Sat, Feb

Police tactics: Excessive or necessary?


The law enforcement tactics used in a multi-agency warrant sweep last month have drawn the ire of a local businesswoman.File photo/Larson Newspapers

Dr. Wendy Tuccille runs a Cottonwood pediatric office. One of her employees was of the 15 suspects arrested on outstanding warrants. Her warrant, in the amount of $1,300, was issued in 2012 and was valid until 2017.

“When I arrived at the clinic, the raid was almost complete,” she said. “There were about 10 officers.”

The amount of officers and the equipment used by a portion of them was the subject of her frustration.

The arrest at the clinic did not begin with 10 officers. Det. Sgt. Tod Moore of the CPD and two other detectives were the plainclothes officers who initially went there to make the arrest.

According to Moore’s report, he parked his car around back as the other two walked in to explain to the suspect what was happening. She was asked to step out the back entrance, which she did.

As the suspect was making arrangements to have her belongings and vehicle taken care of by her husband, she “was upset and I spent several minutes with her in an attempt to settle her down, which I successfully did,” Moore stated.

Other Appearance
Wendy Tuccille’s husband, J.D. Tuccille, also wrote about his wife’s experience in an opinion column titled, “Ham-Handed Arrest at Pediatric Clinic Highlights Official War on the Powerless,” which appears on reason.com, published March 29.

He added that the suspect understood that police had a job to do and was “sorry for being upset.”

Still unrestrained, she asked to see the physical warrant, which was not with the officers at the scene. Moore noted that it is not required by law to have a physical arrest warrant in hand, as is the case for search warrants.

The detectives complied, calling in the rest of the team that had the warrant, which included three officers in tactical gear. For logistical reasons, the rest of the team was brought as a whole as they were escorting another arrested female.

The arrest went without incident in terms of the suspect’s compliance. Moore emphasized in his report that he directed the rest of his team to respond to the back of the clinic. Vehicles of the seven officers were then moved to a nearby restaurant parking lot.

“They were only on scene for a minute or two before relocating,” Moore stated. “It should be noted that only one marked police unit was in the main parking lot area of the business.”

This is roughly the time Tuccille came to the scene, also asking officers to relocate.

“If police felt [she] was so dangerous they needed bulletproof vests and 10 officers, then it never should have occurred in a pediatric office where there are innocent children and families,” Tuccille said. “Were they going to go after her guns blazing through my office if she ran? I hope not. If the situation wasn’t dangerous — and it obviously wasn’t — then all of those officers in their bulletproof vests were pointless, except to scare children and make people wonder just what is going on at our clinic.”

Cottonwood Police Chief Steve Gesell said that location is taken into consideration when making an arrest, but if a place of business is the only known place to find a suspect, they are left with little choice.

Your Two Cents
Cottonwood Police Department is seeking public opinion on the job it’s doing via an online survey. Residents can find it from the CPD Facebook page, website or directly at atsurveymonkey.com/r/GGXPYYL. The survey is the external half of a survey that also included an internal questionnaire. The results will be used to help mold the department’s five-year plan. Flyers will also be sent out ahead of city residents’ water bill alerting them of the survey.

“Police work is a very dynamic business,” Gesell said. “When I looked at this one, the first question I had was, ‘Why a pediatrics office?’

“I think there were lessons learned. You know, ‘Do we have another avenue?’”

Gesell referenced Moore’s narrative, citing it as an attempt to show restraint.

“In my eyes, going in there with load-bearing vests, which is standard for these guys — I don’t want to say, ‘Hey, sacrifice your safety.’ I’ll never say that, but can we accomplish the safety element without,” he said.

One of the questions in reviewing the case was whether tactical gear needed to be worn, Gesell said.

He noted another primary safety concern was whether any children might be at the office.

Real Dangers

Tuccille said her employee was not a threat to society and should not have been arrested in that manner since her crime did not hurt anyone. Her employee was one of 12 misdemeanor arrests resulting from the sweep. The other three were felony warrants.

Tuccille paid her employee’s bond.

“I loaned her the money for the fine and court fees and she will pay this back. I did this because as I said we are like family and we help each other. [She] is an excellent employee. She made a mistake that harmed no one nor did it have the potential to harm anyone. I would never have done this if her ‘crime’ was for something violent or harmful to others. She is a good person,” Tuccille said. “It takes time and money to hire good staff. I did not want to do that if it could be avoided.”

Gesell noted that the incident with the Gaver family at the Cottonwood Walmart last year — during which a family member was killed and a CPD officer wounded — was in response to a misdemeanor assault call.

He also noted a similar incident recently at a Chandler Walmart, where a misdemeanor trespassing resulted in two officers being shot, one six times. Both survived, but the shooter was killed when one of the officers returned fire.

“The one officer is lucky to be alive and, from what I understand, his face will never look the same,” Gesell said.

CPD always reviews cases and operations to see if there is any way to improve. However, sacrificing officer safety is not an option.

“We never know what we are going to encounter,” Gesell said. “The nexus between the crime and the threat to the officers is something that’s generally misperceived by the public.
“These incidents do happen and I believe the majority of injuries and police shootings generally don’t involve felonious activity; they’re low-level crimes.”

In addition, Gesell said Tuccille’s employee was arrested based on a warrant for the original crime in 2010.

Records checks at the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, Cottonwood Municipal Court, Yavapai County Superior Court and the Verde Valley Justice Court, show that the 15 suspects arrested on March 23 included both one-time and multiple offenders. Nonviolent crimes included possession of marijuana and dog at large. Violent crimes included domestic violence and knowingly assaulting an officer of the peace.

“We also know we’re not going to let our guard down just because someone doesn’t have an extremely violent record,” Gesell said.

Bystander Perspective

Tuccille noted that the sweep at her clinic scared her employees.

“My employees were very upset, scared and shocked. They couldn’t believe the amount of force employed for a single person. One employee stated she was afraid someone had been murdered when she arrived and saw the number of police. Another thought it was a hostage situation,” she said.

“We’re cognizant of public perception,” Gesell said.

He said that sometimes, the need for larger-scale equipment, including armored vehicles at tactical gear, is due to intimidation.

“When you have that show of force, they [suspects] tend to not resist. Quite frankly, it saves lives,” he said. He compared the use of force as intimidation to the choice a burglar had between two houses with guard dogs, one a large German shepherd and the other a toy-size dog.

Another case, one of the felony arrests, led to a perimeter being set up after the suspect was identified as being at the residence but unwilling to leave.

“At a business, these officers can go in, and their chances of successfully apprehending the individual that has a warrant without incident is much higher than knocking on someone’s door. That’s a powder keg,” Gesell said.

Officers cannot go into a house without a search warrant, and with the risk in mind, a “barricade” is set up. With ample resources available, Gesell said police then have the options they need to make the right call.

“The old school days of busting down doors over a felony warrant like this — we know better ... unless someone is going to die,” he said.

Familiar Territory

As far as the use of multi-agency sweeps in general, Gesell has become quite familiar with them.

“Multi-agency sweeps like this are very common, especially in rural areas such as this,” Gesell said. “We rely on each other for support ... This is very familiar to me as far as a collaborative effort to share resources.”

Gesell said he was in tactical units for five years and through that time, his team never killed anyone.

“But we have a lot of militaristic-looking gear ... but all that is to resolve these as safely as we possibly can for both sides,” he said.

Tax Dollars at Work

Tuccille said beyond how she felt about the tactics used, she felt the operation was a waste of her tax dollars.

“I understand warrant sweeps for violent repeat offenders. But I think it is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money for misdemeanor charges that are years old,” she said.

“It’s about enforcing the law,” Gesell said. “There is an accountability piece,” he said, noting the ways convicted people pay their debts to society.

“If you say we’re not going to enforce a piece of that, you can see our justice system crumbles,” he said. “The questions is, ‘Do you want the laws enforced or not?’”

Using a multi-agency sweep is actually a way to reduce the cost burden, Gesell said.

The operation was led by the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office and included the CPD, Camp Verde Marshal’s Office, U.S. Marshal’s Service, Clarkdale Police Department, Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking, Department of Public Safety/GITTEM and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

YCSO Deputy Dwight D’Evelyn declined a request for a YCSO interview, citing the fact YCSO does not “share information regarding the suspect’s criminal history or potential violent tendencies under these circumstances.”

However, he did say that “warrants are a demand of the court regarding a person who has failed to appear. Many times these cases involve victims looking for justice and/or restitution and are the result of much investigative work as part of the legal process. Our goal is to send a message that if you have a warrant, it is best to take care of it before there is proactive contact by law enforcement.”

In the End

Tuccille said though she is upset with leadership on how the incident was handled, she still respects the job officers do.

“[My business] and I are part of the community. We go out of our way to help children and families. We have a good relationship with the police and other community members,” she said. “They [police] have come to our office for abuse cases in the past. We care for many of their children. My opinion of the police haven’t changed. They followed orders. But my opinion of the ‘higher ups’ who thought this was a good idea has declined.”

Gesell said, “We are very transparent. If we make a mistake, you’ll hear me. I’ll be the first one to admit it.

“We’re completely open to criticism, that’s part of our business, particularly top administrators. We handle every complaint very, very seriously, as we did with this one.”

Gesell, who came from central California most recently, said since moving here, he’s felt welcome.

“We ask ourselves quite frequently, ‘Who’s going to want to do this job?’” he said. He said anti-police sentiment has made recruiting hard.

“This community has been very appreciative of the work we do. In the time I’ve been here, it’s been awe-inspiring to me.”

He said his officers were also aware of the support they receive.

Editor’s Note
The names of the suspects involved have been omitted as their warrant, if quashed, paid or otherwise resolved, completes their sentence in the matter.

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