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Bisbee Police completes animal control officer investigation review; public release not expected until end of August

A review of the investigation into the actions of a Bisbee animal control officer who attempted to prevent a videographer from recording her at a public park was completed this week, but the results may not be released until the end of August, city officials said.

Bisbee City Manager Theresa Coleman told the Herald/Review in an email that a review of the investigation of animal control officer Dolores Luberto would be completed last week. She also said that the newspaper would receive the documents once they were redacted at “the end of August.”

Neither Coleman nor Deputy Police Chief Joey Long responded Thursday or Friday when the newspaper asked why it would take six weeks to redact documents.

Saturday morning, James Ledbetter, Bisbee’s city attorney, sent a lengthy email to the Herald/Review, which said the report of the incident was finished, but “follow-up conversations must now occur with the involved officers based on the report’s recommendations.”

“This may trigger additions or supplements to the report,” Ledbetter said in his email. “Thereafter and consistently with city practice, the (police) chief reviews the report and makes a recommendation or recommendations to the City Manager.”

Ledbetter also wrote, “the implication that the city is somehow delaying is misleading and untrue.”

He also stated that “the report with its attachments, is hundreds of pages in length” and that he would keep the Herald/Review informed on efforts to redact the documents.

When reached for comment Friday, Bisbee Mayor David Smith said the report is 170 pages long, and agreed that a month and a half is a long time for redaction. But he also said the city has no one who can redact the documents.

“We don’t have anyone who redacts,” Smith said. “So our city clerk or our deputy clerk will have to do that because we just can’t hire someone to redact. I guess a month and a half is a long time. But I hope it’s the worst case scenario for the city. I hope that you would get the documents before that.”

Smith said he hates to keep saying that there is a lack of “manpower or womanpower” in the city, but that’s the reason he’s been given for the delay. He said he did not know why Coleman or Long did not explain that.

A lack of manpower is not mentioned in Ledbetter’s email, although he does note the investigation has been lengthy.

“Completing the investigation, transcribing of witness statements and initiating redaction of identities, for witness protection, is taking some time...” Ledbetter said.

David Cuillier, a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona and an expert on gaining access to government information, said Friday that the city could be in violation of the Arizona Public Records Law.

A portion of Chapter six of the statute, under the heading “Inspection and Copying of Public Records,” says, “If the custodian of public records does not promptly respond to record requests and promptly furnish records that are subject to disclosure, access will be deemed denied.”

“Obviously that’s not ‘promptly’ by anybody’s measures,” Cuillier said, referring to Bisbee’s redaction time frame. “They (Bisbee Police) are not following the law, and it’s a problem when police don’t follow the law.”

Cuillier, also the current president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said it should not take that long to redact documents and that the city faces a lawsuit by anyone who might want to challenge their handling of the public records request.

At least two other local law enforcement agencies — Sierra Vista Police and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office — said it would not take their departments a month and a half to redact documents, even in extended investigations.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said that even on the largest of investigations, the average redaction time would be about two weeks.

The Luberto investigation was prompted by an incident at Vista Park in the Warren district of Bisbee on June 10.

A videographer for a local blog, Bisbee News Network, was recording video at the park after a resident called Bisbee Animal Control about a rabid skunk near the park’s tennis courts.

Two videos — one taken by Bisbee News Network and another shot by the woman who called animal control about the critter — show Luberto ordering the videographer to leave the area, even though he is filming in a public place. Luberto then begins advancing toward the videographer and again tells him to leave, the video shows.

Luberto then calls for backup, saying that she has an individual who is “interfering with my investigation...”.

Minutes later a Bisbee Police Department sport utility vehicle with its lights and siren activated appears in the video and two officers quickly approach the videographer, take him down and handcuff him. All told, three policemen surround the man as he sits on the ground, the second video shows.

At the time of the incident, no one from the Bisbee Police Department returned calls. Coleman told the Herald/Review that Deputy Chief Long would not be commenting because he was in charge of investigating the matter.

Additionally, Coleman was asked if the three cops who responded to Luberto’s call were also under investigation. She later told the Herald/Review in an email that Luberto’s investigation would have to conclude first.

Cuillier said Bisbee’s residents should be concerned about the police department’s and city officials’ behavior.


Business
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NOT WORKING OUT: Local gyms respond to Ducey's orders

SIERRA VISTA — Nicole Julian, owner of Julian’s Parkour & Gymnastics, didn’t think she’d have to close her business twice within the first year of turning her dream into a reality.

“It’s killing me,” she said. “I miss my girls.”

Julian, a gymnastic coach at her gym, was slowly getting back into routine when Governor Doug Ducey ordered “indoor gyms and fitness centers or clubs” to pause their operations on June 29 in an effort to halt the spike of COVID-19 cases.

“We’re being given this order and you have to do what’s best for the kids,” Julian said.

She said making calls to the few parents whose children returned to the gym after the first closure was the toughest part, because the kids wanted to be there and so did she.

Owners and local officials say vague language in Ducey’s executive order that reclosed gyms, bars and other recreational facilities has caused confusion and controversy across the state and the county.

The order states “indoor gyms and fitness centers or clubs” should pause operation until at least July 27, which has allowed loopholes to be found for outside gyms and businesses that don’t consider themselves as one of those three businesses.

On June 30, Desert Thunder Gymnastics announced on their Facebook they were remaining open because they didn’t fall under the “gym or gym club” terminology in the order.

“We have reached out to the AZ Gymnastics Club Owners group, who has stated that gymnastics centers are under NAICS classification as “Sports and Recreation Instruction”, much like dance, fencing, karate, ect,” the June 30 post by Desert Thunder reads.

“Governor Ducey’s Executive order is addressing Fitness Centers and Fitness gyms, not centers of Sports and Recreation Instruction. As a Sports and Recreation Instruction center, we can control the members and safety of our students, under CDC guidelines.”

The Herald/Review reached out to Ducey’s office for clarification of what is considered a fitness center or club and received the following statement from his media relations office: “If the gym, fitness club, or center is being operated to assist patrons in physical exercise, the establishment should pause all indoor operations.”

“Other uses may need to be addressed on a case by case basis, but the intention is for the order to be interpreted broadly to minimize high-risk opportunities to spread COVID-19.”

Carol Capas, spokesperson for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, said they too asked the governor’s office for clarification on what types of facilities are included. She said they were told gymnastic centers are included in the orders.

CCSO and the Sierra Vista Police Department are using this time to educate citizens and business owners on what the order calls for during first interactions.

“We have had a few calls with respect to business compliance with masking requirements, none that I am aware of that involved any of the fitness facilities around town,” SVPD spokesperson Sgt. Brian {span}Sebastian{/span} said in a statement to the Herald/Review.

“The police department is taking these calls as an opportunity to educate, and promote compliance and self regulation. By and large the Sierra Vista community seems to be doing a good job,” he said.

Capas said if a complaint is filed, deputies will go to the business and verbally educate the business owner regarding the order. If they still do not comply with the order, if deemed to be in violation, then CCSO will submit their report to the county attorney’s office to assess the case for possible punishment.

Capas said there are two businesses that have received visits from deputies for not complying with the order. A report has been submitted to the county’s attorney’s office for Desert Thunder Gymnastics and the other business.

Lonnie Rule, owner of Desert Thunder Gymnastics, declined an interview with the Herald/Review at this time but sent a statement via email.

“Just by watching the recent press releases and speaking with others, you can see that the interpretation of the Governor’s Executive order has created some confusion,” the statement said.

“Either way, it is of my opinion that all businesses and owners should support one another, allowing each other to make the decision that they feel is correct. While our community continues to strive to create some normalcy in these crazy times, our businesses also need to stay strong.”

“We need to support one another, so that when our families are ready to resume patronage with a business, that business is still in operation. We all love our community and we want Cochise County to be vital and full of ample opportunities for persons of all ages.”

Gyms across the state are fighting to keep their doors open despite the governor’s orders. While the verbiage in the governor’s order is causing confusion, some local owners knew right away what they had to do.

Mike Strange, owner of Summit Fitness said as soon as the orders came he knew he had to close.

“There weren’t any adjustments we could make,” he said. “We had to close our doors.”

Strange said owners can control how many people come in and out of the gym at a time and can create the space needed for distancing, but weren’t given a long enough chance to try and make it work and keep people safe.

Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller spoke with local gym owners about the order and their thoughts, and sent an email to the governor’s office so they have an idea how it is impacting a rural community. Mueller said he has not heard back from them besides acknowledgement of receiving the email.

Although Strange’s business is closed, he doesn’t have any qualms with the governor’s decision.

“If I was the governor, I would have done the same things he’s done,” Strange said. “Without public safety there’s no individual safety. We have to respect one another.”