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home : latest news : local August 1, 2014

10/7/2013 8:24:00 AM
Iron Brotherhood saga: some retire, some resign, some fired
To date, only one faces charges
The Yavapai Blue Knights present a donation check in Yarnell
Courtesy photo
The Yavapai Blue Knights present a donation check in Yarnell
Courtesy photo
Another law enforcement motorcycle club helps out in Yarnell
Members of the Yavapai Blue Knights, a chapter of the Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, wanted to help the residents of Yarnell after the Yarnell Hill fire. That fire destroyed more than 100 homes and took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30.

Bill Noe, president of the Yavapai Blue Knights - AZ-II chapter, said the organization formed a collection among members, netting $1,100 for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group.

"When the fire happened, I learned about it almost immediately," Noe said. "My oldest son is a firefighter working for Williamson Valley. He knew a lot of those folks and worked with them and trained with them."

Some Blue Knights members even volunteered to help out when they could in Yarnell, he added.

"When we learned how much money was being raised for the firefighters and going to the Arizona 100 Club, we decided that perhaps the people in Yarnell, we knew a lot of them had limited incomes, could use a hand," Noe said.

Noe, a retired Phoenix police officer, said there are currently four Blue Knights chapters in Arizona. The AZ-II chapter currently consists of 41 members who work, or have worked, in county, state and local law enforcement roles.

"The club was formed around 1974 in Maine by seven officers up there from various departments that wanted to have someone to get together and ride with," Noe said. "Today, there are more than 20,000 members in, I believe six continents. We've got something like 650 chapters. We're a fraternal organization who like to ride bikes."

The Yavapai Blue Knights, Noe said, is a family-oriented group. Members, he said, are more likely to be found at Dairy Queen than a local bar.

"We encourage spouses to come along on rides, children, even grandchildren. Many of these groups, it seems to be strictly the guys. We don't go to the bars. If we get a drink, it's more likely we're on a multi-day ride someplace and we've completed the day and we'll have a drink with dinner. We're more likely to show up at your local Dairy Queen or Starbucks," Noe said.

Many officers, including those members of the Iron Brotherhood's former Whiskey Row Chapter, are drawn to motorcycle clubs out of a sense of brotherhood and family, Noe said, but many perform community service roles when possible as well.

"The officers involved in the Iron Brotherhood made bad decisions, part of that possibly was due to their celebration. I wasn't there so I don't know, but we try to limit that kind of activity. When we go someplace, it's not to party and have a drink, it's to party and have a good time," Noe said. "These groups are a lot like veterans' groups, such as the American Legion riding clubs. They can relate to issues they experienced in the service that many other people may not relate to. With our group, there are a lot of things we talk to each other about that maybe we don't even talk to our spouses about."

Prospective club members have to be a current or retired, with honors, law enforcement.

"That means a police officer who had powers of arrest," Noe said. "Some have worked in law enforcement, but they don't fit the criteria that Blue Knights International requires."

More information on the organization can be found online at www.bkaz2.com.

Patrick Whitehurst
Special to the Tribune

Unless more evidence comes to light, it appears former Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler will not face charges after a Dec. 22, 2012 bar fight in downtown Prescott.

The investigation into the fight, which left 23-year-old Justin Stafford with facial injuries, is coming to a close.

Members of the Iron Brotherhood motorcycle club - composed of active and retired law enforcement and public safety employees - found themselves the targets of a Department of Public Safety investigation that ultimately recommended a number of charges.

After a lengthy review of the case, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office charged Phoenix police officer Eric Amato, who went by the club moniker of "Guido," with one count of assault in September. Charges were filed with the Yavapai County Attorney's Office, according to Maricopa County Attorney's Office Spokesman Jerry Cobb. Amato has a preliminary court date Thursday, Oct. 10, in Camp Verde.

No charges were filed against other individuals involved in the fight.

The incident began during a club Christmas party on Whiskey Row. During the evening, Stafford and members of the club had an argument that led to a physical confrontation. Stafford was later transported to the hospital for treatment of his injuries. A subsequent Prescott Police Department investigation into the fight alleged that then-Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler - "Tarzan" - and former Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking Sgt. Bill Suttle - "Mongo" - opted not to provide details to police that could have aided in their investigation.

"We've reviewed the investigation that was submitted to us on the Iron Brotherhood and filed one misdemeanor count against a Phoenix police officer who was involved. This was the only charge that was filed following a review of the case," Cobb said.

He did not say other charges couldn't be filed in the future, if additional evidence appears.

Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training (AZPOST), the licensing body for peace officers in the state, is currently reviewing the various internal investigations pertaining to the Iron Brotherhood incident, and will be following the upcoming Amato court case. AZPOST certifies police officers, deputies, highway patrol and other forms of law enforcement, according to Executive Director Lyle Mann.

"We're reviewing the investigations to see if there's been violations of our rules," Mann said. "Some might apply and some might not apply."

The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) released its report on the incident in April. Those findings were subsequently handed to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which completed its review earlier this month.

The original DPS report recommended charges of felony obstruction of criminal investigations and misdemeanor charges of false reporting to law enforcement be filed against Fessler and Suttle. Other charges included possible misdemeanor and disorderly conduct charges against Amato, and Ajo Ambulance paramedic Gregory Kaufmann, - "Top Gun." Ajo Ambulance did not respond to inquiries about Kaufmann's current employment status.

Amato and Kaufmann, according to the DPS report, threw punches during the incident. Charges of disorderly conduct also were originally recommended against Stafford.

The bar fight wasn't the first incident involving Stafford and authorities. In 2009, he was cited for underage drinking after an incident with another man, Andrew Goodall, who was arrested for carrying an IED (improvised explosive device) in the trunk of his vehicle.

A number of law enforcement and emergency response personnel faced internal investigations, or resigned, with their various employers following the incident:

• Cpl. Tyran Payne resigned from the Prescott Valley Police Department in August.

• Prescott Valley Police Department Cpl. Jason Kaufman received a week off without pay, six months of disciplinary probation, and a written reprimand.

• Fessler announced his retirement as Prescott Valley Police Chief in March, citing controversy related to the incident. Fessler was president of the Whiskey Row Iron Brotherhood chapter before stepping down from the organization in late December.

• Suttle was placed on administrative leave and subsequently resigned his position.

• Capt. Marc Schmidt, an executive YCSO staff member, also resigned.

• YCSO deputy Mark Boan, fired last May in connection with his conduct during the DPS investigation, appealed his firing in July. The appeal board ultimately upheld his termination.

• DPS Spokesman Bart Graves said DPS Officer Bryce Bigelow has been terminated.

While many have resigned from the Iron Brotherhood Whiskey Row chapter, there are no indications the organization has officially dissolved. Inquiries to the National Iron Brotherhood were not returned as of press time, but the club's website shows no chapters in Arizona.

Related Stories:
• Charges filed against Phoenix officer in Iron Brotherhood bar fight
• Eight months later, no charges in Iron Brotherhood incident
• No charges yet in Iron Brotherhood criminal case
• Internal investigations continue into Iron Brotherhood incident

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