This was a busy year for the Maricopa Police and Fire Departments. From tragedies to celebrations, the men and women who keep Maricopa safe had their hands full in 2015.
10. Officer Daniel Rauch named Officer of the Year
Over the last year, Officer Rauch has been an active patrol officer, was selected to represent MPD by working in a detail with the U.S. Marshal’s Office and Tempe Police Department, and was the test subject for both the MPD on-body camera program and license plate reader program. He is described by his superiors as an “Energizer bunny,” and his work with members of the community is unparalleled.
“He has this uncanny ability to talk to people,” Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl said. “Whether he’s giving a citation or bringing someone to jail, people walk away enjoying their time with him.”
9. Pinal County Drug Smuggling Arrests
Throughout 2015, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, MPD and Border Patrol have arrested and deported dozens of drug and contraband smugglers attempting to pass through Maricopa. One such incident in early December saw 14 arrests over five days capture 1,382 pounds of marijuana. The smuggling issue is likely to remain a hot-button issue throughout 2016 as well.
“The fact that our deputies can arrest 14 smugglers, seize over 1,300 pounds of marijuana, assault weapons and sophisticated radios from the Mexican drug cartels, in Pinal County, in just five days, should be a wake- up call to everyone that the border is not secure,” Sheriff Paul Babeu said.
8. MPD Receives CALEA Accreditation
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies is a national organization that provides accreditation to law enforcement agencies when departments demonstrate a consistent adherence to “best-practice standards.”
According to a statement released by MPD in April, MPD earned its accreditation by maintaining professional excellence in terms of written directives, procedures, management decisions, preparedness, accountability, liability and risk exposure and relationship with the community.
7. PCSO Arrests 3 in Child Murder
A week before Thanksgiving, 3-year-old Tiana Capps died from blunt force trauma that occurred in an unincorporated neighborhood south of Maricopa. After investigating the death and the home situation, on Christmas Eve, Pinal County Sheriff’s personnel arrested her caretaker Shawn Main on charges of murder and abuse. They also arrested Tiana’s mother Tina Morse and a third woman, Maria Tiglao, on suspicion of abuse of four children.
Tiana’s three brothers, aged 5 months to 5 years, were removed from the home.
The Arizona Department of Transportation named the railroad crossing on State Route 347 one of the most dangerous in the state. However, members of the community saw just how dangerous the crossing is when a freight train collided with a Maricopa Unified School District bus on Nov. 5.
The accident was the realization of many residents’ worst fear for the crossing. Luckily, no children were on the bus and the driver was able to escape.
MPD was one of the first departments in Arizona to test the use of body cameras. For months, MPD officers wore AXON body cameras from TASER Industries. The cameras were approved by the department and are now regularly used in the field.
“It’s the closest we can get to true justice,” Officer Daniel Rauch said. “By documenting the actual occurrence while it happens, we can go ahead and support ourselves in our decisions. It also documents if there’s any accusations of police overstepping their bounds, we can go and immediately pull the video so it can be viewed and released to (the accuser).”
4. Cars Crash into Lakes in Villages and Rancho Mirage
Two accidents involving vehicles driving into local lakes had very different endings. Jan. 12, a vehicle holding two female occupants drove into the lake inside the Rancho Mirage subdivision. Eileen Brown, 46, the vehicle’s passenger, was pulled from the vehicle after the driver, but she passed away at Chandler Regional Medical Center.
Sept. 9, a 59-year-old man lost control of his vehicle and launched into the lake in the Villages subdivision. The driver and his three passengers were pulled from the vehicle without serious injury. The accident was believed to be caused by a pre-existing medical condition.
From July 26 to Aug. 23, three fatal accidents took the lives of four Maricopa residents. In each case, the deceased was not believed to be wearing a seat belt. The issue became so vital to the community Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl held a press conference with representatives from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Pinal County Attorney’s Office, Ak-Chin Police Department, Gila River Police Department, Coolidge Police Department, Eloy Police Department, Apache Junction Police Department, Florence Police Department and the Department of Public Safety to show a united front against unsafe driving.
In one of the cases, however, Antoinette Sanchez was indicted for manslaughter in the death of Heidi Johnson.
2. Veteran Killed in Police Confrontation
In January, Iraq War veteran Johnathon Guillory was killed in a confrontation with police after reportedly threatening two officers, Sgt. Leonard Perez and Officer Joshua Hawksworth, with a weapon in a residential area. The incident divided much of the community on whether the shooting was justified.
The incident was picked up by state and national news outlets as well, and the community heightened its interest in veteran services as Guillory was reported to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Maricopa, which has a population that is reportedly 10-percent veteran, Pinal County and state agencies campaigned to spread the word about programs for military veterans.
1. Double Murder Charged on Papago Road
The eyes of the nation again turned to Maricopa in late June when Thunderbird Farms residents Michael and Tina Careccia went missing. Days of searching for the couple resulted in numerous theories and garnered state and national news coverage. Their bodies were found on the property of family friend Jose Valenzuela.
Valenzuela was charged with two counts of first-degree murder by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office. Valenzuela pled not guilty to the charges in August. His trial is pending.