Richard Malley, 49, was heavily armed with two others dressed in camouflage the night of Aug. 17, along Interstate 8 near Gila Bend, a known drug-trafficking corridor in the desert about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, when he confronted the deputy who was on patrol conducting surveillance, authorities told the Associated Press.
According to court records, the deputy and his partner stopped their vehicle, then flashed their headlights and honked their horn, a common practice used by law enforcement to trick drug smugglers into thinking the car is there to transfer their narcotics load and lure them out of hiding.
The deputies then got out, also dressed in camouflage but clearly marked with sheriff's patches on their clothing, and began to track what appeared to be fresh footprints, authorities said.
That's when Malley emerged from the darkness with his rifle raised "yelling commands," according to the probable cause statement.The deputy, illuminated by Malley's flashlight at this point, identified himself as law enforcement, pointing out the "word sheriff across his chest," and ordered Malley to drop his weapon.
"You aren't taking my weapons," replied Malley, who was armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a .45 caliber handgun and a knife, according to court records.
Another deputy eventually arrived and arrested Malley for aggravated assault. He was released on $10,000 bail and is set for a court appearance on Aug. 26. It wasn't clear if Malley had an attorney, and telephone numbers listed for him were disconnected.
Malley claimed "he had the right to point his rifle at the individual because he had reasonable suspicion to believe a crime was occurring," according to the probable cause statement. He identified himself as a "militia Minuteman."
Such Minuteman-type militias of armed civilians patrolling the deserts for illegal border crossers and smugglers grew to prominence in the early 2000s, but the organizations' numbers have since dwindled as they fractured into multiple splinter groups, such as crews like Malley's who were on patrol with just three armed men.
A few days later, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio issued a warning to civilians who embark on armed patrols in remote desert terrain, saying it's dangerous, according to the Associated Press.