down.
In mid-July, Shelburne's police chief of over 30 years was suddenly suspended. Neither the town nor former Chief James Warden has explained why.
"The responsibility is to have a nice, tight operation with clear guidelines and policies," Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo said.
But emails obtained by WCAX News that were exchanged between the town manager and former chief revealed some policies didn't exist at all, including a written firearms storage policy. That issue was addressed after other town employees complained about an unsecured rifle in the chief's office.
"I think anyone would be worried about potentially an unsecured rifle in a department," Colangelo said.
Colangelo expressed various other concerns to the chief prior to his suspension, including repeated emails about on-duty officers in the office and not conducting patrols, and an officer working without medical clearance.
Joe Colangelo: There's no room for sloppiness when it comes to police work.
Reporter Tyler Dumont: Were things sloppy?
Joe Colangelo: I would say that there's no room for sloppiness in police work.
Weeks after Warden's suspension, the town announced they reached a separation agreement with him. Under it, Warden keeps his $80,000 salary and benefits until January but a title change from chief to consultant will drastically diminish his work requirements.
Joe Colangelo: I think that his consulting services will certainly come in handy.
Tyler Dumont: But how can the public be confident in those consulting services when there was clearly a number of operational issues?
Joe Colangelo: I don't think that that's clear that there were a number of operational issues.
The former chief promised us an interview over two weeks ago, but when we told him we were running this story, he sent his daughter, Shannon Warden, instead.
Tyler Dumont: Why was he suspended?
Shannon Warden: I can't discuss that.
But she did say her dad's suspension was unjustified.
"It caused him a great deal of stress," she said. "Unfortunately, that stress exacerbated some medical issues that my dad had been dealing with. He was still fit for duty."
Warden and his daughter wouldn't comment on what the former chief's medical issue is but they say he is well enough to continue advising the department, which is now under new leadership.
"The deputy police chief, Aaron Noble, is the acting chief. He will be the acting chief until further notice," Colangelo said.
Our records request show a staff member also had problems communicating with the acting chief. The email sent from a dispatcher alleges he doesn't answer his phones or radios, including during emergencies.
Tyler Dumont: But you have a deputy chief, who's now acting chief, not answering his cellphone or his radio for dispatchers.
Joe Colangelo: Quite frankly, that's an email from a dispatcher.
After our interview, the town manager told us there was no validity to the dispatcher's claim. We wanted to ask the acting chief personally, but he did not answer our calls either and the town denied us access inside the department.
After the former chief's suspension, many of the department's policies and procedures were updated and rewritten. They're set to soon be vetted by an independent organization.