Bryan Teague of Peoria, the suspect in a 5,220-acre wildland fire east of the Valley in August, has been thrown in prison several times for his persistent drinking and driving since 2000.
Being a prohibited possessor, he wasn't allowed to own or carry a firearm when he wandered around 29th Avenue and Indian School Road one night in March of 2011 while drunk. When a couple of workers at a nearby "dance hall" asked him to get lost after spotting him taking a leak on a car, he said, "You want to die tonight?" Then he fired a shot toward the men. Officers found him minutes later, his Ruger 9mm visible in his unzipped fanny pack, a can of Four Loco in his hand.
Yet the Maricopa County Attorney's Office charged Teague only with firing a gun within city limits. He served half a year in prison.
A few months after he got out, he put a propane tank in a campfire while out on an off-roading trip with his family. The resulting explosion started last summer's Mistake Peak Fire in the Tonto National Forest.
For the full story on the recent arrest of Teague and details about how he started the fire, see last week's post, linked below.
We put a call in to the prosecutor's office yesterday to find out what happened in Teague's case, and why he wasn't charged with being a prohibited possessor. County officials noted before he was sentenced for the March 2011 shooting incident that he hadn't been legally allowed to own a gun.
If the county attorney's office had really thrown the book at this guy in 2011, it's doubtful he would have been out of prison in time to start the fire. No structures or lives were lost in the blaze, but at least 350 firefighters put their lives on the line over several weeks to put it out. Plenty of shrubs, cactus and wildlife in the national forest were burned up, too.
Teague, who lives in the lake community of Desert Harbor in Peoria, has an apparent love of traveling in Arizona -- while wasted.
Court records show that Teague was busted for DUI in Tucson in 2000, then busted again for DUI six months later in Surprise. He was sent to prison for a short time after his third DUI in April of 2003 in Yavapai County.
Another DUI arrest came in 2005 in his home city; the case was dismissed by the Peoria city attorney. But he went back behind bars for a short time after a 2010 arrest for DUI in Seligman. That same year, he was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Williams and cited for driving without his DUI interlock device in the car in Phoenix.
Then came his March 2011 firearms arrest. Records show that was only his second felony conviction, despite his prior crimes. Teaugue had been treated with kid gloves for years for what is obviously a serious booze problem that endangers the public, but the county attorney's office didn't put a halt to Teague's recklessness.
The office didn't charge Teague with misconduct involving weapons.
Teague's firing of a gun toward people could have earned him years in prison.
But it didn't.
When he got out of prison, Teague was reckless again. And lucky again that no one go hurt because of his actions.
We talked to Teague's wife, Tiffany, earlier this week. She's a Peoria insurance agent and began the conversation by telling us she didn't appreciate being named in the story about her husband. We reminded her that she was a key figure in the federal complaint against her husband filed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The complaint describes how Tiffany and her son, after being allowed to load up her husband's broken-down Can Am Commander on the night of the fire, were spotted slowing down on a forest road at about 1:30 a.m. When officers approached, Tiffany Teague's Jeep accelerated from the spot. Officers shined a spotlight in the bushes and saw Bryan Teague, who suddenly tried to pretend he'd been sleeping.
Tiffany Teague tells us she never saw her husband in the tree-line.
She also says her husband's act of kicking the 16-ounce propane tank in the campfire was "truly" an accident. But she wasn't there when it happened. We asked how it was possible that someone could accidentally kick a propane tank into a campfire, and she said we'd have to talk to Bryan about that. She said she'd give him a message for us.
We'll let you know if we hear back from Bryan Teague or the county attorney's office on this one.
UPDATE: 12:45 pm
Here is the response from the county attorney's office's spokesman, Jerry Cobb:
We respectfully disagree with your analysis.
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The decision not to charge Teague with Misconduct Involving Weapons (there is no charge for "being a prohibited possessor") was part of his agreement to plead guilty to the original charge - this is clearly noted in his plea agreement.
In terms of Teague's prior offenses, these were noted in both the plea agreement as well as the presentence report prepared by the Adult Probation Department, and formed the basis of their recommendation for a presumptive 1 year prison sentence. The judge could have rejected the agreement and imposed a longer sentence. Instead, he chose to accept the agreement and follow the recommendation of APD.
Speculation about Teague's subsequent offense is just that. It is equally plausible that he would have committed the arson after serving an even longer prison term. Charging someone for a future crime is fine in the fictional world of "Minority Report," but it just doesn't work that way in real life.