Paul Penzone clarifies the role he sees for posses in the Sheriff’s Office, including disbanding former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse, which focused on investigating President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
The same advisory group that recommended Tent City be terminated has begun reviewing the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse, a move that coincided with an arrest this week of a posse volunteer accused of holding street racers at gunpoint under the guise of a sworn law-enforcement officer.
Sheriff Paul Penzone directed his Executive Advisory Review — SPEAR — committee to conduct an in-depth examination of the programs’s requirements for training, accountability, fundraising and day-to-day operations.
Though he and others acknowledged the posse program’s benefits range from search-and-rescue missions to public-education pursuits, the program has continually come under fire.
Grant Woods, SPEAR chairman and former Arizona attorney general, said he was concerned by a striking lack of training among many of the roughly 800 posse members.
That, coupled with an apparent anything-goes mentality on issuing badges and uniforms, were “all causes for concern,” he said Friday, in an interview with The Arizona Republic.
“If it doesn’t serve public-safety interests of the county, then we should get rid of it,” Woods said. “We need to make sure that this is run correctly.”
The advisory group met Aug. 29 to discuss the posse program.
Scrutiny intensified this week after a neighborhood dispute in the northeast Valley.
David Isho, 58, a posse volunteer, held several people at gunpoint during an argument about suspected street racers, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
After detaining the suspected racers about 9 p.m. Wednesday near the intersection of 60th Street and Montgomery Road, an unincorporated area between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Isho is accused of threatening them and proclaiming he was with the agency.
“In fact, suspect Isho is not a sworn MCSO deputy. He had volunteered as Commander in the Desert Foothills Posse,” the Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a Friday news release.
His credentials were seized after his arrest, and he was removed from the posse.
Isho faces charges of aggravated assault, kidnapping and impersonating an officer.
“That can’t happen. That’s not appropriate,” Woods said of the incident.
In another incident, a Waddell man was arrested in April on suspicion of impersonating a peace officer after officials said he used social media to brag about law-enforcement exploits and conducted a sting operation of sorts, The Republic reported previously.
The suspect in that case, David Heppler, was not a posse member at the time but did serve with the MCSO posse between 2001 and 2002. His service with the posse ended in 2002 after he was arrested and accused of impersonating a public servant posing as a reserve deputy sheriff.
And then there’s the Cold Case Posse, a controversial group established under former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Their mission: investigate then-President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Penzone announced in January that this posse would be disbanded.
READ MORE: Penzone: Cold Case Posse to be shut down
There are 36 posses acting on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office. They are privately funded, and volunteers can be issued badges and uniforms, can deck out their vehicles and might be mistaken at first glance as sworn law-enforcement officers.
“The Posse truly embodies the selfless commitment of service to community,” Penzone wrote in Friday’s prepared statement. “As law enforcement functions in the 21st century we must make sure that the Posse has the tools, guidance and oversight to maximize their contributions and impact.”
There is no strict timetable for the completion of the SPEAR examination, but Woods said he expected to have a recommendation on Penzone’s desk by the end of the year.
“I’m convinced there’s room for improvement,” he said.
Follow public-safety reporter Jason Pohl on Twitter: @pohl_jason.
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