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Updated Apr 26, 2013 - 5:23 pm

Bar fight involving biker cops baffles sheriff

PHOENIX — Whiskey Row in the Arizona mountain town of Prescott has seen
its share of bar fights, biker gangs and rowdies.

But the bar fights aren’t supposed to involve a biker gang made up of police
officers carrying brass knuckles and knives. The fallout from such a brawl in
December has led to the retirements of a police chief and two senior sheriff’s
officials and recommendations of felony charges against the former chief for his
alleged role in trying to cover it up.

Two other current or former law enforcement officers and an ambulance
supervisor face possible charges, and local and state agencies are investigating
involved officers. At least one federal officer who also is an Iron Brotherhood
Motorcycle Club was at the bar, and a Customs and Border Protection spokesman
said the agency was looking into his role in the group.

The motorcycle club had many of the same rituals and garb as “outlaw” gangs,
according to interviews and police reports. They used nicknames only, wore biker
club patches and rewarded at least one member who got in a previous fight with a
special patch.

Just how a group of mainly high-ranking law enforcement officers decided to
join what looks and acts in many ways like an outlaw biker gang baffles the
local sheriff. Police said no weapons were used but were displayed before the
bar fight.

“You’ve got senior veteran law enforcement officers from federal, state and
local agencies engaged in this kind of activity. I don’t fully understand why
they would want to mimic a criminal biker organization,” Yavapai County Sheriff
Scott Mascher said Friday. “It makes no sense to me, it was extremely poor
judgment on their individual parts, their collective judgment, it’s very, very
unethical.”

As is often the case, it wasn’t the crime, but the clumsy efforts to cover it
up appear to have blown the lid off the Iron Brotherhood’s Arizona chapter and
its police officer members.

If the officers in the club had just called police themselves and been
straightforward, the matter would have been relatively minor, Mascher said.

The motorcycle club, whose members used nicknames like Top Gun, Guido and
Mongo, had been holding its Christmas party at a bar where the booze was flowing
freely, according to Arizona Department of Public Safety reports released
Thursday.

A group of club members decided to go to another bar, and while there an
intoxicated man came up and began asking the club president about the patches on
his vest. Another member pushed the man away, and punches were thrown, leaving
the man with a smashed and bloody nose.

The president was Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler, who left his job
shortly after the brawl became public. Also retiring were Yavapai County
sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Suttle and Capt. Marc Schmidt. A sheriff’s internal
investigation shows both apparently obstructed police investigating the fight.

The state police are asking prosecutors to charge Suttle and Fessler with
felonies for obstructing the investigation and misdemeanors for lying about the
involvement of their club. One officer who responded to the fight said he
believed the two were being “vague on purpose.”

Phoenix police officer Eric Amato and Greg Kaufmann, a supervisor at an Ajo
ambulance service, are accused of assault and disorderly conduct. The report
also recommended a charge of disorderly conduct against one of the alleged
victims, Justin Stafford.

Phoenix police are investigating the man who allegedly threw the punch, Amato,
but he remains on active duty.

“We expect our officers to act appropriately, and that’s what we’re looking
at,” Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said.

The Maricopa County attorney’s office is reviewing the report and would file
charges, if warranted, spokesman Jerry Cobb said Friday.

One member of the group who has since resigned, Prescott deputy police chief
Andy Reinhardt, said Friday that the clothing the members wore should not be
used against them.

“I will say I’m going to let people judge for themselves as to how they
perceive people based on how they dress,” Reinhardt said. “I haven’t read the
DPS report, and if there was any wrongdoing by officers, I personally don’t
condone that myself.”

Reinhardt said he wasn’t in the bar when the brawl broke out, and said if
crimes were committed, people should be held accountable.

“I have rode with the group in the past, and there’s never been this type of
an issue whenever I rode with them,” he said.

Police officer motorcycle clubs that emulate the outlaw gang culture appeal to
older officers who miss the macho days when they could knock heads and not be
held accountable, said Mitch Librett, a former police officer who is now an
associate professor of criminal justice at Bridgewater State University in
Massachusetts.

“It’s the vehicle for expressing certain opinions, views, even prejudice that
is no longer acceptable for police officers,” Librett said.

Efforts to reach Fessler and Amato weren’t successful. Messages left for Suttle
and with Kaufmann’s employer weren’t returned.

___

Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Linda Ashton in Phoenix,
and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.

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