Effort to arrest 3 leads to violence
By Paul Brinkley-Rogers, R.H. Ring and Don Dale
The Arizona Daily Star
MIRACLE VALLEY — A leader of a controversial all-black church here and another church member were shot to death yesterday in a wild melee that left at least two lawmen wounded and dozens more with broken arms, cuts and bruises.
Nine people were arrested after the bloody confrontation. It errupted shortly after 9 a.m. when deputies keeping watch on the community from the sheriff's substation across the road responded to a call for help from two other deputies, who were shot as they supported Deputy Pat Halloran, who was trying to serve three traffic-related arrest warrants.
An attempt to serve the same warrants Friday night failed when the two arresting officers were surrounded by scores of club-wielding church members and forced to withdraw.
One of those killed yesterday was William Thomas Jr., 33, son of the church pastor, the Rev. Frances Thomas, and the militant theoretical leader of the church. He suffered gunshots in the arm and the side. The other church member killed was identified as Augusta Tate, 52. Tate was William Thomas' father-in-law. Autopsies are to be performed today in Tucson.
At least five injured lawmen were taken to Sierra Vista Community Hospital, two suffering from gunshots and the rest suffering from broken bones, cuts and bruises. One sheriff's deputy, David Jones, was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tucson. He suffered shotgun wounds in the face and upper chest, and was reported in stable condition last night.
The other lawmen, including Sgt. Larry Dever, who was shot along with Jones, were treated at the Sierra Vista hospital and released.
Two injured church members were transferred from Sierra Vista hospital to Tucson hospitals. Roy Williams, whose spine was severed by a gunshot, was listed in critical condition at Tucson Medical Center in Tucson. And John Jamison, who was shot in the shoulder, was taken to University Hospital, where he was listed in serious condition.
Deputies who responded to the call for help were punched, beaten with pipes and sticks, stabbed with broken soda bottles and then shot at with shotguns and rifles.
In all, as many as 100 men, women and children from the church were involved in the fight with 35 Cochise County deputies. Other than the two who were initially taken to the Sierra Vista Hospital, it was not known how many church members were injured in the fighting, but the number appeared to be high.
Dever said that when he and Jones arrived at the scene, several other officers already had been surrounded and were fighting with church members armed with “pipes and other things.”
When he and Jones stopped their police truck, “we saw a lot of people with weapons, pointing them at us,” Dever said. Jones stepped out of the truck and was hit by a shotgun blast, Dever said.
Dever also was hit by a few shotgun pellets in the face, but he was able to drag Jones back into the truck, he said.
Lawmen who were not struggling directly with their assailants and who were able to fire back used a variety of weapons, including assault rifles, carbines, shotguns and handguns. They shouted warnings to each other as church members ran toward them firing their weapons.
Other deputies held off men and women swinging clubs, and they dodged large rocks hurled at them by the cursing crowd.
After 15 minutes of fighting, in which as many as 100 shots were fired, the deputies withdrew to Arizona 92 and set up roadblocks on both sides of the community.
Within minutes, five carloads of church members appeared with wounded people inside. The deputies checked the occupants quickly and then sent them up the highway toward the hospital in Sierra Vista, instructing other units along the way to let them pass.
An air of tension spread across this border area as the day progressed. Roadblocks diverted Arizona 92 traffic between Sierra Vista and Bisbee, and some people living close to Miracle Valley blocked their driveways with vehicles.
Until about noon, it appeared that church member Julius Gillespie was involved in negotiations with Sheriff Jimmy Judd. He entered and left Miracle Valley at least three times in the company of Sheriff's Lt. Frank Peterson.
Judd would not comment during the day, but last night Department of Public Safety spokesman Allan Schmidt said Judd had met with the Rev. Thomas and Harold Hurtt of the Phoenix Police Department, who has been involved in previous Valley negotiations. Schmidt would not elaborate except to say the talks and force of lawmen are designed to “ensure that peace will prevail.”
Lawmen running “hot,” with lights flashing and sirens screaming, sped down County roads to take positions of reinforcement.
Police from neighboring communities including Huachuca City, Sierra Vista, Douglas, Benson and Bisbee were called in to back up Sheriff's deputies, and the DPS later took over the investigation of the morning shooting.
Jim West, aide to Gov. Bruce Babbitt, said, “the governor is monitoring the situation closely and is in communication with Cochise County Sheriff Jimmy Judd and DPS director Ralph Milstead. He has instructed Director Milstead to provide Sheriff Judd with additional Highway Patrol manpower and other assistance Milstead deems necessary. The governor has also asked the FBI to investigate the shootings, and they have agreed to do so.” FBI agent John J. Hinchcliffe later said he would look into any civil rights questions.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department's special weapons and tactics squad appeared in the early afternoon to help secure the perimeter around the church property. The county also sent a large motor home to serve as a command-and-control center.
By that time, the situation appeared to be a standoff between as many as 80 lawmen and church members, some of whom, lawmen said, were holed up in their church building with rifles. Police sharpshooters crouching behind their patrol cars kept scope-equipped rifles trained on the building. The Pima County SWAT team, dressed in camouflage uniforms and heavily armed, stayed in the background at the Southern Arizona Bible College across the highway from the church. Judd, in almost constant conference, was in his substation trailer nearby.
He only emerged once, at 4 p.m., to talk briefly in a strained voice with reporters. “We are here to do one thing,” he said. “We're here to do our job.”
As dusk neared, lawmen watched the community from behind the line of cars parked on the highway. They leaned on their cars, and used binoculars and kept shotguns handy.
About 20 church members stood in front of the church store, Crescendo Limited, about a hundred yards from the watching lawmen. One man carefully cleaned windshields on several cars parked in front of the store.
At one point, a car with two women in the front seat and four children in the rear pulled out of the community and slowly drove across the front of the line of lawmen.
Deputies picked up their shotguns and cocked the hammers, keeping watch on the car until it passed and turned back into the community with children peering out the rear window.
Just at dusk, when deputy yelled out to reporters and lawmen: “Look out, you got a rifle sighted on you out of the doorway of that store.” Lawmen and reporters hunched down as some deputies hurried away in a crouch, and a truck of lawmen drove out at high speed.
Nothing more came of the warning, or of similar incidents throughout the day.
Meanwhile, investigators worked hurriedly to review film that was taken by police photographers during the fight, trying to identify some of the church members.
And by late afternoon, the last three church members were arrested when deputies moved in squads into the community to seek out church members they had recognized in the morning confrontation, Schmidt said.
However, the three men deputies were trying to arrest when the melee broke out were still at large last night. All were wanted on traffic-related counts: one of felony fleeing and two counts of failing to appear in court.
A man who saw the fight that those warrants sparked said it was a church member who fired first.
Urbane Leiendecker, 59, watched “from the next yard over” and said the shooting was triggered by teen-age church member who had charged into the fight with two pieces of lumber he used as clubs.
After the teen-ager was disarmed, he ran back into a nearby house and came out with a rifle, Leiendecker said.
“He got down behind a tree and shot through the fork” in its branches, Leiendecker said.
“I suppose he took dead aim on a deputy,” he said. “He fired one shot and went back into the house. He seemed very nervous.”
Leiendecker, the landowner who gave two square miles of land to enable evangelist A.A. Allen to build Miracle Valley in 1958, said he was watering trees in the yard adjacent to where the deputies fought with church members.
He said he saw the first two deputies to arrive at the scene. The deputies drove up, knocked on the door of the house and got no response.
Four or five church members approached and surrounded the deputies, Leiendecker said, and were quickly reinforced with others who arrived in cars.
The church members “started pushing” the deputies, “trying to pull their guns away, just picking on them, maybe slapping them,” Leyendecker said.
The deputies called for help on their radios, and about 10 patrol cars showed up, he said.
Then more church members came “from every direction,” he said. “There were women with rakes in their hands, men with shovels, picks, axes, two-by-fours. Some of them didn't have anything, so they pulled off their shoes and used those,” Leiendecker said.
One man, apparently a lawman, was taking photographs with one hand while he kept attackers that day with the pistol held out straight in the other, Leienecker said.
“He said, ‘Back off, boy,’” Leiendecker said.
About that time that first shot was fired, Leiendecker said. “It appeared none of the deputies knew where the shot came from,” he said.
A second church member who aimed at lawmen with the rifle from a nearby vacant lot was “cut down” after he refused to drop his weapon, Leiendecker said.
“It almost made me vomit that I didn't have a pistol in my hand,” he said. “I'm a dead shot.” He said he fled on his bicycle when rocks started to fly.