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Milstead Goes Limp Over the Thought of Gays

Ralph Milstead thinks heterosexual officers present the best public image for the Department of Public Safety. The opinion of the chief of the state police didn't change with the embarrassing revelations that one of Arizona's finest made a habit of stopping female motorists and demanding sex in exchange for overlooking traffic violations. But Milstead can't stand the thought of hiring gays.

Milstead, whose own strange heterosexual habits were revealed last year in steamy disclosures during the Mecham impeachment trial, tries to hide behind antiquated rules that preclude hiring anyone with "any demonstrated pattern of homosexual behavior." But a complaint by a gay man who wanted to be hired by the department forced a legal review of the regulations. And, earlier this month, Attorney General Bob Corbin concluded that a technical error in adopting the rules makes them unenforceable.

That throws the matter back into Milstead's lap. Without the excuse of "I'm just following the rules," he has been forced out of the closet. "Given my personal preference, I would not hire homosexual officers," he says.

The way Milstead sees it, any gay whose sexual preference is not known by friends, family and colleagues is subject to blackmail. He adds, in the next breath, "I wouldn't purport to you that's the strongest argument in the world." His argument doesn't apply to the man who caused the uproar in the first place by his inquiry. Milstead has an answer for that, too.

"I am uncomfortable hiring people who admit to breaking Arizona law as it applies to sodomy and lewd and lascivious [behavior]," Milstead says. But those aren't the only laws on the books in Arizona that govern sexual behavior. There are state statutes barring cohabitation as well as prohibiting sexual contact between unmarried partners. DPS applicants who break those laws, however, don't have to worry. Because if Milstead sets the standard, those things are fine.

In shocking allegations last year, Milstead was accused publicly of seducing the widows of slain DPS officers, of having his girlfriends pose topless outdoors and of carrying on affairs during office hours. Milstead never responded to the charges, made by Christina Johnston, who claimed to be his former girlfriend. Johnston's allegations never were presented formally to senators serving as the impeachment jury. Chief Justice Frank X. Gordon, concluded that the stories, while fascinating, were not germane to either Mecham's conduct or Milstead's believability as a witness against him. But that didn't stop the senators from snatching up copies of Johnston's deposition as quickly as they became available.

Nor were the charges investigated by the governor's office. Instead, Gov. Rose Mofford was more concerned that Milstead showed poor judgment in posing--during the midst of the trial--

for a New Times photo. (It showed an apparently aroused Milstead, wearing only swim trunks, kissing a girlfriend.) "I don't think fornication and cohabitation are generally questioned," Milstead says, "as are a myriad of other laws not questioned." That leaves the sodomy question in the category of disqualifying acts for his officers, along with murder, drug sales and armed robbery.

Anyway, Milstead says, he's just protecting the public treasury. He says gays have a higher incidence of AIDS than the general population. That, he says, translates into higher costs for sick leave and health insurance. Milstead says it's the same as the department's refusal to hire an epileptic or someone with a bad back, "people who have substantial health risk." But he ignores the fact that the latter two conditions might affect the ability of an officer to perform; simply being gay does not.

Finally, it comes down to whether other officers would accept having a gay highway patrol officer or detective. Milstead says the department has "the appearance of a 100 percent heterosexual population," though he can't say for sure that there are no homosexuals on the force. But that appearance is important. "As a manager, you want to consider the morale, the efficiency, the effectiveness of your work force and how would this person be accepted."

The DPS raised those issues before, when it was a lily-white, all-male agency. The department was forced to hire both minorities and women and, as Milstead puts it, "we've worked our way through that."

Milstead's concern about public perception is touching, if not a bit late. State residents already have gotten an eyeful about the conduct of some of Arizona's finest.

Martin Mix managed to become a DPS officer, having passed the polygraph test to prove he wasn't gay. Mix proved instead he was exactly what Ralph Milstead wanted, a heterosexual. Mix recently admitted--in defense of a rape charge--that he stopped a lone female motorist and took her to the desert where they had sex. He was acquitted of rape after he claimed he was just accepting a bribe: having sex in exchange for not giving the motorist a traffic ticket. That admission kept out of trial testimony any evidence of Mix's previous behavior on the job. Another officer later said Mix admitted to having sex with six other motorists at various times. DPS fired Mix over the incident. He was given a five-year prison sentence for bribery.

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Howard Fischer