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Saturday, 16 September 2000

Cops, Eloy at odds over smuggling of migrants


ELOY - The police union in Eloy is accusing city leaders of bullying officers to overlook illegal-migrant smuggling operations.

Those leaders deny the accusation, saying they merely are implementing policies followed by larger cities in an effort to avoid the kind of brouhaha that arose in Chandler when police played a major role in a downtown sweep.

Sgt. Bob Jordan, a union leader, said Thursday the union wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what he said are practices that protect the smuggling operations.

People smuggling "is big in Eloy," Jordan said on the eve of a news conference to elaborate on the allegations. "We're a drop-off point." Eloy is about midway between Phoenix and Tucson.

Jordan also objected to a new city policy limiting when police officers may detain individuals for federal immigration officers.

Mayor Ben Cruz and Acting Police Chief Barry Pritchett said that and other policies are designed to protect Eloy from lawsuits and accusations of racial profiling like those that occurred after a roundup in Chandler, just south of Phoenix, more than two years ago.

In that instance, police working with the Border Patrol rounded up about 450 illegal aliens but were accused of hassling legal Hispanics on the basis of their appearance and of otherwise violating their civil rights.

The situation led to several investigations, reprimands, payment of costly settlements, civic distrust and a number of policy changes - both locally and at the federal level - designed to avoid any repetition while easing tensions.

In Eloy, the union, the police and the leaders all agreed that smuggling of illegal migrants is a problem.

But Jordan claims former police chief David Martinez ran afoul of civic leaders through his tough approach, which increased arrests of illegal migrants and exposed smuggling operations allegedly linked with prominent local families.

Martinez, now of Bullhead City, said he was fired.

Acting City Manager Mike McNulty said he resigned.

Either way, Jordan said, his departure signaled new law enforcement policies that are making it more difficult for officers to turn migrants and smugglers over to federal agents.

McNulty and Cruz said the changes were designed to prevent accusations of racial profiling and unauthorized traffic stops.

"We even had a former city manager who was stopped twice for no reason because he was a Hispanic driving a nice car," Cruz said.

Jordan said no officers engaged in racial profiling and that an outside investigation will prove it.