Quartzsite Police Chief Jeff Gilbert was fired by Town of Quartzsite assistant manager Al Johnson today without the prior knowledge of the Council.
A letter sent by certified mail to Gilbert in Alabama, where he is believed to be on vacation, gives “gross negligence and willful misconduct” as the reasons for the termination of his contract. The action follows his being placed on paid administrative leave late last month and the subsequent placement of Town Manager Alex Taft on paid administrative leave.
The letter cites a long-awaited DPS report into Gilbert’s conduct as being among the reasons for his termination, saying that Gilbert either misused the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System directly or allowed the misuse of the system by making “unnecessary, unwarranted, excessive and apparently illegal queries” which “could not be linked to any investigation”.
Local activists Jennifer Jones, Michael Roth and others alleged in 2011 that Gilbert had been using the system to check their backgrounds multiple times without warrant. The majority of the officers in GIlbert’s department filed complaints against him last year with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board making allegations that his actions were leveled against political opponents. The officers were later fired by Gilbert and replaced with new recruits.
The letter sent to Gilbert notifying him of his termination says he “made threats” concerning the employment of one of the officers who complained against him, despite being “specifically instructed by Town Manager Taft not to communicate” with them.
As a result of the AZPOST report to the Town Manager, Gilbert was “ordered to obtain communications training to address shortcomings in [his] management of the police department” and the letter alleges that he failed to do so. The letter also alleges that Gilbert did not stay at home during the required hours while on administrative leave and that he communicated with the press while unauthorized to do so.
The Desert Messenger reports today that the Town Council did not know of Johnson’s action firing Gilbert, and held an executive session with Town Attorney Martin Brannan, whose Temporary Restraining Order against the Council, stopping them from firing Town Manager Alex Taft, expires after a hearing set in Superior Court this afternoon. The Messenger reports of an “incident” outside Town Hall in which Brannan was confronted by irate members of the council and the public.
Local newspaper publisher Jennifer Jones, who has been one of Gilbert’s most vocal critics, reacted to the news by saying it was a vindication of everything she had always said. “If you have truth on your side, you’ll always prevail. He won’t be able to do what he did to us to anybody else,” she said, citing the “hundreds of times” she alleges her name was run through the background check system and what she calls “intimidation and harassment” by the former Chief.
In related news, the Desert Freedom Press reported over the weekend that the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool, Quartzsite’s insurance provider, is threatening to terminate the Town’s insurance coverage. A letter from the AMRRP to the Town says that “nearly 30 claims” have been opened in the last two coverage periods, most relating to “factional disputes by the Town Council”, and citing the “unique risks presented by the Town of Quartzsite’s current environment and Town Council interactions”.