Gila County’s new attorney is taking a hard stance against drugs.
In his first interview since taking office in January, Bradley Beauchamp said one of his top priorities is aggressively prosecuting drug cases.
“I have no tolerance for drugs,” he said. “Gila County is not going to be a safe haven for drug dealers.”
Drugs ruin lives and serve as a catalyst for other offenses, including from burglaries, thefts, property crimes and assaults. Successfully tackling crime in Gila County means focusing on the “head of the monster” — drug use, he said.
Besides toughening plea deals, Beauchamp said he has a prosecutor dedicated to drug-related crimes, Joy Riddle. He vowed to take full advantage of laws that allow him to confiscate any mode of transportation used to traffic drugs.
“If you are selling meth on roller skates, I am getting your skates,” he said. “We are getting it off the streets and you are going to have to find new transportation to get drugs through this county ... We are going to make it incredibly difficult to traffic through Gila County.”
Beauchamp said the county attorney’s office would become an anti-chamber of commerce of sorts for drug users and dealers.
Beauchamp, a former schoolteacher and defense attorney, said cracking down on drug crimes was a main motivator for running for office.
A Globe resident, Beauchamp said he saw drug use was prevalent throughout the area. Not content to watch the community deteriorate, Beauchamp decided to get involved, taking on three-term county attorney Daisy Flores in the Republican primary.
He announced his campaign to Flores at her office, telling her he was running because “things are getting worse not better.”
It was the first time anyone had taken on Flores and the second time Beauchamp had made a bid for public office. He ran for Congress in 2009, but lost to Paul Gosar.
This time, voters widely supported Beauchamp for county attorney, especially in Southern Gila County. In Globe-Miami and Claypool, he carried more than two-thirds of the votes. In the North County, Flores carried almost every precinct — but with much smaller margins than Beauchamp racked up in the south.
Since taking office, Beauchamp and his staff have been busy catching up. A backlog of cases needs to go before grand jury for indictments and staff is getting used to Beauchamp’s new way of doing things, which includes tougher plea deals.
He said while plea deals are necessary, it does not mean he’s giving criminals a break.
Chief Deputy Attorney Shawn Fuller said there are discrepancies in Gila County plea deals and other counties. The same crime in another county might come with a harsher plea deal than it does in Gila County. Beauchamp said this could not continue, especially with the lasting impact drug offenses have on rural communities.
“It devastates small towns, he said. “I am sick of it.”
Other crimes often stem from drugs.
Payson Police Chief Don Engler agrees. In many interviews, Engler has said when officers see a rise in burglaries they know drug use has ramped up. Recently, heroin has become the drug of choice in Rim Country. Meth and prescription drugs are still prevalent, but heroin has resurged. Engler speculates it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription drugs.
Engler said Beauchamp’s harsh drug philosophy is in line with his own.
While Beauchamp said he did not support Prop. 203 legalizing medical marijuana, he will uphold the law.
However, that does not mean a medical marijuana card is a “get out of jail card.”
If cardholders are found operating a vehicle under the influence or violating the law, which limits how much they can carry, they will be arrested.
The state’s medical marijuana law has created some unintended consequences, since the state’s impaired driver laws include a standard for marijuana metabolites that can remain in a person’s system for weeks after they smoke a joint.
A state appeals court recently upheld a DUI conviction based on long-lasting marijuana metabolites, overturning decisions by two lower courts. That case involved a Maricopa County man arrested for an unsafe lane change and speeding who agreed to a DUI test, which came back positive for the metabolites.
As a result, people using medical marijuana legally could find themselves charged with a DUI even weeks after using the medication.