Arresting and counseling people in the county jail is big business.
In late March, two Oregon men with legally certified hemp were arrested near Ash Fork, AZ by a Yavapai County sheriff’s deputy and charged with possession with intent to sell marijuana.
The problem for Yavapai County Attorney Polk and Sheriff Mascher was that the deputy falsely described high grade marijuana, and an amount that was not true.
Christopher Tinsley and Gordon Peppers were transporting a load of legal CBD-rich hemp from Oregon to Texas, on behalf of Sacred Flower Farms. They were delivery men, who were hired to transport the hemp by a buyer in Texas. The plan was simple… make the trip, deliver the hemp and return to Oregon. They had secured certification indicating that an Oregon laboratory certified what it was – hemp, with lots of CBD in it.
Deputy Trevor Hearl claims he pulled them over for some sort of unsafe lane change and that gave him probable cause to peek inside their van, determine it was pot and make an arrest. One newspaper report from Oregon said Hearl even boasted of his expertise in knowing about high grade marijuana. And Hearl’s report also said they fit the profile of drug traffickers because they were driving a car with out-of-state plates on a known drug corridor.
"I kept waiting for him to say it was because we were black," Tinsley told an Oregon publication.
Hearl and the sheriffs threw the two men in the county jail for eight days - during the height of Covid-19 fears, not to mention a time in history when wrongful arrests or even killings by police of African Americans were making news.
CBD, or Cannabidiol, is an active ingredient in cannabis that many Yavapai County residents are buying because some claim it helps treat conditions like pain, insomnia, and anxiety. To have been illegal, Peppers and Tinsley would have had to be in possession of hemp or pot with THC in it. THC is tetrahydrocannabinol - the psychoactive compound in marijuana and hemp that gives the high sensation.
The two African Americans - Peppers and Tinsley - hired Phoenix attorney Tyler Schwenke who is investigating whether to file civil charges against Yavapai County. Schwenke told me, “The sheriffs didn’t bother to call Oregon folks to determine what the product was.”
He also confirmed the deputy weighed the hemp wrong. Peppers and Tinsley admit they had 285 pounds of legal hemp, but Deputy Hearl weighed it out at 417 pounds and declared it marijuana.
“Under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, a federal law, you can’t be prosecuted for transporting legal hemp under a state law,” Schwenke told me.
In one of his reports Hearl says he’s with PANT, the Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking group. I’m not sure why Hearl would put that in a report except that PANT has become Sheila Polk’s mechanism for using confiscated money and goods to fund anti-drug projects she would otherwise have no money for, and perhaps Hearl was thinking he had made such a huge score that the proceeds could go to PANT.
Dwight Develyn, spokesperson in the sheriff’s department won’t comment – he won’t even give me investigative reports that I requested under the Arizona Open Records Statute. Sheila Polk’s staff was asked for a comment and legal documents in the case. She and her staff have failed to respond.
One additional investigation I am pursuing is whether deputy David Rhodes (who is running for sheriff) is married to April Rhodes who owns Spectrum Health – a company which is getting lucrative contracts from the county sheriff to offer psychology counseling to jail inmates. Dwight Develyn, Sheriff Mascher, Sheila Polk and Spectrum Health have refused to answer any questions on that issue or supply any documents with which to corroborate or deny. Develyn did email me a brochure that the county is boasting about, describing the Yavapai Mental Health Coalition in which Spectrum gets to carve up part of a $225,000 pie.
But that’s just one program and Spectrum now has a partnership with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and has morphed into another company known as Complete Care Partners. Wow, is mental health care that big a business in the Yavapai County government system, and where is all the money going? Two sources within AHCCCS - Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System - tell me that agency has provided $43,000, combined, to West Yavapai Guidance and Spectrum.
Spectrum’s leadership, including April Rhodes, is listed on the Arizona Corporation Commission website, along with Board of Director names our readers might find interesting.
Did Peppers and Tinsley get psychological counseling during their eight days in jail, eight days of trauma over something they didn’t do and the possibility of getting Covid-19 in close quarters? Peppers said they did – three minutes worth. I wonder what they billed for three minutes.
One of Polk’s public relations problems has been her over-zealous obsession with ridding Arizona of all things marijuana, or hemp that might smell like marijuana. She dislikes medicinal marijuana, approved by Arizonans, and is opposed to the ballot issue that would legalize recreational marijuana. Often her zeal gets her into trouble. For instance, in 2015 the Arizona Republic newspaper let her publish an op-ed piece on the dangers of marijuana. In the op-ed she claims “marijuana use was associated with the tragic and needless deaths of 62 children in Arizona.”
But as Republic columnist E.J. Montini wrote in the paper the next day: “Wow. That's a pretty startling figure. I mean, if marijuana killed 62 kids don't you think that might have made, you know, the news?” He indicated Polk was twisting information from a report by the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program to suit Polk’s narrative.
We’re all for cracking down on serious drug crimes, and Prescott Enews supports our police officers, and law and order, if the prosecutor and sheriff get the facts straight.
Peppers and Tinsley were let out of jail after eight days and Mr. Peppers told me the Oregon farm eventually got its hemp back. But both men could sue the county for civil rights violations such as an illegal arrest, illegal detention for eight days and other claims. Stay tuned.
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