A former Mesa city councilman apologized on Tuesday for intimidating a hiker he claimed falsely was on his property in a viral video that has drawn tens of thousands of views.
The incident in the YouTube video, and its aftermath, represent the climax of a story that has played out over two years between hikers, bicyclists, and a couple building a home in the Las Sendas community next to the Hawes Loop Trail.
The video posted on July 14 by George Norton depicts William “Bill” Jaffa loping downhill to confront the unnamed hiker. As she films him, Jaffa dials 911 and accuses the hiker of walking off the designated trail and onto his property. Mesa Police confirmed the incident occurred on July 14.
“I’ve got a woman trespassing on our property,” Jaffa says to the dispatcher. “Could you send police over right away? We feel threatened.”
Jaffa tells the dispatcher “the woman is very aggressive,” though the video does not appear to show any form of aggression from the hiker — she merely protests that she's not trespassing.
“It’s an emergency,” Jaffa continues. “We want her arrested.”
But Mesa police focused on Jaffa, instead. Cops confirmed he was cited in connection with one count of disorderly conduct and one count of false reporting to law enforcement stemming from that incident. More details on the case are expected to be released sometime today.
Jaffa's an accountant who served in the Mesa City Council from 1998 to 2002, and was previously active in a number of city boards. He's an accountant and co-founder of the Jolee-Jaffa Music Foundation, a music program for disadvantaged children.
The woman filming Jaffa never identifies herself; however, she tells Jaffa and the 911 dispatcher she is 57 years old with brown hair, blue eyes, and is a military veteran. George Norton could not be reached, but in a description on the video, he states that the hiker is his wife.
Multiple sources told Phoenix New Times that Jaffa has previously displayed the same behavior on the Hawes Loop Trail toward other trail users. Another YouTube user posted a second video on Monday that shows Jaffa and his wife in an encounter with an alleged trespasser.
One woman who preferred to remain anonymous recounted an October 2016 encounter with Jaffa as she hiked the trail with a friend.
“We were charged by an angry Bill Jaffa out of the blue, yelling that we were trespassing. [He was] taking our photos and saying he would call the police,” the woman said.
According to the woman, Jaffa’s wife, Joanne Jolee-Jaffa, stood nearby as her husband photographed the hikers.
“Frankly, I was so rattled by his assault that I just tried to keep him calm and walked down the trail to the main road telling him to ‘have a nice day!’” she said. “I’m a big, tough girl, but this rattled me for days. I never went back to that trail I loved.”
Benjamin Fillmore does not live in the Las Sendas community but rides his mountain bike along the trails 3 to 4 times a week. Fillmore says the majority of Las Sendas residents are friendly to pedestrians, even though the neighborhood is a private, gated community.
“On a couple of occasions, I have actually stopped to talk with neighbors that have been outside and asked them if they were okay with me being there or if they would rather I not pass through,” Fillmore said. “I have been pleasantly surprised to have them say that they enjoyed being able to allow people to use the trail near their homes and it made them happy to see people out getting their exercise. Always a smile from anyone I've come across until Bill showed up.”
Fillmore recalled an encounter with Jaffa that occurred in October 2017 as he was riding his mountain bike near Jaffa’s property.
“I honestly thought he was going to attack me physically,” Fillmore said. “He was extremely hostile and vulgar.”
According to Fillmore, Jaffa’s wife actually tried to calm her husband down, but the homeowner was relentless.
“He pursued me, recording me the whole time until I got far enough away that all he could do was continue to scream his political views and insults,” Fillmore said.
Insults and awkward encounters aside, Fillmore and other hikers each question the validity of Jaffa’s claims. Who actually owns the contested section of land known as the Hawes Loop Trail — the Jaffas, the City of Mesa, or the Las Sendas community?
The city of Mesa owns it, according to Kevin Christopher, the city's spokesman.
“In July, the City rerouted a portion of the Hawes Loop Trail out of an abundance of caution concerning a potential drop-off next to the trail and directly above the Jaffas' property, which could cause injury to bikers and hikers,” Christopher told New Times. “This new part of the trail was never on Mr. Jaffa’s property. In fact, it shifted the trail farther away from his property. The city of Mesa is going to place a fence barrier that will clearly mark the property line for the City as well as the property owned by Mr. Jaffa.”
Christopher could not confirm when the city of Mesa plans to construct the fenced barrier, but said the city will pay for its installation as the fence is being placed on city property.
Jolee-Jaffa responded to interview requests via email, stating, “Thank you for reaching out. We have been receiving hundreds of threatening emails, voicemails, and messages from strangers, so Bill will not be giving any interviews.”
She did, however, provide a statement regarding the July 14 video, which received more than 73,000 views as of August 14. The statement reads:
“Recently, I, Bill Jaffa, had an interaction with a hiker by a home I am in the process of building in the City of Mesa. The process has been long and frustrating, which includes dealing with the City of Mesa and the positioning of this hiking trail by my new home. Needless to say, I could have handled the situation with this particular hiker better. My actions were not the result of this one hiker, but all of the issues we have had to deal with over a period of months/years.
The City of Mesa moved the trail North, away from the property because of the hazard it created after we started building our home and had to erect steep retaining walls, in some areas, 30 feet high. The old trail had become a hazard to hikers and a liability issue as well. A small group of hikers who are continuing to walk on our property line has created tremendous stress on my wife and me, as there have been ongoing issues following the re-routing of the trail away from the retaining walls. As of August 13, 2018, the City of Mesa affirmed that the newly re-routed trail will stay in place and help ensure that hikers remain safe, and additionally noted that new signage will be added to provide direction, if needed.
I do not offer this explanation as an excuse, but in hopes of providing some understanding in which I am sure many of you may even relate to in some way shape or form. Lastly, it was not my intention to cause stress to this hiker, for that is not who I am as an individual, or professional, but want to offer my apologies for any anxiety I may have caused her. I also want to apologize to the members of the community that have been impacted. My wife and I love Las Sendas, it has been our dream to build our home here and to participate in the community. My wife and I believe Las Sendas is the best community in the Valley, and we want nothing less than the best for all of us.”
In a statement provided by the Las Sendas Community Association, a spokesperson said the organization "will continue to work collaboratively with all involved parties in order to find an amicable and enduring solution."
The rest of the Community Association's statement reads:
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"It is our understanding that the Hawes Trail Loop was dedicated to the City of Mesa in 2005, a portion of which is adjacent to the residents’ lot in question. The City of Mesa owns and/or controls the entire Hawes Trail Loop in this area. The general public has a right to access this area.
The concerns and issues that matter to the residents of Las Sendas are of utmost importance to us. The Association is aware of these videos and is actively working with the City of Mesa, the local police department, and the owners on Teton Circle to explore long-term solutions which address and clarify the use concerns.
But some trail users aren't yet ready to forgive and forget Jaffa's behavior.
"Your lame apology today is worthless," wrote the unidentified trail user who made the latest video posted on August 13. "You've been doing this for years. Enjoy your newfound fame ..."
Until the fence is erected and a clear sign is posted regarding which section of the trail is Jaffa’s private property, hikers probably ought to steer clear of Jaffa.