The Gila County Sheriff’s Office is grappling with questions about when a deputy can drink even off duty after a sergeant admitted he had been drinking before being called in from home to help search for a fugitive last weekend.
Gila County Sheriff’s Sgt. John France told supervisors he was enjoying his night off Saturday, drinking a few mixed drinks, when he got a call for help from the office.
As wanted fugitive Gabriel Jaramillo led officers on a high-speed chase in a stolen truck through Gila County, the sheriff’s office needed all officers on deck.
France told Lt. Tim Scott that when he got the call to set up spike strips near Tonto Basin, he decided to go because he felt fine.
When another deputy later told Scott he had smelled alcohol on France’s breath, the Sheriff’s office launched an investigation into whether France, an 8-year veteran, was impaired.
Sheriff’s office policy does not prevent an off-duty officer from drinking. Nor does it prevent them from responding to an emergency call out. Deputies are tasked with determining if they are fit for duty, Scott said.
When France arrived in Tonto Basin, he threw down a set of spike strips to disable Jaramillo’s vehicle. As Jaramillo drove by, he reportedly shot at France. France returned fire.
Neither was injured.
Later, after Jaramillo had fled into the desert on foot on the north side of Roosevelt Lake, Scott said he talked with France and noticed no odor of alcohol.
However, another deputy later told Scott he had smelled alcohol on France’s breath.
The deputy waited roughly eight hours before reporting his suspicions to Scott, who said he didn’t know why the deputy didn’t speak up sooner.
Scott said he did not notice France acting different or impaired in any way that evening.
Scott has asked all officers involved in the chase to detail their interactions with France.
Scott is still collecting those memos.
When Scott asked France if he had been drinking before the call out, France readily admitted he had. France told Scott he had a mixed drink with dinner and had just started on a second drink while lying down in bed with a book when the call came out.
France said he did not feel intoxicated, so he went.
France remains on active duty. The inquiry could take some time to complete, Scott said. Scott said he couldn’t remember France ever being in trouble.
“He has been a good officer.”