Even for drug-riddled Cochise County, the raid at the Hide Out Bar in Huachuca City was a doozie.
Forty-five officers from eleven police agencies swooped into the bar and held 65 patrons--most of them bikers--at gunpoint for more than two hours while they searched high and low for drugs.
After all was said and done, police confiscated only an eighth of an ounce of cocaine or crystal metamphetamine--worth about $260 on the street. Three men have been indicted on drug charges as a result of the October 21 raid, and nine others face misdemeanor charges.
The cops' desperate and practically futile search for dope, during what Huachuca City's police chief has called the biggest police action "since Miracle Valley," is still causing quite a stir in the rural southeast Arizona county on the Mexican border.
"What were they expecting to find at that bar? A meeting of the Medellin Cartel?" scoffs Sierra Vista attorney Wally Hoggatt, who says he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of several of the bar's patrons.
"Noriega would have been there, but he had other business to attend to, right? You could go into any bar or high school gym or attend a meeting of several charitable organizations I might mention, and you'd find more dope than they found that night."
Sierra Vista electrician Bruce Rush says he gets angrier and angrier as he dwells on what happened to him and his friends at the Hide Out that night.
"They didn't do much to me but subject me to utter, total humiliation," says Rush, a 47-year-old member of the Nomaden Motorcycle Club. "The police are trying to eradicate drugs, and I don't begrudge them for that, but this was blown way out of proportion. It was like they watch Miami Vice reruns. And they have this hard-on for bikers.
"I had Uzis pointed at my face, and I had to kneel on my knees with my hands on my head outside for an hour. Did you ever have an automatic weapon pointed in your face when a minute before you were having a beer with friends? I was so scared I almost had to relieve myself right there on the spot."
Rush says he and the bar's other patrons were attending a combination birthday party/wedding anniversary barbecue when the police stormed in.
"There were Sierra Vista cops, military cops, federal cops, Tucson cops, county cops, and they were being led by our own Huachuca City cops," he says. "What a joke. If we would have had one nut in our bunch, a guy who pulled out a gun or something, we all would have been dead. After an hour on my knees, the police tell me to get lost.
"It was like, `We're running this joint now, and there's nothing we can do with you because you're clean, so get out of our faces.' This isn't a doper bar. Drugs are everywhere, and I'm not saying everyone that hangs out here is a straight arrow, but this isn't a place where people dump a 150-pound load of cocaine on the pool table, like we heard a rumor about."
Huachuca City Police Chief Dennis Grey didn't return calls to discuss his Big Big Raid. But shortly after the incident, he told a local paper: "We wanted to get the drug dealers and users out of there. We'll close it down if we have to."
Grey also promised at the time that many more drug-related arrests would be forthcoming. They haven't been.
Several of those arrested are going to trial, including one of Wally Hoggatt's clients who is charged with disorderly conduct.
"My guy was allegedly mouthing off to an officer during the raid," Hoggatt says, "and he may well have been. But he had a good reason. His wife has a bad shoulder, and we'll show that she was undergoing physical therapy. They told her to lift her hands above her head, and he says, `She can't.' It escalated from there."
And what of Chief Grey's comment that this Keystone Kops caper was as "big" as the violent October 1982 clash in nearby Miracle Valley between sheriff's deputies and members of a radical religious sect?
"We're gonna make him eat those words after we sue them," Bruce Rush says.