So Woes Continue, Relatively Speaking

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Gila County Attorney Jerry DeRose and Dist. 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen confirmed that the man who allegedly admitted to stealing at least $300 of inmate cash -- Detention Officer William Thomas Brunson -- is, in fact, the son-in-law of Chief Deputya Byron Mills.


Brunson was employed by the sheriff's department from Sept. 1996 until Feb. 25 of this year, when, in the midst of the investigation, he resigned and went to work at another department, a department receptionist said.


Neither Mills nor Sheriff Joe Rodriguez returned calls to comment on the matter.


While it is a violation of Gila County policies for relatives to supervise or to be supervised by another relative, according to County Personnel Director Susan Mitchell, that does not apply in this case. Brunson's immediate supervisor was Capt. William Blank, and Blank's supervisor is Mills.


And according to DeRose, Mills could not have hired his son-in-law; only Sheriff Rodriguez would have had that authority.


Officials speculated that the Brunson-Mills connection might explain the difficulty investigators had in looking into the allegations of theft.


"There have been a lot of long delays, a lot of stonewalling, and less-than-forthcoming answers about (issues related to missing money)," Christensen said. "And I know that the internal investigators from the sheriff's department who were assigned to (Brunson's case) were very nervous about it."


The Roundup has been querying the GCSD since November, when it began investigating reported cases of inmate money and a $1,600 cash bail bond which were reported missing. In January, Capt. Blank, Brunson's supervisor, told the Roundup that he knew of no current internal or external sheriff's department investigations involving missing inmate cash or bail bonds.


"There is no story here," Blank said repeatedly -- months after he'd written memos to the sheriff urging criminal investigations into three such cases, and while those same investigations were ongoing.


Jan. 12, after making contact with one inmate whose money had been lost, as well as the man who posted the missing $1,600 bail bond, the Roundup sent the GCSD a formal request for "all copies of any investigative reports relating to inmate cash ... (or) bond money ... which has been lost, misplaced, stolen or (become) otherwise unrecoverable."


The GCSD first failed to comply with the deadline, and when it finally responded over a month later, failed to include information that was specifically requested.


POST script

Meanwhile, as the case against Brunson winds up, two other investigations focused on GCSD officers -- including Brunson's father-in-law, Chief Deputy Mills -- have come to an end.


In February, Christensen requested that the Arizona Peace Officer's Standards and Training Board review allegations of misconduct against Mills and Sgt. Tom Rasmussen.


The Mills allegations stemmed from his interviews with the Arizona Republic regarding the Sept. 18, 1999, murder of Ronald Bianchi, whose body was found near Tonto Village east of Payson.

Mills repeatedly told a reporter that Gila County investigators had interviewed Senator John McCain and actress Connie Stevens regarding their relationship and possible ties to the Bianchi case.


However, Mills himself ultimately admitted that none of his deputies had questioned the senator or the actress.


Sgt. Rasmussen's alleged misconduct stemmed from a February meeting he led regarding how officers should conduct themselves. According to complaints Christensen said he received from other officers in attendance, Rasmussen's conduct at the meeting was in direct contradiction to the philosophies being taught.


The conclusions of the Arizona POST investigations, Christensen said, were that Mills and Rasmussen "had violated (GCSD) policies and that disciplinary action needed to be taken.


"However, the sheriff's department -- internally -- didn't do much about it," Christensen said. "I think (Mills and Rasmussen) had to write letters of apology. I was disappointed to hear that, because I thought Sheriff Rodriguez had an opportunity to correct some of the deficiencies going on in his office. But he didn't do it."

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