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Outside agency must help in Quartzsite

by on July 14, 2011

Outside agency must help in Quartzsite.

Quartzsite, Ariz., is a very dusty town just east of the Colorado River with a population of about 3,500 more-or-less permanent residents, many of whom have a great deal of time on their hands between gem shows.

And they’re all at each other’s throats just now . . . figuratively speaking.

Some authority outside of Quartzsite needs to step in – quickly – to assure the civil strife doesn’t become dangerous. Things appear fearfully close to that breaking point now.

Late Sunday night, the Quartzsite Town Council declared a “state of emergency” in the community as a series of conflicts, several of them long-simmering, came to a head. Some residents, including Mayor Ed Foster, fear the chief of police and others are targeting their political opponents with arrests and harassment.

On the other side, Police Chief Jeff Gilbert and some Town Council members say they fear reprisals following the release of a YouTube video depicting a local activist being arrested at a town meeting.

The video depicts the activist, Jennifer Jones, doing nothing more outlandish than exercising her citizen’s right to petition the government. Yet she was arrested for “disorderly conduct.” Numerous other Quartzsite residents, including Foster, claim they, too, have been arrested, some several times, on similar charges.

The controversy doesn’t end there. The state Department of Public Safety says it is investigating Chief Gilbert, in response to a letter signed by at least 10 of his 14 sworn officers, declaring “no confidence” in the leadership of their boss.

Some of the concerns raised by the Quartzsite officers sound very much like those raised by Foster and Jones. They contend Gilbert is ordering his patrol officers to stop, cite and even arrest people who oppose his policies and political points of view, and that he has prevented allies from being served with court warrants. Those are serious charges.

In an address to the Quartzsite Town Council on June 14, an official for the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs said it is standard procedure for a police official accused of such malfeasance to step down, on paid leave, until investigations run their course. That is the matter DPS is now investigating, yet Gilbert remains on the job. And that is a primary source of much of the tension in Quartzsite.

It’s time someone stepped in.

The controlling authority would appear to be the La Paz County Board of Supervisors, which can direct the state police to assert some measure of civil order in Quartzsite. If the supervisors decline to take these simmering conflicts seriously, the governor’s office needs to consider acting.

Some legitimate authority needs to enforce the peace in Quartzsite. And they need to act before somebody gets hurt.

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