Blog: More misconduct allegations against Babeu's inner circle (update)

2012-11-19T12:30:00Z 2012-11-20T09:55:42Z Blog: More misconduct allegations against Babeu's inner circle (update)Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 19, 2012 12:30 pm  • 

(UPDATED TO REFLECT THAT MUELLER WAS TO BE ONE OF A GROUP OF AVAILABLE SPOKESMEN)

Fresh from letting go spokesman Elias Johnson, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is facing more allegations of misonduct against another member of his inner circle.

Lindsey Collom of the Arizona Republic reported this weekend that Deputy Richard "Hank" Mueller is facing a disorderly-conduct charge resulting from a sort of bar fight in Tempe in October. It's the latest of many personnel issues that have occurred in Babeu's first term as sheriff.

Babeu had tapped Mueller as one of a group of on-call spokesmen, but now Mueller is on leave. He had appeared in an ad for Babeu's aborted congressional campaign, election and sometimes accompanied Babeu to events, such as the September fund-raiser in Tucson for the Brian Terry Foundation.  

The key to the Oct. 12 incident was that about 2:30 in the morning, Mueller punched a man outside the Firehouse, a new nightclub on Mill Avenue. But Tempe police reports suggested Mueller was acting inappropriately for much longer:

The Firehouse manager told police that Mueller had been causing problems throughout the night by taunting and threatening the bar security guards. One female employee complained that Mueller was "creeping her out," according to the police report.

Firehouse employees called 911 after one confrontation, but police were not dispatched because Mueller appeared to have left. They called police a second time after the fight in the alley.

In their reports, officers described Mueller as being intoxicated and irrational. None of them identified Mueller as a Pinal County sheriff's deputy or a law-enforcement officer.

After Mueller graduated at the top of his class from the academy in 2009m, Babeu made Mueller a high-profile member of his department, issuing a press release praising him for his performance. This year, after Johnson's departure, Mueller had done some amount of preparation to become a department public information officer.  

Mueller's problem follows closely the forced resignation of Elias Johnson. Johnson, who had been department spokesman for over a year, got in trouble for allegedly tricking his way into a search for a fugitive by U.S. Marshals Service

That followed a controversy centered on another member of Babeu's inner circle. Lt. Blake King led a cover up of an incident involving Tucson police officers and their friends and family at Country Thunder in 2011, according to a lawsuit by two Pinal County deputies, who were injured at the event. King and the department said the lieutenant behaved appropriately in the incident.

Here's my summary of King's involvement in the case. 

Through most of 2010, Babeu defended Deputy Louis Puroll from suspicions that Puroll had made up a story of being shot by smugglers in western Pinal County. Then, in early 2011, Babeu was forced to fire Puroll, after Babeu apparently told tall tales to a reporter for the Phoenix New Times.

Babeu's office apparently remains under investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for allegedly using public money on political activities. However, the office would not comment on the investigation or its status.

Pinal County voters re-elected Babeu this month to a second term in office,. 

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About this blog

When you're a reporter digging deep, you turn up a lot of dirt. But that doesn't mean you can put all the good dirt in the story.

I've found myself with a lot of extra, good dirt in my new role as senior reporter (hence, Señor Reporter), writing primarily for the Arizona Daily Star's Sunday paper.

Check in often, and let's see what we can turn up.

Contact Tim Steller at (520) 807-8427 or tsteller@tucson.com

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