More on the Pinal sheriff's Country Thunder 2011 case

2012-04-12T16:08:00Z 2012-04-12T16:18:50Z More on the Pinal sheriff's Country Thunder 2011 caseTim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 12, 2012 4:08 pm  • 

As lengthy as my story was today, on the incident at a Tucson police officers' campsite at Country Thunder 2011, I have quite a bit more to share.

Perhaps the most jarring thing is the photo, which I received today and which the Phoenix New Times has published, showing the signs on the platform at the Tucson officers' campsite. Both signs say "Camp Titties and Beer," which is apparently what they called their site. This may be a reference to this naughty, satirical country song by Rodney Carrington.

We're waiting to post the photos until we can verify their origin.

Lt. Blake King's role

One of the more compelling aspects of the story, I found, was Lt. Blake King's role in the incident. It is perhaps encapsulated by his email to Deputy County Attorney Paul Ahler, sent at 11:23 p.m. the night of the incident. Here's the text:

"Per your request here is the report number from the incident I described on the phone. Unfortunately the subject booked for the Agg Assault had been finger printed before I could have a chance to get him released. If you can, please attempt to have his DPS record of this cleared. Judge Gooday was on call and OR'd him." ("OR" is a reference to the judge releasing him on his own recognizance, or without bond.)

As I reported, King was an officer at the Chandler Police Department when Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was an officer there. I requested King's employment records from Chandler and found out he was hired as a $12.74-per-hour park ranger in June 2003. In December that year, King became a police officer paid $19.10 per hour. By the time he left on Jan. 4 2009, he was being paid $30.31 per hour as a Chandler officer.

The next day, Jan. 5, 2009, King made a leap over the usual intermediary rank of sergeant and was hired by Babeu as a lieutenant at the Pinal County Sheriff's Office. He's a salaried employee, meaning he's largely ineligible for overtime pay, but he's paid the equivalent of $42.06 per hour. That's a nearly 39 percent increase in his hourly pay rate.

King was an early member of Babeu's inner circle. In one of Babeu's early trips as sheriff, he and King traveled together, along with Chief Deputy Steve Henry, to the 2009 National Sheriff's Association meeting at the Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale.

In the Country Thunder incident, King interviewed the Tucson officers at their campsite the night of the incident, decided the arrest of Ronnie Keys was "bad," then arranged for Keys' quick release from jail and return to the festival. But he didn't write a report on any of this until more than five months later, on Sept. 22, 2011.

He explained: "Note this supplemental narrative is delayed and is being written due to the recent discovery of the inadequate documentation the night of this incident."

Equal justice for public officials

Today's story also recalled for me the story of Lt. Tami Villar, who was caught speeding at velocities of 90 mph or so three times by DPS officers but never even ticketed. I noted in this item that Babeu has emphasized that public officials will face the same justice from his department as others do.

In a press release on a different incident, issued just three weeks after last year's Country Thunder case, Babeu said "Government employees and officials are treated in the exact same manner as any citizens when they have allegedly committed crimes."

As it happens, this month Babeu has sent both Villar and King to Virginia, where they are attending the FBI National Academy now.

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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

Twitter feed: Tim Steller

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