Members of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office posse in Sun City West and other locations were relieved of their duties and sent home over the weekend in a possible dispute over insurance.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims this isn't a "story" yet but may be a "big story" if he's unable to resolve certain issues with county leaders, news media reports say. Arpaio hasn't yet confirmed rumors that the dispute has to do with whether or not the volunteer posse members are covered by the county's insurance plan.
The move to suspend posse operations comes a few months after one Sun City posse member, Phillip Grigg, was stuck with large medical bills after being shot and wounded while coming to the aid of a Phoenix police officer.
The Sun City Posse's website posted an article by YourWestValley.com about the suspension of activities but provides no other details.
Posse members go through several weeks of training classes for their unpaid jobs and get to wear uniforms, pack guns, and help with law-enforcement duties. Arpaio's use of the posse has been controversial in the past, and a judge's ruling made it possible for the posse to keep its finances secret from the public. Still, the posse has been popular with the public, and Sun City residents rely on posse members to help patrol their neighborhoods. The decision to suspend posse operations was announced at a Sun City West Posse open house on Saturday.
Chris Hergstrom, one of several paid Arpaio spokesmen, released a statement on Saturday saying, "This is a preliminary posse decision relating to a county policy. The Sheriff's Office is looking into the situation and reviewing the issues with county administrators."
An e-mail reportedly was sent to several posse members:
"Effective immediately, on March 29, 2014 at 10:00 hours all activities of the Sheriff's Posse of Sun City West were suspended.
The suspension will be in effect until such time as the command staff resolve open issues. The command staff will be sending out periodic emails to keep you apprised of the situation.
We would like to thank everyone for their patience and support during this difficult time.
Thank you, Commander Don Sampson"
It's unclear how many of the Sheriff's Office's several dozen posse groups are suspended. The West Valley news site interviewed posse members who said Sun City, Sun City West, and Westbrook Village posse members were "sent home indefinitely."
Hegstrom declined comment, referring New Times to other spokespeople who haven't called us back yet. We also left a message for county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick. Check back later for updates on this story.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.