Quartzsite puts most of its police officers on house arrest
Quartzsite, Arizona July 21, 2011 - Many folks living in Quartzsite say the town is in a state of emergency. Sgt. William Ponce of the Quartzsite Police Officers Association says most of its officers are on administrative leave for telling the truth. Ponce is one of nine officers listed that are or will be placed on administrative leave.
"We are tasked with maintaining peace and order in our community, says Ponce, who is currently on vacation and has yet to receive the administrative leave notice. "And we took an oath as law enforcement officers to uphold the Constitution and follow the laws of the State of Arizona and that's all we want to do. And from what you can see right now, the Chief [Gilbert] himself is not creating peace in the community. He is creating chaos and disruption and only making things worse. And we just want to be able to go to work, do our jobs and not be under duress anymore."
The town's complaint says officers have defamed the town of Quartzsite, Police Chief Jeff Gilbert, its town manager and the town council. Mayor Ed Foster says Police Chief Gilbert worked under directives from some members of the town council, which he termed as "selective enforcement".
"There was a council candidate that had warrants out on her and the Chief [Gilbert] told the officers to ignore it," says Mayor Foster. "And later, she got picked up for D.U.I. and the officers got in trouble for that. And she screamed and shouted that the Chief had her protected and that they couldn't do anything. The [video from the] bodycam of the arresting officer that he turned in, it disappeared from the file."
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, Mayor Foster says the Arizona Department of Safety (DPS), the agency that is investigating the officers' allegations against Chief Gilbert, has yet to see their statements and evidence.
"I don't know why and what their procedures are, but a month later, I would have thought they would have had some investigative processes going on with the [DPS] field officers and have some preliminary look at this evidence that they turned over," says Mayor Foster. "And the Head of the investigation had no idea that this evidence existed."
DPS issued a statement Thursday, which states: "The Major Crimes Bureau of the DPS Criminal Division is involved in an on-going investigation of allegations made against the Quartzsite Police chief." The statement also acknowledges that it will assist the La Paz County Sheriff's Office in responding to calls for law enforcement in Quartzsite.
The four QPD officers that aren't on administrative leave include Police Chief Gilbert. And with only four officers to serve the town of 3,500 residents, Mayor Foster says that's unacceptable.
"You know, we're in trouble out here and I can't get anybody in state government to do anything, you know," says Mayor Foster. "I mean, I get more support from the New York Times and from people all over the world than I'm getting out of Phoenix right now."
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