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Press conference highlights failure of County Attorney's Office
E. Marie Murray
Thursday, October 11, 2012
On October 9, 2012, Sheriff Paul Babeu and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office hosted a press conference at Florence, Arizona. Due to the nearness of the upcoming General Election on November 6, many might construe the media event as a blatantly political ploy. No one can dispute the timing of the press conference, but neither can the hair-raising tales told by the deputies be disputed.
Please note the following disclaimer: The Communicator and CopaNews.com do not "endorse" any candidates or any political party. Our readers are very capable of informing themselves and making their own decisions in matters of politics. The office of Pinal County Attorney is one of the positions that voters will decide on November 6. It is in this spirit -- of providing information -- that we present this article.
Sheriff Paul Babeu began the press conference, "We wanted to come and talk about a very serious issue here in Pinal County that involves violent felons, the most hardened criminals, the largest threat that we face in our community.... We have a number of cases over the past four years... We have 5,000 cases in 2010 and 2011 where two of every three violent felons -- the most serious criminals -- where all that results after our deputies and local police officers arrest these people, these suspects, and bring them to the County Attorney, they end up getting either probation or no consequences whatsoever.... We have had deputies assaulted, punched in the face, we have had deputies in fights where they have broken their hand, and we have had deputies in shooting, guns pointed at our deputies, shooting, high speed pursuits. And all that happens to these bad guys, many of them illegals, many of them members of the drug cartel, and they get probation. What does that do to safety in our community?"
The Sheriff spoke about Shaw, from Coolidge, a recent case that garnered a lot of attention. Shaw has a long rap sheet, beginning with attempted murder when he was 18 years old. He has been in prison, and on probation, several times. Shaw is a "prime suspect" in the murder of his wife. Shaw also brutally beat his girlfriend nearly to death. In March of this year, the County Attorney gave Shaw probation.
Deputy Heath Rankin was the first deputy to recount his experience. Deputy Rankin has received several awards, as well as lifesaving medals. In April 2011, he "attempted to conduct a traffic stop for a civil traffic violation. The vehicle fled through city streets in Casa Grande at speeds of up to 95 miles an hour.... They didn't stop because they wanted to stop; they stopped because they collided with two vehicles that a family was trying to get into. When they collided with that vehicle, they fled. I gave chase ... and was ordering them at gunpoint to stop, Sheriff's Department, stop, stop. They didn't stop.... One man, Hilario Gonzales-Soliz stopped because he was cornered.... My gun was pointed at him ... he turned around and kind of put his hands up. I holstered my gun and approached. As soon as I did, he dropped his hands down with clenched fists and took an offensive fighting stance. At that time, we engaged in a fight, my hand got broke, my gun got dislodged from my holster, and I was able to take him into custody. In this vehicle, there was also another undocumented alien, two United States citizens, and 400 pounds of marijuana. This guy, he got possession of marijuana -- that was his charge. No resisting arrest, no aggravated assault. Possession of marijuana -- the same thing as having a dime sack of marijuana in your pocket. This guy had nearly 400 pounds and was in the country illegally. The response from the County Attorney was, that they were "surprised I didn't get charged with aggravated assault for punching this guy in the face." If they tell me that -- a sworn deputy -- what are they going to tell the citizens of Pinal County? If they don't have my back, how are they going to have your back when you fall victim?"
The second case was also from Deputy Rankin regarding an incident in Arizona City where there was a shooting. Deputies Heath Rankin and Jesus Lopez "responded to an unwanted subject/burglary-in-progress call. The suspect, Jose Manuel Gonzalez-Sandoval -- I know him from previous contacts.... He's violent, he's personally made threats to myself and other deputies over the phone, and he flees every time we try to catch him. We know he's a flight risk, we know he's a threat risk to us.... Once again, he fled. We were able to locate where he fled to in the residence.... I went to the rear because we know he runs and we know he's violent.... As contact is made at the front door, here he comes out the back. I recognize him.... As soon as I address him, he drops his hand in his waistband, drops down, runs to the front. When he runs to the front of the house, I see him jump over the wall. I yell at my partner, he's coming to the front. As soon as he gets over that wall, I hear gunfire. I sprint around the corner, I see Deputy Lopez engaged in a gun battle with Gonzalez-Sandoval. I immediately helped my partner, draw my weapon, and now there's two deputies engaged in a gun battle with this guy, pointing a gun at us, pulling the trigger... in a residential area about six in the evening on a weekday."
Deputy Jesus Lopez continued the story: "After he jumped the fence, I was already waiting for him at the front of the house. He ran on one side of the truck and I ran on the other side of the truck. As soon as I cleared my truck, he already had a gun pointed at my chest. My reaction, I felt like I froze, but I already pulled my gun out and I shot three shots at him and engaged him. I can see him pulling the trigger and pulling back and forth on the weapon, trying to shoot me. He had some type of malfunction with it, which is probably exactly what saved my life.... We continued to chase him... and he turned around and pointed a gun at us again."
The pursuit continued through a residential area of Arizona City. As people began coming out of their homes, the deputies decided the risk was too great and set up a perimeter to try to find the suspect.
Lopez concluded, "Later, he was arrested ... but to my surprise, we received a phone call from the County Attorney (office). They told him (Rankin) that the attempted murder of two officers got reduced down to an attempted aggravated assault. We were very disappointed .... It's not very common a police officer gets in a shootout... we know there's a risk.... We're trained for an altercation like this. But what we're not really trained for is how to accept a County Attorney that is not helping us.... There's no training for that. That made me feel really unempowered, as far as not being able to do and get that end result.... His case being reduced down from a 15 year maximum down to a four or five year was really disappointing for us."
Deputy Scott Bagwell, a 16-and-a-half year veteran of law enforcement, was next to speak. He talked about an incident that happened on September 25 of this year and "involved a chase involving a Hummer H2.... Out on the highway, the Hummer comes up behind me, shuts off his lights, and starts revving up his motor. When I turned around to try to contact him, he then tried to ram my patrol vehicle. Luckily, I was able to get out of the way and a car chase ensued. During that car chase, countless times this individual slammed on his brakes, reversed direction trying to ram into my patrol car. Eventually ... he pulled over. As he was stopped at a locked gate, instead of giving up at that point, he backed up and rammed my patrol vehicle head-on -- hard enough to where it pushed my car back out into the highway. My car wasn't disabled and I went ahead and gave chase again and I was joined by the rest of my squad, which was three other deputies.... We chased this individual for over eight miles, all the way into an adjacent county.... The only thing that stopped this guy was, we were able to get successful spike deployment on this Hummer.... His vehicle grossly outweighed and out powered what we were chasing him with. During the course of that pursuit, when he was getting spiked, he came directly at one of my squad mates and attempted to run her over. Luckily, she was able to run out of the way; she ran out into the desert.... Sixteen and a half years of law enforcement, this definitely ranks way up there with one of the most dangerous and violent pursuits I've ever been in. After driving for an additional three or four miles on rims, he started taking out road signs on the highway, trying to put obstacles between him and us. Eventually he went into a private drive; got to a point where he had to turn around and come back out on the highway. Myself and another deputy entered the private drive, trying to keep him from coming back out onto the highway. At that point, he rammed my patrol vehicle again -- in fact, parts of the Hummer were on the hood of my car. He was ordered out at gunpoint. Instead of getting out, he stood in the vehicle, turned the headlights off again, started revving up the motor and taunting us by making vulgar gestures, dropping his hands on purpose -- just very blatant and vagrant acts. He eventually exited the vehicle, continued to resist, and had to be brought into custody by the use of Taser.
"I can't even really tell you what I felt and what I felt for my deputies at that time. He really could have killed any one of us with that vehicle at any point during that pursuit. We brought him into custody. The whole time, he was acting as if he really didn't care. He was laughing -- just really did not see the seriousness of the event at all. In the three hours we were with him ... he was telling us repeatedly, "You'll see. Nothing is going to happen to me. I'm an important person. My family is important." Three days later, after submitting charges with the County Attorney's Office for eight felonies and two misdemeanors, I found out he was pretty much right. Those charges got reduced down to one simple count of aggravated assault without the law enforcement enhancement and a count of fleeing from law enforcement. That's it. No criminal damage, no aggravated assault on my fellow squad mates, no reckless driving, no endangerment to the public. He ran three cars off the road. If you could have seen the looks on those people's faces when we drove by those cars after narrowly been hit by this Hummer doing close to 100 miles an hour. I wish I could talk to those people now. Actually, I don't wish I could talk to those people now, because I would have to tell them that there's going to be absolutely no justice for them.... I'm beside myself."
The next case happened on September 19 of this year. "Here's where it's just not out on patrol -- it's our jail," said Sheriff Paul Babeu. "We have a secure facility. Some of the biggest liabilities we have is the care and custody of inmates. We've got to keep everybody safe, even if they've been convicted or been accused of serious crimes, we've got to keep everybody safe. We had a terrible assault that just occurred here. I've asked Chief Jim Kimball to come and to talk about that and what this all means if these kind of crimes can go on without any consequences."
James Kimball is the Deputy Chief for Adult Detention Services of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office. "We had an incident in our secure facility where inmate Randall Cross entered the cell of another inmate who became a victim. Inmate Cross took the inmate out of his bed, severely beat him in the head and torso area to the point that the inmate became unconscious. Because he became concerned now, a trigger went off in inmate Cross: "Oh, my gosh, maybe I'm facing something different." He actually drug the inmate down the stairwell and placed the inmate right in front of the entrance to the housing area. Staff noticed this, resources became available, they got the pod locked down, and then attended to this. Southwest (Ambulance) was contacted, they came, made the determination due to blunt head force trauma this victim had sustained, they life-flighted him out to Maricopa Medical Center. During criminal investigation, one of the detectives assigned to our detention center submitted the charges for aggravated assault to the County Attorney's Office. One of the Assistant County Attorneys declined to prosecute. It was actually signed off by a JP (Justice of the Peace) who said that there will not be any charges accepted or filed. The question here now is, we have a victim, but what type of relief is going to come to that victim? The reason behind, the reason why they declined to prosecute, is because they already have a plea agreement in place for inmate Cross. On top of that, there's similar charges that inmate Cross is facing in Maricopa County. And so they basically, okay, the guy is already locked up, that may be out of the community, he's not going to cause any more damage, so why would we want to put him away for a longer period of time?
"What I would like to ask is: Where is the relief for the victim of his violent assault? I have pictures of the victim. You can see his right eye is very swollen.... The injury to his head area was approximately two and a half inches wide and received several staples." Kimball also showed a photo of the amount of blood the victim lost while waiting for first responders.
Sheriff Babeu added comments to Kimball's statement. "You can understand. Imagine, in a secure facility, that if a plea agreement -- and there's no consequences here for this criminal -- what does this do with all the violent criminals who are in jail, who are in prison, who think that they can just beat the heck out of anybody in prison to the point that he believed that he killed this person, that's why he drug him down to the door, to leave him so he wouldn't die and be charged with some more serious crimes. Nothing happened to him. I can tell you, we have 1,500 inmates in jail. We cannot allow these sorts of crimes within our facility to take place because it empowers them, there's no consequences. Criminals only respond to a stiff hand of punishment and enforcement by us and they need justice."
The Sheriff told about the case of Alejandro Stalter, who drove his truck head-on into a motorcycle, killing Mark Vernick, the rider of the motorcycle. Although Stalter tested with over twice the amount of Benzoylecgonine (a metabolite of cocaine) in his system to be confirmed by laboratory testing, the County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute. The Sheriff's Office ultimately applied pressure and forced the office to prosecute.
Deputy Robert Taylor told about the case of Brandon Maguire, who assaulted both paramedics and Deputy Taylor with a clenched fist. Maguire was booked for two counts of aggravated assault (one for the paramedic and one for the deputy) and resisting arrest. He received one year of probation and was released from probation early (by about six months).
Deputy Taylor also reported on the case of Anthony Urquides, which occurred on January 26, 2012. Deputy Taylor was dispatched to "a suspicious vehicle call at a convenience store in Arizona City.... The vehicle continued to flee from me through a residential area for approximately three miles. The subject was able to be detained. He was found to have a loaded AK-47 with multiple rounds of ammunition, as well." (A drug transaction ledger and a large sum of cash was also recovered from the vehicle.) The subject is a known criminal in our area and he was also arrested for resisting arrest.... He only received one year of probation, in which he was already on probation for another serious felony crime. But yet, they put on more probation, instead of jail time.
"... It's just ridiculous what we have to go through. I mean, going back to Deputy Lopez and Deputy Rankin shooting case ... it's a brotherhood. It's disheartening when you get that phone call that one of your brothers has been involved in a shooting -- and the outcome that occurred afterwards. I've had numerous contacts with individuals I've arrested ... where they came out and told me, "The reason I come do my crimes in Pinal County is because I know nothing is going to happen." I cannot tell you how many times I've been told, "Nothing is going to happen." And it never does."
In his concluding remarks, Sheriff Babeu said, "As you can see, we only do half the job. If citizens see a criminal or a suspect getting arrested and they say, "Right on, finally there's justice." Where is the justice when they get released? When our criminals feel empowered when they know that nothing is going to happen to them because there's a lack of prosecution? This is a breakdown in our justice system that has to be fixed."
You can read the letter that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent to County Attorney James Walsh on October 4, 2012 at
Pinal County Sheriff's Office / CopaNews.com
Left to right: Deputy Jesus Lopez, Deputy Heath Rankin, PInal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Detective Buddy Johnson, Deputy Scott Bagwell, and Deputy Robert Taylor.