Was last week's posse crisis triggered by a former Cold Case Posse's whistle-blowing article on March 9?
Brian Reilly, the former posseman and an ex-Surprise Tea Party member, believes so.
A new policy affecting posse cars and other vehicles put into effect on Thursday suggests he could be right.
Reilly's group spurred Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to assign the "Cold Case Posse" to investigate President Obama's birth certificate in 2011.
In his March 9 article published on ObamaConspiracy.org, Reilly claimed that he was assigned an unmarked vehicle with government plates after he was made a posse member on April 17, 2012: "I was given a case, investigator's flat badge, a 2003 unmarked Crown Vic police cruiser, Arizona license number G-669EG, the first "G" indicating a government plate, and a county gas key was also provided."
He went on to relate other concerns about the liability of being a posse member:
"I worked with Dr. Jerome Corsi, Commander Mike Zullo and Sheriff Joe Arpaio until June 30, 2012 at which time I chose to resign and I hung up my spurs. There was too much potential liability working as a volunteer. The MCSO policies were far too sporadically applied by my superior for my liking. Posse members were subject to possible criminal prosecution if a badge was displayed without proper authority. (Posse members are not law enforcement officers.) Risk management was always a question. (Would they cover you or not?)"Reilly says Zullo didn't want to accept his resignation. Zullo "and/or his birther buddies planted the story that I was let go. That I was 'disgruntled.'"
The article contains some other interesting revelations, none of which we've yet confirmed.
But we do know that two weeks later, Arpaio's office sent a memo to posses warning them to comply with a July 2012 order to buy their own insurance for their cars and SUVs, many of which are marked police vehicles. While posses are affiliated with the Sheriff's Office, they're independent, nonprofit corporations that fund most of their own activities. Usually, they buy their own gas.
The March 24 warning by the Sheriff's Office caused a clamor in the posses. Members worried they'd be held personally liable for any damage or injuries that occurred while they were out on patrol or helping control traffic at an accident scene.
The posses of Sun City, Sun City West and Westbrook Village in Peoria -- and possibly other posses -- parked their vehicles and suspended most of their operations.
Whether the vehicles ever went without coverage at any point has not been made clear by officials.
On Thursday, Arpaio and County Supervisor Clint Hickman told reporters, Sun City residents and dozens of uniformed posse members that a deal had been struck to continue covering posse vehicles with county insurance, as long as they were being used for official business. They can keep their government-issued license plates.
But as New Times has learned, as part of the deal, unmarked posse cars can no longer display government plates. We're still trying to find out if they're covered by county insurance.
The 57 posses affiliated with the MCSO have somewhere between 111 and 115 marked vehicles displaying government plates, according to conflicting official reports.
The Sheriff's Office says it's compiling a list of unmarked police vehicles with government plates used by the posses.
The Cold Case posse has at least two such vehicles according to Reilly, though why this questionable posse needs unmarked cars with hidden police lights and sirens is beyond anyone's ability to explain.
We asked Arpaio about the Cold Case cars at Thursday's news conference, and he grumbled, "I'm not going to get into all our secrets."
The Sheriff's Office released a copy of the latest posse policy to New Times on Friday. It states that, "The Posse Branch vehicles will be covered under the County's self-insured liability program while performing duties at the direction of the Sheriff, or his designee... Posse Branch marked vehicles or equipment may have government issued plates. Unmarked Posse Branch vehicles shall not have government issued plates."
The new policy, dated April 4, also requires the posses to take their vehicles to the Sheriff's Office for annual inspection. Lieutenant Brandon Jones, MCSO spokesman, said officials aren't sure when the first inspection will take place.
In an email last week, Reilly wrote us that, "I was told in 2012 that the CCP cars were registered as owned by the county. How does that work when the county had sold the cars to the Cold Case Posse for .50 cents for each vehicle."
Reilly enclosed a picture of the vehicle he says was assigned to him.
"I believe my discussion in the article about my liability concerns about driving an unmarked '03 Crown Vic police car as a posse member with government plates and no proof of county insurance brought about the current suspension of all posse vehicles," Reilly tells New Times. "I was told my vehicle was registered to the county. I purchased an insurance rider on my personal auto insurance to make sure I had coverage. I only used the vehicle for official business."
Arpaio told the news media that the MCSO warning to the posses sent on March 24 had been spurred by a claim related to a minor accident from November 2013 involving a posse vehicle being taken in for service.
County officials haven't yet released details of that accident, nor explained why five months elapsed between the accident and the March 24 memo to posses.
We're not ruling out Reilly's conspiracy-minded theory just yet.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.