Town of Quartzsite puts more than half of its police department on leave

QUARTZSITE, AZ - An Arizona town has put more than half of its police department on leave and officers tell ABC15 they feel it's retaliation for speaking out against their boss.

William Ponce said he now feels he could lose his job with the Quartzsite Police Department after he, and eight other officers, came forward and accused the police chief of misconduct and abuse of power.

"I feel this is retaliation against the officers that signed this letter and came forth speaking out against corruption," said Ponce.

After complaints from officers, DPS launched a criminal investigation into allegations Chief Jeff Gilbert had workers run criminal background check on people he didn't like.

"Trying to create cases against these people," suggested Ponce.

The DPS told ABC15 an investigation is still ongoing but nine of the town's 14 officers have been placed on paid leave.

"I'm very concerned about public safety," said Ponce. "You're putting the citizens in danger and the officers in danger."

ABC15 obtained a copy of the letter given to the officers which accused them of defaming "the integrity and reputation of the Town of Quartzsite, its chief of police, its town manager, and its common council."

The letter also states the officers are required to remain at their place of residence between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon and between the hours of 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

It goes on to say failure to do so could result in disciplinary action including dismissal.

"I'm very concerned about my job but I believe I am standing up for what is right and I believe we will prevail in the end," said Ponce.

ABC15 talked with Chief Gilbert on Thursday. He did not want to answer any questions and instead issued a statement saying: "The Town of Quartzsite has placed select police officers on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation is being conducted into policy and rule violations. We can assure the community that the police department has adequate officers to provide the services necessary for public safety, and response to calls for service."

The La Paz County Sheriff's Office and DPS is assisting Quartzsite police officers with calls.

DPS issued a press releasing stating: "In light of the events occurring in the town of Quartzsite, the Arizona Department of Public Safety has been asked by the La Paz County Sheriff to assist if needed in responding to calls for law enforcement service in Quartzsite."

The La Paz County Sheriff's Office will be the primary law enforcement agency responding to calls for service in Quartzsite but will call on DPS if additional resources are needed.

"I've assured Sheriff Lowery that DPS stands ready to assist his agency if the situation warrants," said Col. Robert Halliday, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The Major Crimes Bureau of the DPS Criminal Investigations Division is involved in an on-going investigation of allegations made against the Quartzsite Police chief.

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