State Senate President Russell Pearce has always adopted the role of a John Wayne-esque tough guy who can handle himself.
Indeed, in a June 2010 piece by Gary Nelson for the Arizona Republic entitled, "Iron will drives Pearce, agenda," Pearce was full of bravado concerning reported threats on his person and his family.
Nelson's article stated,
"[Pearce] said the Department of Public Safety has investigated some of the threats and offered to guard his family."
"`If I need to mow my yard with a .40-caliber on, I'll mow my yard. I don't need a baby-sitter. I'll protect my family.'"
But Pearce does have baby-sitters, specifically Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer J. Gentry Burton and Sergeant Jeff Trapp, who are assigned to the state Senate as a security detail, and who also provide "executive-level protection" for the Senate President, according to DPS spokesman Captain Stephen Harrison.
That means they sometimes accompany Pearce to political events, like a recent fundraiser at Alexi's Grill in Phoenix, attended by several pro-Pearce lobbyists. I also spotted the two officers at a pro-Pearce Tea Party rally in North Phoenix a few months back.
Harrison explained that DPS also provides executive-level protection to the governor and to the speaker of the state House. However, the state House only has one officer assigned to it, while the state Senate has two.
Harrison said Burton came on board January 8, 2011, the same day as the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an incident which has obviously heightened security concerns regarding Arizona politicians.
Thing is, Burton's assignment was already in the works, having been requested by President Pearce.
"It is my understanding that Senator Pearce requested an additional person," Harrison wrote me via e-mail.
According to Harrison, DPS is reimbursed for the two officers by the state Senate. Their "primary duty" is to the Senate President, Harrison told me. They also provide security for the entire building and work even during Legislative breaks.
Granted, Pearce made the above remarks to the Republic prior to becoming Senate President, and Harrison says DPS has provided executive-level security to past Senate Presidents.
Certainly, no one wishes on Pearce the fate of Congresswoman Giffords. Not to mention that of U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, who perished in the Tucson massacre.
But Pearce's request does belie his tough talk regarding personal security, and it does raise interesting questions regarding general security in the state Senate, where there are no metal detectors, and where Senators are allowed to pack heat, a la state Senator Lori Klein.
ADDENDUM: I include a little back and forth with Sgt. Trapp, forwarded to me by Chad Snow, chairman of the recall committee Citizens for a Better Arizona.
In one e-mail concerning what transpired at the Alexi's Grill fundraiser, Trapp states that two women were allegedly shoved by an LD18 resident attempting to talk to Pearce.
This is the first I've heard that the incident involved two women. I know that lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs complained of being pushed by the man. Apparently, Burton and Trapp learned of Jacobs' allegation after the man had left.
I was present inside and didn't see anyone pushed, though by the time I was near the action, Trapp and Burton were restraining the man in question. They eventually released him and he left. Not sure if they escorted him to the door.
Snow raised an interesting question to me, "If the man was truly being that belligerent, why wasn't he arrested?"
This is not entirely clear. I will request any report of the incident made by Trapp and Burton. Perhaps there's a better explanation therein.
New Times Comments
Brief description of your legal issue:
Officer Burton and I have a tough assignment in the DPS Legislative
Security Section. We have received extensive training in executive
protection and respond to principal threats accordingly.
Your comments in the Phoenix New Times where you refer to us as "goons"
is unprofessional and boorish. I would appreciate it if you would
please temper your remarks.
From: Chad Snow [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:58 AM
To: Jeffrey Trapp
Cc: Randy Parraz; Stephen Lemons
Subject: New Times Comments
Did you seriously consider the peaceful, mostly elderly, residents of
LD18 that were at the Private Fund Raiser to be "principal threats"?
Denying peaceful citizens access to petition their government for
redress of grievances is goonlike behavior in my mind. I'm sure you
received extensive training in executive protection - did you receive
training on Constitutional rights? I apologize if my remarks hit a
nerve - they were honestly not directed at you and Mr. Burton but at
Senator Pearce. What I consider "unprofessional and boorish" is Senator
Pearce using taxpayer funded security at a private fund raising event.
Were you there on State time? If so, we have every right to have access
to our elected official. Also, you refer to "executive protection".
Mr. Pearce is not an "executive" of anything. He is a simple state
legislator, just like the other 89, only chosen by his party to preside
over one of the legislative bodies. Do all of the 90 legislators get
access to taxpayer funded security at private functions? I would
seriously like to know. Thank you, and again, accept my apologies if my
remarks were offensive.
Chairman - Citizens for a Better Arizona
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From: Jeffrey Trapp [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 9:37 AM
To: Chad Snow
Subject: RE: New Times Comments
"...peaceful, mostly elderly, residents of LD18" are not a threat but a
shouting man, shoving two women and rushing Senator Pearce could be. I
was inside, you were not. I thought you were reasonable, I was wrong.
I consider this to be our last communication.
On Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 11:21 AM, Chad Snow email@example.com> wrote:
I guess a taxpayer wanting to know if his tax dollars are being
squandered by a politician who abuses the privilege of his office is
unreasonable. You chose not to respond to my two queries about whether
or not you were on the taxpayer dime while Pearce shook down the
lobbyists and whether or not all legislators are afforded the same
benefit. I thought is was a reasonable question.
Again, I apologize if my remarks were offensive. Our beef is 100% with
Pearce and not with law enforcement officers doing a difficult job.
Chad T. Snow, Esq.