Favoritism alleged in telephone threat arrest - East Valley Tribune: Queen Creek & San Tan Valley

Favoritism alleged in telephone threat arrest

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Posted: Monday, August 28, 2006 11:33 am | Updated: 3:56 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Apache Junction Councilman Joe Severs had been threatened in a dispute with an ex-employee and he wanted the city’s police to do something about it. They did. Quickly.

Two detectives were paid overtime to go to north Phoenix to arrest the man, who, according to city records, said in telephone messages that the councilman owed him $661 and threatened to beat it out of him.

A police officer who filed a complaint shortly after the incident contends Severs got special treatment because he is a city councilman.

Severs and police Cmdr. Jay Swart deny there was any favoritism. Any citizen who complains about similar threats would get the same treatment, Swart said.

Yet city officials were unable to document another instance in which detectives were assigned to track down and arrest a suspect in a misdemeanor case involving telephone threats.

That is not because people in the city are not being threatened. Since January, the Pinal County Justice Court in Apache Junction has issued 374 protective orders in cases involving threats or the potential for violent confrontations. Another 286 orders were issued in Apache Junction Municipal Court.

Current and former police employees have complained that the department has been run through fear and favoritism since Glenn Walp became chief in January. They cite the Severs case as an example of how Walp abused his power to gain favor with council members and top city administrators.

Police reports relate what happened with Severs this way:

Severs, a construction contractor, had hired Stewart Saunders and his friend, identified only as “Dre,” as subcontractors. On March 16, Saunders did not show up for work, but Dre did pick up his own check and one for Saunders, Severs told police.

The next night, Saunders started making threatening phone calls to Severs saying he did not receive his check. He also said Severs shorted him several hundred dollars.

Police have tapes of the calls left on Severs’ phone and Saunders said in one message that if he did not get paid he would beat Severs “half to (expletive) death.”

“Your friend cops ain’t going to save you till after it’s too (expletive) late,” Saunders said in a different message. In others, he said he would spread the word that Severs didn’t pay his workers.

Saunders left six messages saying Severs owed him $661 for construction work he had done, and demanding that Severs pay.

Severs asked Apache Junction police to pick Saunders up.

Three days later, two detectives were paid overtime to go to Phoenix to arrest Saunders, who later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of making threats and using a phone to harass, according to police records. He was sentenced to unsupervised probation.

Severs said he obtained a protective court order against Saunders after he was arrested.

In April, officer Chad Suniga filed a grievance saying Severs got special treatment because he is a councilman. Suniga alleged Walp abused his power on Severs’ behalf.

Detectives are not normally assigned to handle misdemeanor cases involving telephone threats, especially on overtime, according to Suniga’s complaint. Police also are not normally sent to arrest a suspect in another city over a misdemeanor, he wrote.

Typically, the case would be turned over to a city prosecutor, who would decide whether to file charges and seek an arrest warrant, according to Suniga’s complaint. If a warrant was issued, the suspect would be picked up if spotted by police or stopped for some other matter like a traffic violation.

Suniga said he could not discuss his complaint when contacted by the Tribune.

Saunders could not be reached for comment.

Severs said he never asked for or got special treatment from the police. The reason police acted so quickly was Saunders threatened to attack Severs at a City Council meeting, which would have put the community at risk, Severs said.

However, tape recordings of the calls show Saunders did not make specific threats to attack Severs at a council meeting, though he did threaten to attack the councilman at his work or any other place he may be.

Still, Severs defends the response he got from police. “If a citizen is being threatened the way I was, I would absolutely want them to go deal with it,” Severs said. “I don’t care if it’s overtime. I would certainly hope that if anybody else calls they would respond the same way as they responded to me.”

Swart also said Severs got the same treatment from police that any citizen would.

“The idea is to get the best, fastest service you can irregardless of who the person is,” Swart said. “Just because somebody may be an elected official, they’re still a citizen. They have a right to a police response the same as anybody else.”

Severs has demanded police action in the past, but got a much different response from Walp’s predecessor.

Last year Severs, then a councilman-elect, claimed his daughter was the victim of a crime and demanded a man be arrested by Apache Junction police.

Terry McDonald, who was interim police chief in Apache Junction at the time, sent the case to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office for investigation. McDonald said he did that to avoid any appearance of a conflict-ofinterest involving city police.

A Pinal County grand jury refused to indict the suspect in that case.

Severs said he was dissatisfied with the way McDonald handled that case.

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