Judge halts firing of 2 Quartzsite police officers

QUARTZSITE, AZ - A judge has issued temporary restraining orders to block the town of Quartzsite from firing two police officers who had accused their chief of misconduct.

The move also prevents other police employees from being subjected to polygraph exams.

Attorneys for the Quartzsite officers sought the first injunction after most of the town's police force was suspended and at least two officers received termination notices in the small desert community of about 4,000 people near the Arizona-California border.

La Paz County Superior Court Judge Randolph Bartlett ruled disciplinary moves against the officers by town administrators may violate First Amendment and due-process rights.

The Arizona Republic says Bartlett ordered Quartzsite officials to halt attempts to fire the officers and to reinstate any who already had been terminated.

Court records show that town officials then sought to conduct mandatory polygraph exams of some officers, prompting another civil complaint. On Wednesday, Bartlett issued a temporary restraining order to block the lie-detector tests.

Quartzsite has been snarled in political feuding for months. Mayor Ed Foster and some residents allege that the Town Council and administrators repeatedly violated laws governing public meetings and records. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and the state Ombudsman's Office investigated and verified some of those allegations in written reports.

Foster and his supporters also claimed that Police Chief Jeff Gilbert has repeatedly abused his authority, using it to harass and arrest political foes.

In May, about two-thirds of the town's officers joined that allegation and asked the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to investigate. The state Department of Public Safety subsequently stepped in to conduct that probe, which is not yet completed.

Assistant town manager Al Johnson said complaints against Gilbert include the chief improperly taking time off from work and violating the town's vacation and sick leave policy. Johnson said
an outside law firm investigated and determined the allegations against the chief were unfounded.

Amid the turmoil, town administrators suspended 10 police employees and began issuing termination notices.

In his order, Bartlett said actions by municipal personnel may have been carried out by "potentially biased decision-makers." He set a hearing for Aug. 15 to determine whether the restraining orders should become permanent.