If you’re ever in a situation where officers tell you to surrender or they’ll release a K-9, just surrender.
You only had to watch one training session to see there is no way to run or hide from these dogs, whose power and skill was on display during the 27th Annual K-9 Handler Survival Seminar last week.
“The pounds per square inch is like having four refrigerators stacked on top of your arm,” said Rod Mamero, spokesperson with the Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association (ALECA) and retired Payson Police Department sergeant. “There’s a lot of pressure there. When the dogs bite a suspect, they bite and hold.”
Mamero was Payson Police Department’s first dog handler.
“I started the K-9 unit back in 1993 and have been involved in K-9 one way or another since. I really enjoy it,” he said. “The best people I’ve met are in K-9.”
Mamero worked under Police Chief Dave Wilson and was there the day a man shot and killed Wilson during a welfare check.
Mamero also worked for Police Chief Gordy Gartner and then Police Chief Don Engler. He retired in 1999.
Around 70 K-9 law enforcement teams from around the state came to Payson July 15-18 for the seminar. It included certification tests, meetings, speakers and a public K-9 demonstration that was held at the Payson Event Center on July 16.
“The demo went well,” said Mamero, “there was a really enthusiastic crowd. We had a good time.”
ALECA holds training and seminars around the state.
“ALECA is the greatest organization I’ve ever been a part of,” said Mamero. “It’s the best thing I’ve done in law enforcement. A lot of us deal with canine agencies in other states, and they’re all good in their own right, but what we have going here is something special.”
Mamero said the organization was started 27 years ago to connect K-9 agencies from around the state, build a network and develop a unified training system so K-9 officers from different areas and disciplines can work together.
On Wednesday and Thursday, officers went through numerous training scenarios designed to be as realistic as possible.
Organizers did not tell participants ahead of time what to expect. They were organized into teams of eight or nine from different agencies and rotated through scenarios.
While waiting, officers talked with each other about deployments, past searches, things they’ve learned, where they’ve found drugs and techniques used.
In one training scenario, a suspect (an officer, dressed in protective gear) hid in a parked minivan. Each K-9 team approached and the officer shouted to the suspect to surrender or the K-9 would be released.
When the suspect did not surrender, the officer released their dog. Most dogs ran to the vehicle and jumped through an open window to flush out the suspect.
“The conventional training today,” said Mamero, “is that once you get a suspect bit and held, you give the officers a chance to go in. We’ve given the guy a chance to give up (before the bite) several times usually, and once the dog has him, to call the dog off and have him start running again or go for a weapon, then you’re going to have to re-bite him and cause more injury. The idea is to bite and hold him until the officers can get up and get him secured.
“The ideal deployment is to bring the dog out and the sheer deterrence of having the dog makes the bad buy give up,” Mamero added. “Nobody gets hurt, everybody is safe.”
Tempe Sgt. Anthony “Tony” Miller has been a handler for four years. His K-9 partner is Roko. Roko has a titanium tooth to replace one he broke in a deployment.
“I’ve come to this seminar every year,” he said, “it’s good. You go to other states, nobody does this. We’d be in the top three in the country for how we do things.
“My dog does explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) too,” Miller said. “We had to go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for a bomb scare and every single person there I knew — from this (seminar) — it’s a community.
“We’re not techs, there are people certified through the FBI to dismantle or engage a device,” added Miller, “our job is to do the detection work. When Vice President (Mike) Pence came we did a sweep for him. We do the ASU football games. We’ve trained with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) where we get into the helicopter with the dogs because if we had a mass attack — a bombing in Payson or a bombing in Flagstaff — there are no bomb dogs in Flagstaff so we’d be jumping on the helicopter and going up there. There are a lot of things we practice.”
In the Valley, it can get so hot that they have to switch dogs out every five minutes. For this reason, sometimes even having 10 dogs at a scene is not enough.
“The sergeant can make one phone call if he needs a bunch of EOD dogs or someone else is working on a case with narcotics interdiction,” said Mamero. “One phone call to another ALECA member and before you know it we have all the dogs we need for everything.”
“Most of the dogs trained to be police K-9 officers are imported from Europe,” said Mamero. “A raw talent dog can be anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 on up. That’s just a dog that doesn’t know how to do anything.”
Mamero said they used to start training dogs at 16 months, now they start testing dogs for temperament as early as six to eight weeks.
They test their prey drive, their hunt drive, how they stick with it and, very importantly, their play drive. When the dogs are working their tails will wag because they love what they do.
“We need dogs that are in control, that are controllable, but that also have the heart to go out and do the job,” said Mamero. “K-9 teams have made a comeback, especially in the post 9/11 world. People are realizing their value as a less-than-lethal option.
“These dogs will work through gas, it’s amazing. We test them and stress them around water and canals, tear gas, all that stuff and the dogs work through it,” said Mamero. “They may not be happy about it, I know the handlers aren’t, but that’s part of it because there are going to be times when you’re going to deploy gas and you have to know your dog is going to be able to overcome that. “
When Mamero started working with the dogs in 1993, the German shepherd was the primary breed. Since then more widely used breeds include the Belgian malinois and Dutch shepherd.
“All of us love dogs, but traditionally shepherds have more health problems, including spinal issues and hip dysplasia,” Mamero said. “The Dutchies and malinois are a little more robust.”
ALECA does not tell people where to get their dogs, how much to pay, or who to use as their trainer. Some agencies use local vendors, some go to California, others fly to Holland.
Police dogs can work until about nine or 10 years of age unless they have injuries. Typically, the handler is given the first right of refusal to buy the dog when it retires. They have to pay, but the agreed-upon price is $1.
If the handler does not take the dog, it is given to another officer in the department.
“99 times out of 100, the handler takes the dog,” said Mamero.
ALECA is a nonprofit organization that receives no government funding.
“Any monies we get to help pay for this seminar, equipment and training is through sales of our merchandise or donations,” he said. “For anything to run 27 years like this, that’s a testimonial to how effective it is and the support we have and how good the training is.
“I really think we are ahead of the curve when it comes to training and how we do things in Arizona. Arizona should be proud.”
Some 25 years ago, before Mamero retired, a special needs child walked away from his home in Rye in the winter.
“I made one phone call to a Department of Corrections friend of mine, an ALECA member, and within 30 minutes I got a call back saying ‘You’ve got four bloodhounds from around the state coming your way to help look for the kid.’
“That’s the strength of our organization,” he said. “The agencies know their agents are a part of this — their supervisors know — they know what we do and what we’re about so it eliminates a lot of red tape. There are agencies helping other agencies all the time. It’s a daily thing in the Valley when someone needs an extra dog or someone’s got something really big going on.”
The playing fields to make Payson a sports mecca are a done deal, MHA Foundation head Kenny Evans told a Tea Party audience that included Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey and Payson Councilor Jim Ferris.
But what else do you want on a portion of the 254-acre site long planned for a university campus, asked Evans, before handing out a questionnaire seeking input. He urged them to fill out a questionnaire, which is also available to fill out on the MHA Foundation website.
Evans told the 40 people in attendance that the MHA Foundation is in talks with perhaps nine different partners, hoping to add a “multi-generational” community center, a covered pool with year-round swim programs and other amenities to the plans for the site.
In the meantime, the MHA Foundation has cut trees for the playing fields and plans to move forward in the coming weeks and months to add to the town’s supply of fields and parkland.
“We had 38 softball teams here in town and we had to turn away a number of tournaments because we don’t have enough ballfields,” he said. “Just as importantly, it will help our young people have a place to go and something to do.”
Evans said the MHA Foundation and several potential partners he did not name have drawn up plans for an $18 million to $22 million “phase one” community center to go along with the new playing fields.
The key remains finding partners to contribute to the master plan, based on their own needs.
“A town of 16,000 can’t pay for that,” said Evans. “Mayor Morrissey has to look at the revenue stream and the expense stream. We could go to a bond, but that works out to about $300 per resident per year. Payson’s property tax now is in the range of $100 per household — or $50 per person per year. So $300 is out of reach. How do we go about affording the things we want? The response is we have multiple revenue streams to help support the project so it doesn’t fall back on the taxpayers,” said Evans.
One of those potential partners remains an elite sports academy prep school proposed by a Canadian investor. The prep school had pushed for a partnership with Payson to build playing fields in Rumsey Park. When a ballot measure favored by Morrissey and Ferris imposed new requirements for voter approval of any such project, the prep school investors shifted their focus to the MHA Foundation university site on the border between Payson and Star Valley.
“So we want to find someone like the guy from Canada who is anxious to do something — to come in and help us with that project, without taking it over,” said Evans.
The MHA Foundation plans to go forward with building the playing fields regardless of what else happens on the site.
The MHA Foundation has already cut many junipers, pinyon pines to make way for the playing fields, which prompted some complaints at a town council meeting by residents who liked the trees. They learned that the MHA Foundation won designation as an educational facilities district for the 254-acre site it bought from the U.S. Forest Service, which means the site is largely exempt from town zoning ordinances — including the town code that discourages the cutting down of native trees throughout town.
The Rim Country Educational Alliance (RCEA) voluntarily adopted key town codes, but doesn’t have to go through the normal development process and doesn’t have to abide by things like the building height restrictions in the zoning ordinance. Evans dismissed a question about whether everything built on the site had to serve an “educational purpose,” saying the 500-page title transfer agreement detailed the whole range of things that would qualify as an educational facility. “All of those things are within the scope of what we’re doing here.”
Evans said he’s been gathering feedback and so far people seem interested in an aquatics center, a community center with big meeting rooms and an assembly room that can host 500 to 700.
The Foundation and the RCEA it created have apparently largely abandoned convincing Arizona State University to build a four-year campus there for 200 to 600 students. However, they remain in discussions with other potential university partners. Some of those discussions have focused on smaller projects, like a rural health care training program focusing on telemedicine, internships and other specialized medical fields.
In the meantime, the planners have cast about for other uses for other portions of the site — including the playing fields and perhaps a community center, as well as the prep school.
The quest to develop more community facilities and parkland in Payson has lots of moving parts at the moment, including the MHA Foundation plan for the university site.
The Payson Town Council has been wrestling with the condition of the Taylor Pool, which needs extensive repairs and operates only three months a year. The council this year agreed to add a $270,000 splash pad to Rumsey Park, but doesn’t have the money to repair or cover the pool.
In addition, the Payson Senior Center is about to launch a major fundraising campaign to build a new community center, which would cater to more than seniors.
Payson has less parkland than most cities its size, according to national standards. Rumsey Park has playing fields, but those quickly fill up with teams from sports tournaments during the summer, when many teams want to escape the Valley heat.
“One of the things about Payson,” said Evans, “we are culturally and environmentally rich and land poor.”
He said the MHA Foundation and the RCEA are “chomping at the bit” to put in the ballfields “in the next couple months.”
But the additional facilities will take public input, lots of planning and firm agreements with financial partners. “We will put a team together and come to you. We’d be more than happy to hear what you think is important. There are facilities being evaluated with price tags that run up to $80 million. That’s more than we can afford, but within what we can afford we want to prioritize the things that benefit citizens of Payson the most.”
Get this: An energetic Payson High School student can graduate with not only a high school diploma — but a community college degree
Mesa Community College figures it costs about $32,000 to get a degree down there, if you add about $3,700 for tuition to all the other expenses.
And what’s it cost for a Payson High School student?
Wait for it.
Free, free, free.
So, naturally enough the Payson School Board was pretty much dancing in the aisles last week when it renewed its dual-enrollment course program with Gila Community College.
The program is possible because the Aspire Arizona Foundation, established by the MHA Foundation, covers the cost of tuition for college courses taught on the PHS campus by a combination of instructors from the college and the high school.
The courses all meet community college standards, which means they’re more rigorous and demanding than most high school classes, but they will all transfer to any state university if the student wants to continue and get a four-year university degree.
“It’s a fabulous program,” said board president Barbara Underwood.
“As the parent of three children,” said board member Jolynn Schinstock, “I think this is an amazing program. Maybe we’re not advertising it as well as we could. I tried to find something on the website. I couldn’t find anything except the Aspire icon — and you couldn’t tell anything from that. I’d like to see us do some advertising and some marketing.”
PHS Principal Jeff Simon said last year students earned 1,200 college credits through the program. Two students earned a community college AA degree.
Either existing GCC instructors or Payson High School teachers with a master’s degree in the subject act as instructors. The class must meet all of the state requirements for community college courses, including qualifying for transfer to the universities.
The college pays the instructors, Aspire Arizona pays the tuition and the district pays for textbooks and other materials, leaving only scattered fees for things like labs for the families to cover.
The program represents a win/win/win for the district, the college and the families, thanks to the fundraising and support from Aspire Arizona. The college last year collected $16,000 in enrollment support from the state. The families saved thousands of dollars they would have paid for the same classes in college. The high school offered advanced classes it would otherwise struggle to staff.
Moreover, finishing the introductory, college survey courses in high school enables students to dive into the more advanced classes in their majors as soon as they get to the university, said Underwood.
The dual-enrollment program has mostly replaced advanced placement classes at the high school. Students who take an AP class can also earn college credit, but only if they get a high enough score on a test at the end of the course. Even then, there’s no guarantee the course will transfer. Perhaps one-third of AP students end up actually getting the college credit.
The dual-enrollment program has proven so successful, Aspire Arizona this year has said it will pay for three classes per semester. Before, Aspire Arizona limited the tuition offer to one or two classes per semester.
Simon said the program is limited now by the number of students willing to tackle the more challenging classes. So far, juniors and seniors have accounted for most of the students, with a handful of sophomores. The agreement with GCC specifies that the classes will not drop below six students nor grow beyond 35 students — which is consistent with the class size requirements on the GCC campus.
“If we were offering a ton of different classes, the class sizes are going to get smaller and we might end up with a calculus class with only nine students,” said Simon.
Underwood wondered whether the district could enroll more freshmen and sophomores — or perhaps draw in middle school students.
But one parent in the audience said, “They have to be mentally ready for a college class. Very few freshmen and sophomores are ready to put in the rigor of a college class. We don’t want to burn out the 14- and 15-year-olds. And we don’t want to water down the content. They have to have the maturity to be successful.”
Simon said the school hopes to talk up the program with students and parents to continue building up enrollment.
“It’s in the handbook and the kids know about it when they go into registration. We’re going to start pushing out some of the great things we do. We put a ton of stuff on Facebook — with a lot of focus on dual enrollment,” said Simon.
For the second time this year, a man has drowned in Fossil Creek.
Gary Gaytano, 51, of the Valley, was visiting the area with family and friends Sunday morning.
“It was a very large group, like 30 people,” said Sgt. Dennis Newman with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
The group reportedly drove in from the Camp Verde side and hiked up to a popular waterfall.
Gaytano was with his wife, two daughters and son along with friends.
One of Gaytano’s daughters, who Newman said was between 17 and 18 years old, and his son, estimated to be 12 years old, were swimming in the pool below the falls with another friend, Newman said. An independent witness told Newman that it appeared the group started drifting toward the falls and appeared to be in some distress. Details are still being confirmed, but it appears someone was helping the daughter and friend get back to shore when Gaytano jumped in to rescue his son.
“It appears he perceived (the son) was in trouble,” Newman said.
Gaytano reportedly swam to his son and went underwater to lift him up on a shelf near the falls. After he went under the water to lift him, he never resurfaced, Newman said.
Gaytano’s body was brought to shore where someone started CPR.
Because Forest Road 708 is closed from Strawberry, Newman called on the Copper Canyon Fire Department in Camp Verde to respond. It would have been quicker for the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department to respond had the road been open, Newman said.
A Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter was able to land near the falls and an air medic continued CPR. Gaytano was later pronounced dead on the scene.
While officials were preparing to airlift Gaytano’s body out, his wife reportedly had heart issues. DPS airlifted her to Banner Payson Medical Center in stable condition.
A second DPS helicopter then airlifted Gaytano’s body out to the Payson airport.
In May, a Valley man drowned in Fossil Creek after swimming into a whirlpool north of where Gaytano died Sunday.
Since 2015, there have now been seven drownings at Fossil Creek, according to Gary Morris, with P-S Fire.
A packed room of Star Valley residents helped convince the town council July 16 not to make any changes to State Route 260.
There was standing room only at the meeting where the council discussed ways to reduce speeding on the roadway, including narrowing lanes.
The council, with the Arizona Department of Transportation, have worked on road safety improvement ideas since November.
ADOT earlier presented the council with several options for slowing traffic and the recent public hearing provided an opportunity for Star Valley citizens to hear about those options and share their concerns.
Kerry Wilcoxon, an engineer with the state’s traffic safety division, presented study results and recommendations.
A “lane diet” was recommended. It included eliminating the two outer travel lanes on the four-lane highway and making them right-turn lanes as well as narrowing the other travel lanes. He said it would provide an added buffer for vehicles turning out of side streets, offer better visibility and provide a buffer for pedestrians using sidewalks. The main drawbacks are it does not remove the complexity of turning or crossing traffic and the opportunity for speeding remains.
But Wilcoxon said the option is reversible — it is just a matter of re-striping the road.
Councilor Bobby Davis said he was not in favor of making a change in the road.
“I don’t want to limit our citizens or the traffic,” he said.
Councilor Ray Armington suggested lowering the speed limit from 45 mph through town to 35 mph.
Wilcoxon said the state uses a specific formula when setting speed limits.
“It’s hard to enforce your way out of a traffic problem,” he said, adding that by lowering the speed limit the severity and number of crashes is likely to increase.
The public followed Davis’ lead and voiced opposition to making any changes to the highway.
A number of residents had suggestions to deal with speeding: add flashing lights to the speed limit signs; better maintained signs; add signs that warn drivers to reduce their speed; move the 45 mph signs further out on 260 and have more signs posted through town; use the overhead electronic sign on the west side of town to post the speed limit plus warn of congestion and add an overhead sign on the east side to display the same message.
The most frequently offered suggestion was to have more law enforcement in the area.
Some residents said they have never seen an officer make a traffic stop in town. Another citizen said while traveling through Heber several times a week he regularly sees the Department of Public Safety making traffic stops. Someone suggested the town hire a law enforcement officer of its own.
Another resident asked Hellsgate Fire Chief John Wisner how his department handles working in the heavy weekend traffic.
He said while they can “force” their way onto the road with lights and sirens, when they get a call that takes them to the east side, they often wind up stuck in the traffic flow, which makes their vehicle and personnel unavailable to respond to other calls. Wisner said there have been times when he has had to run with lights and sirens ahead of an ambulance in oncoming traffic to help it get through.
When the second-degree murder trial of Steven Brydie starts Sept. 10 in Globe, the jury will have to pick apart irreconcilable eyewitness accounts, inconsistent behavior and an off-kilter story bearing on the question — why did four people get together at 4 a.m. on July 28, 2018 at the Shoofly Ruins, only to end up with a man shot dead in the back seat of a minivan?
One thing is certain: Michael Whitis died from a gunshot wound.
Steven Brydie reportedly shot Whitis in the neck with a .357 Magnum, according to eyewitness testimony.
After that, everything gets confusing.
The Gila County prosecutor’s office offered Brydie a deal in November that carried with it a potential 18.5 years in prison for pleading guilty to manslaughter and aggravated assault. Brydie didn’t take the deal and is now going to trial.
If the jury finds him guilty of second-degree murder, he could face 75 years in prison.
Transcripts of witness accounts from two preliminary hearings in August and September include conflicting accounts of what happened before dawn on July 28, 2018.
Witnesses Brenda and Michael Roberts, Kaylee Brown and Gila County Sheriff’s Office Det. Sgt. David Hornung testified before Judge Tim Wright.
Brown testified that the shooting was an accident, triggered when the gun went off as Brydie put it down on the center console between the two front seats — killing Whitis, who was sitting in the back seat.
However, Mike Roberts testified that Brydie effectively executed his longtime friend, perhaps in the grip of an alternative personality.
Several witnesses lied to investigators, according to testimony.
Both Brown and Brenda Roberts admitted under oath that they had changed their version of events between the day of the shooting and when they sat on the witness stand.
Brown originally told investigators that Brenda Roberts was in the car at the time of the shooting. Later on the stand, she said the older woman wasn’t present.
Brenda Roberts’ initial statement also differed from her testimony at the hearing, although the prosecutors didn’t offer details on the discrepancies.
Below are two versions of the story.
Kaylee Brown’s story
Brown testified on Aug. 24 that the shooting was an accident.
She said she didn’t know Brydie had a gun until the group reached the Shoofly Ruins, reportedly to watch the sunrise. At that point, she “noticed it touched the cups in the middle console.”
She told Brydie to “put it away.”
In the process of swinging the gun to put it away, “the gun went off.”
She said after the gun went off, Brydie jumped out of the car and ran around in a panic. She herself was so upset she was a “hot mess.”
At some point, Brydie and Mike Roberts got into a struggle, she testified. Mike Roberts pistol whipped Brydie with a 9 mm pistol he’d brought along.
She said she tied Brydie’s hands together with a bandana and at that point he was cooperative. She also helped Mike Roberts move to the front seat, she testified.
Somewhere in the midst of this chaos, Brenda Roberts arrived — who testified she went looking for them when they didn’t return by 6:30 a.m. However, Brown initially told investigators Brenda Roberts had been there all along.
Later, Brydie ended up running off into the surrounding woods. He was picked up by police near the road.
In another twist, Brown said once Brydie ran off, they removed the car’s license plates and registration then returned to the Roberts’ home in Mesa del Caballo. She said she wasn’t sure why they removed the plates.
It took hours for anyone to call the police and report the shooting.
Mike Roberts’ story
Mike Roberts testified Brydie stole his grandfather’s .357 Magnum.
Once the group arrived at the Shoofly Ruins, Mike Roberts saw Brydie had the gun. Mike Roberts also had his 9 mm pistol.
Mike Roberts testified that after he pushed the gun away in defense, Brydie leveled the gun at “Big Mike” (Whitis) his longtime friend. Mike Roberts testified that Brydie twisted around in the front passenger seat and said, “his name was Charlie and that he was here — he was glad that I’m here because he was here to execute all of us. And he emphasized the word ‘execute.’”
Mike Roberts testified that he tried to knock the gun away, but Brydie re-leveled the gun pointed at Whitis and pulled the trigger.
Mike Roberts said Brydie then tried to kill him, prompting him to pistol whip the younger man. He managed to get the gun away from Brydie after putting him in a chokehold, he testified.
Somewhere in the midst of this, Brenda Roberts arrived. In the ensuing melee, she actually stabbed Brydie in the back with a pocketknife.
“He kept struggling, wide-eyed and said, ‘Holding me will not save you. I will shoot you all,’” said Brenda Roberts on the witness stand on Sept. 6, 2018.
The accounts presented at the preliminary trial include many inconsistencies. It included a confusing text exchange between Brown and “Jay” about planning “it,” which she explained was “the shooting.”
The case may turn on the physical evidence presented, including how the bullet entered Whitis.
The preliminary hearing testimony left more questions than answers.
Why did they remove the license plates?
Why did they wait for hours before reporting Whitis’ death?
What was Brown’s text message about?
How did a man in his 60s confined to a wheelchair manage to choke out, subdue and disarm a 27-year-old that at one time participated in cage fighting?
Why did Brown initially say Brenda Roberts was present, supposedly at the insistence of the Robertses?
What’s clear is that the jury will have to stick to the facts to decide anything.