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Bar fight involving biker cops baffles Arizona sheriff

By Bob Christie

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:49 a.m. HST, Apr 27, 2013

PHOENIX » Whiskey Row in the Arizona mountain town of Prescott has seen its share of bar fights, biker gangs and rowdies.

But the bar fights aren't supposed to involve a biker gang made up of police officers carrying brass knuckles and knives. The fallout from such a brawl in December has led to the retirements of a police chief and two senior sheriff's officials and recommendations of felony charges against the former chief for his alleged role in trying to cover it up.

Two other current or former law enforcement officers and an ambulance supervisor face possible charges, and local and state agencies are investigating involved officers. At least one federal officer who also is an Iron Brotherhood Motorcycle Club was at the bar, and a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the agency was looking into his role in the group.

The motorcycle club had many of the same rituals and garb as "outlaw" gangs, according to interviews and police reports. They used nicknames only, wore biker club patches and rewarded at least one member who got in a previous fight with a special patch.

Just how a group of mainly high-ranking law enforcement officers decided to join what looks and acts in many ways like an outlaw biker gang baffles the local sheriff. Police said no weapons were used but were displayed before the bar fight.

"You've got senior veteran law enforcement officers from federal, state and local agencies engaged in this kind of activity. I don't fully understand why they would want to mimic a criminal biker organization," Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher said Friday. "It makes no sense to me, it was extremely poor judgment on their individual parts, their collective judgment, it's very, very unethical."

As is often the case, it wasn't the crime, but the clumsy efforts to cover it up appear to have blown the lid off the Iron Brotherhood's Arizona chapter and its police officer members.

If the officers in the club had just called police themselves and been straightforward, the matter would have been relatively minor, Mascher said.

The motorcycle club, whose members used nicknames like Top Gun, Guido and Mongo, had been holding its Christmas party at a bar where the booze was flowing freely, according to Arizona Department of Public Safety reports released Thursday.

A group of club members decided to go to another bar, and while there an intoxicated man came up and began asking the club president about the patches on his vest. Another member pushed the man away, and punches were thrown, leaving the man with a smashed and bloody nose.

The president was Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler, who left his job shortly after the brawl became public. Also retiring were Yavapai County sheriff's Sgt. Bill Suttle and Capt. Marc Schmidt. A sheriff's internal investigation shows both apparently obstructed police investigating the fight.

The state police are asking prosecutors to charge Suttle and Fessler with felonies for obstructing the investigation and misdemeanors for lying about the involvement of their club. One officer who responded to the fight said he believed the two were being "vague on purpose."

Phoenix police officer Eric Amato and Greg Kaufmann, a supervisor at an Ajo ambulance service, are accused of assault and disorderly conduct. The report also recommended a charge of disorderly conduct against one of the alleged victims, Justin Stafford.

Phoenix police are investigating the man who allegedly threw the punch, Amato, but he remains on active duty.

"We expect our officers to act appropriately, and that's what we're looking at," Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said.

The Maricopa County attorney's office is reviewing the report and would file charges, if warranted, spokesman Jerry Cobb said Friday.

One member of the group who has since resigned, Prescott deputy police chief Andy Reinhardt, said Friday that the clothing the members wore should not be used against them.

"I will say I'm going to let people judge for themselves as to how they perceive people based on how they dress," Reinhardt said. "I haven't read the DPS report, and if there was any wrongdoing by officers, I personally don't condone that myself."

Reinhardt said he wasn't in the bar when the brawl broke out, and said if crimes were committed, people should be held accountable.

"I have rode with the group in the past, and there's never been this type of an issue whenever I rode with them," he said.

Police officer motorcycle clubs that emulate the outlaw gang culture appeal to older officers who miss the macho days when they could knock heads and not be held accountable, said Mitch Librett, a former police officer who is now an associate professor of criminal justice at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

"It's the vehicle for expressing certain opinions, views, even prejudice that is no longer acceptable for police officers," Librett said.

Efforts to reach Fessler and Amato weren't successful. Messages left for Suttle and with Kaufmann's employer weren't returned.

Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Linda Ashton in Phoenix, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.

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sak wrote:
Boys will be Boys
on April 27,2013 | 03:19PM
sgsorensen wrote:
Just another example of why I left that Godforsaken place!!
on April 27,2013 | 03:20PM
mbkij wrote:
If crimes were committed, they should be prosecuted, they should be fined, and their pensions should be taken away. Police officers are NOT above the law.
on April 27,2013 | 03:22PM
soshaljustic wrote:
Due process according to the law as is accorded to their civilian peers, unless they were on duty. If on duty, follow the P&P as well in prosecution and employee punishments.
on April 27,2013 | 03:58PM
kainalu wrote:
Police officers are not above the law?? Rolling on floor laughing my .... off.
on April 27,2013 | 04:22PM
808warriorfan wrote:
on April 27,2013 | 09:37PM
mrluke wrote:
Another example of a minor incident gone STUPIDLY out-of-hand because of attempted cover-ups by the idiots involved, who should have known better. All these clowns had to do was to own up to a fight between two individuals and let it rest there. Maybe the best thing to come out of it was for some senior officers, who should have retired long ago, to finally be let go.
on April 27,2013 | 05:59PM
808warriorfan wrote:
GOD I LOVE THIS STORY.....The Gov of AZ is a ..."witch"..., the Sheriff of Joe of Maricopa County thinks he's GOD, and now they all find out how crooked the cops are in that area.....THROW 'EM ALL IN JAIL AND THROW AWAY THE KEY. LOCK 'EM UP WITH THE OTHER CRIMINALS THEY'VE PUT IN JAIL AND LET THE FUN BEGIN
on April 27,2013 | 09:37PM
Waterman2 wrote:
The veil of civilization is so thin as to be transparent at times.
on April 28,2013 | 12:06AM
DABLACK wrote:
Time to clean house !
on April 28,2013 | 06:24AM
Mythman wrote:
What, cops off duty can't kick a little arse, too? love those bikes - come on now
on April 28,2013 | 12:34PM
RetiredWorking wrote:
Myth, it's not the but kicking. It's the cover-up that brought these law enforcement guys down. If they had just admitted their wrongdoings, consequences wouldn't have been as harsh. Sad to have to rbe forced into retirement like that.
on April 28,2013 | 02:11PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Bunch of sorry excuses for cops....really pathetic for engaging in this type of conduct. Those found guilty should lose their badges and guns.
on April 28,2013 | 12:58PM
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