Constable Bret Roberts in his shared office at the Justice Court. InMaricopa file photo

By Ethan McSweeney

The Maricopa City Council struck down a measure aimed at amending the city’s concealed-carry ordinance that would have included the constable in its definition of a peace officer.

The measure — which would have defined a peace officer and allowed any peace officer to openly carry a gun in city buildings, including the City Council’s chambers — stemmed from a complaint that the city received against the local Justice Court constable, Bret Roberts, openly carrying his gun during a City Council meeting in January.

In April, the Maricopa City Council passed an ordinance that allowed concealed carry weapon permit holders to bring firearms into city buildings, excluding court, police and fire buildings. The language in the proposed amendment to this statute introduced at Tuesday’s meeting specified that a constable would be considered a peace officer, and therefore be able to openly carry a gun into the Council’s chambers.

The constable is an elected position with the responsibility of serving criminal and civil notices. Roberts’ judicial precinct includes Maricopa and Stanfield.

The state law says a constable is considered a peace officer “only in the performance of the constable’s official duties.”

Roberts, a former Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detention officer, believes that, under state law, he would be considered a peace officer and therefore be able to openly carry his gun on city property. He points out that another section of state law says that a constable falls under the definition of a peace officer with regards to officers carrying a firearm.

“This was never an issue until someone chose to file a complaint,” Roberts said about carrying a gun into the City Council chambers.

Roberts said the complainant, Barry Goldman, filed the complaint because of an animosity Goldman has against him. Goldman, a process server, was the campaign manager for Rich Vitiello in his run for Maricopa City Council two years ago. Roberts said he backed Vitiello’s opponent in that race and Goldman backed one of his challengers for the constable position in 2014.

Goldman, when reached Wednesday, denied any personal dispute with Roberts led to him filing the complaint in January.

“It’s not that I dislike him, but I don’t have confidence in him,” Goldman said.

He said Roberts has no official duties at the City Council meetings and shouldn’t be wearing his gun openly. Goldman also criticized Roberts for wearing a uniform for the job.

“The constable’s job is a low-key job,” Goldman said. “It does not require the use of a police uniform.”

Roberts defended his use of a uniform, saying most constables around the state wear one.

After speaking with City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons about the complaint, Roberts requested an opinion from the County Attorney’s Office in February to seek clarification on the law. After about a month, the County Attorney sent the request to the state Attorney General, which has yet to issue an opinion.

So, the issue was then brought before the City Council to resolve the ambiguity by adding constable to the language of the amendment.

After an hour-long discussion, the Council rejected the expanded definition on a 5-2 margin. Mayor Christian Price and Council Member Vincent Manfredi supported the change, while the rest of the Council opposed it.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl told the Council that he did not think it should go out on its own to define what a peace officer is.

“We’ll probably get ourselves into legal trouble by redefining what a peace officer is,” Stahl said.

Stahl said it’s possible in the event of an emergency, the presence of the constable at the council meeting with a uniform and an openly-worn gun could confuse a member of the public who is trying to seek help, because the constable would not have the power of a peace officer.

Price said he believed only the constable, as an elected official, should be able to decide when he is carrying out his duties and when he isn’t.

“We’re not broadening the term,” Price said. “We’re clarifying it and what it means inside the city of Maricopa under existing laws.”

Councilmember Bridger Kimball said he didn’t think the council should go out of its way to amend the ordinance to accommodate Roberts.

“It seems like we’re changing our firearms ordinance for one person,” Kimball said. “I’m not comfortable doing that.”

He added that Roberts, who has a concealed carry weapon permit, could bring a concealed firearm into the council meeting under the ordinance passed in April.

Manfredi argued the issue was about “more than one person.” He pointed out that the Pinal County sheriff, also an elected position, does not need to be a state-certified peace officer to carry out his duties.

“If a sheriff wins that is not certified, I’d like to see us try to stop him at the door from carrying a weapon,” Manfredi said.

Price added state lawmakers should move to clarify this section of the law to avoid disputes like this one.

If the Attorney General opinion comes down against his position, Roberts said he will seek action from the state Legislature to amend the law.