BISBEE — A former jail chaplain accused of forcing female inmates to perform sexual acts will get his day in court, but it could be in a court outside of Cochise County.
Attorney for the defense Jacob Amaru filed motions for a change of venue and to disqualify county prosecutors in the case against Douglas Packer, 64, during Tuesday’s hearing. His motions were a result of media coverage which he believes will hinder seating an unbiased jury.
Amaru insisted he is not alleging any prosecutorial wrongdoing on the part of prosecutor Lori Zucco.
Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal noted the motions were “pretty serious charges.” To address defense concerns, she set a hearing for argument on the motions for July 18.
At one point, a plea deal was considered, but Zucco said they could not reach an agreement on time to be served.
“If we survive this disqualification, we will offer a plea,” Zucco added.
Amaru explained after court concluded, “There was an appearance of impropriety. Something can look improper, but it doesn’t mean anything was done wrong.”
The pre-trial media coverage which included details could taint the jury pool and effect his client’s chance for a fair trial, he said.
Packer was a ministry volunteer at the county jail in Bisbee from 2008 until his hiring as detention center chaplain in 2012. He was recognized as Chaplain of the Year by the Arizona Detention Association in 2015.
He was relieved of duty on Jan. 5 after his arrest for allegations made by two female inmates on Jan. 4. Detention officer Lt. Christy Heisner notified superiors after talking to the inmates. CCSO detectives Todd Borquez and Jesus Davidson began an immediate investigation which led to Packer’s arrest the next day.
On Jan. 14, Packer pleaded not guilty to the January charges brought by two of the women. Bail was set at $250,000, but then increased to $550,000 in lieu of charges brought by four other inmates.
Court files show Packer stands accused of sexual assault, sexual abuse, kidnapping, aggravated assault, unlawful sex acts while employed within the county correctional facility and indecent exposure. The charges were made by six female inmates, whose names have been redacted, and go back as far as 2014.
He remains in custody at the Santa Cruz County jail.