By Nick Worth
A graduating class of Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers, grants for new patrol vehicles, an intense training course, the breakup of a bootlegger ring and the birth of a baby boy are among some of the highlights of 2013 for the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO).
It has been a busy year for the NCSO.
“To date our deputies have had over 17,000 calls for service throughout the county,” said Chief Deputy James Molesa. “Our Criminal Investigations Division has investigated 136 cases, and provided 69 assists to other agencies.
“We’re clearing about 67 percent of our cases with arrests, which is above the national average,” Molesa added. “The good thing is we’ve done that without paying overtime. We only get so much money from the county.”
The NCSO had a chance to work on a joint effort with the Whiteriver Department of Public Safety in June after that agency learned suspected dealers of alcohol on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation were purchasing large amounts of beer and hard liquor at retailers in the Pinetop-Lakeside area and selling it in Whiteriver. Selling alcohol on the reservation is a violation of both tribal and federal law.
White Mountain Apache Police Department officers contacted the south unit of the Navajo County Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT) and asked for help. MCAT detectives then began surveillance at local liquor retailers and observed two suspects, both of Whiteriver, separately purchase numerous cases of beer and bottles of hard liquor. The detectives then followed the suspects as they headed back to the White Mountain Apache Reservation. MCAT then turned the investigation over to officers of the Whiteriver Police Department to follow up.
The NCSO states that these types of cooperative investigations between MCAT and all tribal nations will continue to curb illegal bootlegging in reservation communities.
Navajo County is designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
“If you don’t go east on I-10 to leave Arizona to the east, you have to come through Navajo County,” said Clark. “So we have a huge importance nationally. What we do in Navajo County can affect Bismarck, N.D., or New York or Maine.”
Clark said the HIDTA program is run out of the White House, and that he and Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with the head of HIDTA to get the designation and the funding that goes along with it.
MCAT recently released the amounts and street value of drug seizures for the calendar year of 2013.
This year 2,463.23 pounds of marijuana were seized with a street value of $1,601,099. A total of 41.26 pounds of methamphetamine were seized with a street value of $486,070. Heroin weighing in at 12.32 pounds and worth $179,200 was seized, along with 12 pounds of cocaine valued at $152,712.
MCAT also seized 1.12 ounces of hashish valued at $450 and 380 dosage units of prescription drugs valued at $3,870.
“A dosage unit of meth is one gram,” said Molesa. He noted that with approximately 24.7 grams to an ounce and 16 ounces to a pound, that means MCAT seized a total of 16,906 “doses” of meth.
“So in a community the size of Holbrook, about 5,000 people, you can see that’s a lot,” said Molesa.
Clark added that not all the drugs seized by MCAT came off of Interstate 40.
“A lot of that came out of our local communities, too,” Clark said.
MCAT also made 250 arrests and seized nine firearms.
Molesa said MCAT is not solely focused on drugs.
“Four times in Holbrook this past year MCAT has arrested individuals identified by the Department of Homeland Security as exchanging images of child pornography,” Molesa said.
According to Molesa, investigation of child abuse allegations is another area in which the NCSO has made strides in 2013.
Molesa noted that he served 12 years with the Mesa Police Department before going on to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for 22 years. During his time in Mesa, he spent four years investigating physical and sexual abuse against children. Molesa said Clark shares his concerns with abused children.
“One of KC’s biggest fears is that there is a child in our county being abused and no one is going out to protect them,” said Molesa.
With that in mind, in February the NCSO began investigating all the child abuse allegations that were faxed to their office by Child Protective Services (CPS). Before that, Molesa said, the reports from CPS were only filed, as the NCSO assumed CPS was investigating the cases.
“In February we charged the detective bureau to contact CPS and find out if the reports of child abuse were being investigated,” said Molesa. “If not, we investigated them ourselves, or turned them over to the local agencies if they weren’t in our jurisdiction.”
He said of the four detectives in the NCSO, three have been trained to conduct forensic interviews with children.
“That training is needed in court cases,” Molesa said. “In fact, we just sent one of our detectives, Sally Baldonado, to Minnesota to get a higher certification in child forensics interviews.”
This past spring, the NCSO graduated 12 new Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers (SAVs) who work all over the county providing the sheriff’s office assistance with patrol operations, search and rescue, crime scene security and special events that occur throughout the county.
Molesa said the SAVs are saving the county taxpayers thousands of dollars in overtime that would have been paid out had deputies been assigned to those tasks.
“We will have another academy this spring to expand their members,” Molesa said in an email.
The SAVs participated in classes in sheriff’s office operations, crime prevention/house patrol, constitutional law, Arizona criminal law, Arizona traffic law and traffic control, as well as many others.
Classes were held at the Taylor Fire Department for a total of 40 hours of basic training. Class graduates included Joseph Collins, Don Fry, Jeff Hanna, Roger Van Briesen, Angela Jacot, Roy G. Gradillas, Sue Timmerman, Ken Timmerman, Wayne Duke, Mickey Johnson, Norm Johnson and Nancy Butterfield.
Anyone interested in joining the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers should contact Sergeant Jack Arend at (928) 524-4729.
The NCSO approached this year’s budget with a big problem–how to replace 20 aging vehicles when the department’s budget called for cuts.
Thanks to some timely grants, the NCSO eventually purchased a total of seven new vehicles.
One marked 2013 Ford Expedition patrol vehicle came through a $25,000 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS). The NCSO accepted the grant for the purchase of the vehicle as part of a commitment to the GOHS and NCSO “Drive Hammered Get Nailed” Driving While Intoxicated campaign.
Three more patrol vehicles came to the department on Oct. 17 courtesy of a $120,000 grant from the Gila River Office of Special Funding, through the Gila River State Shared Gaming Revenues grants program.
A total of 26 separate grants were awarded to various city and county entities around the state, and NCSO Deputy Dan Brown applied for one on behalf of the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Clark stated, “Deputy Dan Brown’s actions are an excellent example of Navajo County employees’ commitment to their communities and being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Another three patrol vehicles were then purchased by Navajo County.
Brown was also in charge of a series of training classes in the “Below 100” initiative, a national program that is designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 per year.
According to Molesa, the training program started this past October teaches officers how to make the right decisions when involved in various situations.
“This wristband is part of that training,” said Molesa, showing a rubber wristband on his right arm. “It says WIN. That stands for What’s Important Now.”
Molesa went on to explain that the wristbands are meant to serve as reminders to deputies to think about what is the more important thing they should be doing in any situation.
“Is it important for me to drive to a scene at a very high rate of speed, or is it more important that I arrive there safely?” Molesa asked.
A total of 42 deputies took the training in several phases, including classroom discussion, and hands-on training and scenarios. During the training, Brown concentrated on the areas where most deaths occur and that are most susceptible to change.
In a statement about the course, Clark said he thinks every level and form of law enforcement deals with some form of complacency.
“In Navajo County, we want the Below 100 training to serve as an instrument of cultural transformation and improved everyday practices in our agency. We want to improve our training because we want our citizens to have the highest level of service, and we want our officers to come home to their loved ones after every shift.”
The five tenets of the program are: wear your belt; wear your vest; watch your speed; W.I.N (What’s Important Now); and remember that complacency kills.
Another major accomplishment for the NCSO was in the signing of cross-commissioning agreements with the tribal police departments of both the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety and the White Mountain Apache Police Department.
Molesa said the sheriff’s office hopes to get a similar agreement with the Hopi Tribal Police in place in the near future.
He said the intent of the agreements is not for the NCSO to patrol on the reservations or to do the jobs of the tribal police authorities, but rather to be able to provide help to the tribal police agencies when needed.
“For one thing, we don’t have the deputies to do that,” Molesa said. “With the cross-commissioning agreements though, if they call on us, we will respond.”
He also noted the agreements run both ways.
“At the Navajo County Fair we had Navajo DPS, White Mountain Apache police and Hopi officers helping out,” said Molesa.
He said the agreements were not easy to accomplish.
“Sheriff Clark, (County Attorney) Brad Carlyon and the Board of Supervisors have been working on this for at least five years,” Molesa said. “In the case of the Navajo Nation, this is the first cross-commissioning agreement they have signed with a non-native agency in the history of the Navajo Nation.”
The agreement with the White Mountain Apache Tribe calls for the Navajo County Jail to house 25 inmates from the reservation, bringing added revenue to the department and making it easier for families of the prisoners to visit them. Molesa said the tribe’s prisoners were formerly incarcerated in New Mexico.
Some NCSO deputies also received well-earned recognition for their accomplishments in October.
Deputies Connor Francis and Don Griffiths were recognized by the Navajo County Board of Supervisors for their heroic actions on Oct. 2 when they came upon an accident in the Pinetop-Lakeside area and saved a victim’s life by applying chest compressions.
“Both of these deputies are assets to the citizens of Navajo County,” Clark said.
Deputy Asher Davis was chosen as the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) DUI Officer of the Year.
“Deputy Davis made 16 DUI arrests during the past year,” Clark told the board. “A few years ago the entire Navajo County Sheriff’s Office didn’t make that many DUI arrests in a year.”
On Dec. 19, the NCSO graduated 10 cadets as detention officers. Molesa said the graduates would work at the county jail.
The cadets were trained by the NCSO in its own program to save on the cost to the county.
Finally, the baby boy who made big news for the NCSO was born in the Taylor Sheriff’s Office Substation at approximately 8:50 a.m. on July 8 after Corinne Brown of Holbrook drove herself to the substation and requested an ambulance. Deputy Brent Haymore just happened to be in the substation completing paperwork when Brown arrived, so he called 911 to request an ambulance.
While waiting for the ambulance Brown began to deliver her baby, so Haymore called 911 back and took instructions over the phone to deliver the baby. The ambulance arrived just minutes after the baby was born, and both mother and child were taken to Summit Healthcare in Show Low, where they were reported in good condition.
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By Nick Worth