Mayor Under Investigation

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The Arizona Department of Public Safety Special Investigations Unit has been asked to look into the possible criminal behavior of Mayor Ken Murphy during rodeo weekend.

The incident under scrutiny is Murphy's possible assault of Fire Marshal Jack Babb and disorderly conduct at the Ox Bow Saloon.

Babb said he anticipated a problem from someone enforcing the occupancy levels rodeo weekend.

"I did not anticipate a problem from the mayor and I had no confrontation that entire weekend except for Mayor Murphy," Babb said. "I was working with the Chamber of Commerce at the Rodeo Dance and with the owners and management of the Ox Bow successfully."

Babb first verbally reported the incident with Murphy to Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner at about 11:30 p.m., Aug. 16.

According to the chief's report, "Babb was visibly shaken and stated to me that the mayor had just confronted him about the issues regarding the Ox Bow Saloon occupancy. Babb went on to state that the mayor had 'cussed him out' and was yelling and screaming in his face."

In later contact with Babb, the chief said the fire marshal told him, "... he, at one point in time in his initial contact with the mayor, felt threatened by the mayor's action and that he assumed a defensive stance ..."

Babb's written report repeated his concern of a physical threat from Murphy. The fire marshal's report indicated the mayor appeared to be intoxicated during their confrontation.

"At no time did Mr. Murphy threaten my position with the town," Babb wrote. However, according to written statements, other witnesses said they heard Murphy threaten Babb's position.

Gartner reported the evening of Aug. 17 Murphy had verbal contact with both Roy Nethken, owner of the Ox Bow Saloon, and Rob Schutter, the saloon's bouncer.

"Nethken contacted me and advised me that his bouncer, Rob Schutter, had a problem with Mayor Murphy at the front door ... Nethken went on to state that Mayor Murphy was loud, boisterous, and out of line," Gartner wrote in his report.

Gartner said he asked if the mayor appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and Schutter said "most definitely." It was apparent Schutter was very upset with this contact with Murphy, Gartner wrote.

The chief again contacted Nethken Aug. 19. He reported Nethken said he was upset with the conduct of Murphy, and from his observation Babb was totally professional in his conduct. Nethken said Murphy had embarrassed him in his own establishment.

Later, Nethken told Gartner he hoped the mayor would learn from his experience, and that "...the mayor was both unprofessional and offensive in his conduct over rodeo weekend."

"I personally feel that if Ox Bow management would have been more proactive in explaining the maximum capacity guidelines to Mayor Murphy, and ensure the counter was available and used by the door checker, this situation would have never occurred. I take full responsibility for this situation ..." Nethken said in his written statement.

Another witness, Becky Hinson, a member of the Pinal County Sheriff's Posse and manager for Miss Rodeo Arizona, reluctantly gave Gartner a report over the telephone and in writing.

Her reluctance to participate in the investigation was due to the fact Murphy had offered to help her find sponsors for Miss Rodeo Arizona's bid for the title of Miss Rodeo America. She said her statements would most certainly diminish her opportunities for financial support from the mayor's associates.

Hinson told Gartner that it was obvious the mayor felt that his position gave him special privileges. Hinson said to the chief, "the mayor was very loud and belligerent and the fire marshal took a beating, not a physical beating but he took a beating ... the mayor's conduct was atrocious."

Hinson witnessed a second outburst by Murphy the night of Aug. 17 regarding the occupancy restrictions. She wrote, " ...the mayor ... showed instant outrage at the notion that he would have to 'wait' in line to get back in (the bar and) proceeded to display, in front of at least 20 patrons waiting to get into the bar, (the most) shocking example of disrespect and juvenile behavior that I think I have ever witnessed in a city official ... In my opinion, the mayor displayed extreme signs of belligerence and disrespect ... I could not believe what I had just witnessed a city official do, and I was embarrassed that the mayor set such a rude, 'law-bashing' example in his own home town."

Hinson also reported she saw Murphy ignore the management's request to wait in line, grab his girlfriend's arm and drag her back inside to the end of the bar where his companions were waiting.

Lt. Don Engler also had an encounter with Murphy at about 1:30 a.m., Aug. 17 outside the Ox Bow. In his report, Engler said Murphy complained to him about Babb restricting entries into the Ox Bow, adding, "... we don't even need a (expletive) fire marshal." Engler said the mayor twice challenged him to "just (expletive) arrest me."

The meeting between Engler and Murphy was witnessed by two officers from the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Sgt. Craig Smith and Deputy Tim Scott.

Scott said in his written statement, "It seemed like every other word out of Ken's mouth was (expletive). Ken also said something to the effect that if the fire marshal wants to close the bar down, he is the one who controls the budget and they might not have a fire marshal."

Murphy told the Roundup, "I don't think I did anything wrong."

He also provided a written statement, responding to the paper's questions. In his statement, Murphy said he had complaints that Babb had limited entry to the Ox Bow.

"My personal observation ... they were only half their total capacity.

"It was also my observation the town employees were acting in the capacity of door men," Murphy wrote.

He said he asked Babb about the occupancy limits and learned no account had been made of the total capacity of the facility.

He said his primary concern is the losses businesses have suffered since 9-11, and with forest closures, the fires and a slowing economy.

"Town staff should work cooperatively with our businesses, not enforce them into oblivion. The Ox Bow probably lost thousands of dollars from people that saw the front entrance surrounded by police and fire personnel, as well as a line," the mayor wrote.

Murphy said the Ox Bow, "looked like an armed camp" in an interview with the Roundup.

Nethken told the paper his business did not suffer any losses during rodeo weekend and that, in fact, the Ox Bow was packed.

"If I was loud that night it is because I was in the entrance, not five feet from the band," Murphy wrote in his statement. "If I was rude to the fire marshal, I apologize and we should have walked away. But my reasons for concern were valid then and they are now. I broke no law, threatened no one, and believe I did my job as mayor by representing one of our local businesses. There were certainly enough policemen around if I had broken the law."

The DPS is handling the investigation at the request of Chief Gordon Gartner of the Payson Police Department.

Gartner said the request for the assistance by DPS was hand-delivered Aug. 28.

Detectives Wayde Webb and Roger Keeling are conducting the DPS investigation. Keeling said they had just received the file and had not yet started their investigation as of Sept. 19.

Murphy said he has yet to be contacted by DPS about the matter and does not expect to be.

Webb said he is still working on the investigation. Some witnesses have reported they have already been interviewed by representatives from the DPS Special Investigations Unit.

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