Agency recommends charges in Prescott bar fight

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Members of a law enforcement motorcycle club assaulted patrons at a Prescott bar, and high-ranking officers tried to cover up the bikers' involvement, an investigative report released Thursday alleges.

Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler and Yavapai County sheriff's Sgt. Bill Suttle both left their jobs following the brawl along Prescott's Whiskey Row that sent a man to the hospital with a bloodied and swollen nose and left another with minor facial injuries.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety report accuses Suttle and Fessler of obstructing the investigation and lying about the involvement of the Arizona Chapter of the Iron Brotherhood Motorcycle Club. One officer who responded to the fight said he believed the two were being "vague on purpose."

Two others - Phoenix police Officer Eric Amato and Greg Kaufmann, a supervisor at an Ajo ambulance service - are accused of assault and disorderly conduct. The report also recommends a charge of disorderly conduct against one of the alleged victims, Justin Stafford.

The Maricopa County attorney's office is reviewing the report and would file charges, if warranted. A spokesman for the office, Jerry Cobb, said decisions are made in a majority of cases within 30 days "but each one is different."

DPS spokesman Bart Graves declined to comment beyond what's in the report, which came out four months after the raucous fight. Bikers wearing their "colors" typically aren't allowed in that bar, but the staff made an exception because some members flashed their police badges, the report said.

The motorcycle club had been holding its Christmas party at another bar before the fight broke out. Stafford has acknowledged he was drunk when he approached Fessler and asked about the patches on his jacket. He has told The Associated Press that he didn't see who hit him, and that a friend immediately whisked him out of the bar.

Stafford's father declined to comment Thursday on behalf of the family.

Witnesses who saw the members of the motorcycle club out that night said they appeared to be drunk and rowdy, "acting like they were some outlaw motorcycle gang," according to police reports. Each had a moniker and was employed with city, county, state and federal departments. At least two of them had weapons with them - Suttle with brass knuckles and Kaufmann with a knife, the reports say.

When Prescott police arrived at the bar when the Christmas party was held, the reports state that Suttle said that he "kind of" knew about the fight, saying a kid grabbed one of the bikers and they got into a "tussle," according to the department's report.

According to the reports, Suttle asked whether the club could pay for Stafford's medical bills. When he was asked for the names of those involved, Suttle told investigators it was "Top Gun," which is Kaufmann's nickname.

Suttle later declined through his lawyer to be interviewed about inconsistencies in his story and video at the bar, the report says.

Fessler stood by his initial statements but said he wasn't sure how much of what he had said was due to what he read, heard or recalled independently. He told investigators he was more intoxicated than he thought but he wasn't trying to protect himself or anyone else. He said he was disappointed in the motorcycle club, from which he resigned as president.

An internal review of the Yavapai County sheriff's employees said Suttle, Deputy Mark Boan and Capt. Marc Schmidt, who has left the job, appeared to be more loyal to the motorcycle club than to their jobs as law enforcement officers.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Mascher apologized Thursday "for any trust we may have lost as a result of this event." Mascher is not a member of the motorcycle club and was not involved in the fight.

"I know the badge has been tarnished, and we will work relentlessly to regain the community's full trust and confidence," he said.

Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a Phoenix police spokesman, wouldn't comment on Amato's involvement while the investigation is pending.

Kaufmann and Amato told authorities that they believed Stafford had made an aggressive move and was going to hit Amato, so they reacted. Stafford said he likely was pulling up his sleeve, as it was too long and that he was "keen" on personal space.

Kaufmann said he thought he fought with at least three people and had a phone in his hand. He later admitted to investigators that it was a folding knife that he grabbed when it looked like a group of people were coming after him, but he said he wasn't able to open it.

Fessler resigned earlier this year, partly because of the embarrassment he caused himself and the Prescott Valley Police Department over the bar fight, said town manager Larry Tarkowski. He said an internal review will begin once the town receives the DPS report.

"Until that time, we're not in a position to take any action, if any action is appropriate, with anybody that may have been involved," he said.

At least two others in the Prescott Valley Police Department were listed as members of the motorcycle club, but no charges were recommended against them.

A woman who answered the phone at the Ajo ambulance service where Kaufmann works said he would be out of town until Sunday. The AP left a message for an employee in human resources.

Attempts to reach Fessler, Kaufmann and Amato directly were unsuccessful. Phone numbers either weren't listed or were disconnected. The AP left a message at a number listed in the Prescott area for Suttle.


Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Linda Ashton in Phoenix, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.

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