Originally Published: January 15, 2008 9:28 p.m.
Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh Tuesday defended his sergeant's actions in the arrest of Cottonwood's Dibor Roberts on a dark rural road July 29.
The sheriff said he wanted to add details to the public record that the news media has not reported.
Waugh did not announce that the county attorney is dropping the charges against the nurse's aide of Senegalese descent. Many protesters, mainly women with hand-painted signs, who gathered for the Sheriff's press conference hoped a dismissal of the charges would be the outcome.
The officer, Jeff Neunum, has come under fire for the arrest on Cornville Road July 29 at 10:45 p.m. when he pulled Roberts' car over for speeding and refusing to stop. Roberts was returning to Cottonwood from work in the Village of Oak Creek.
The press has long carried Roberts' story that the woman wanted to get to a well-lighted area to pull over for the officer because she was a small woman afraid that Neunum was a police imposter. But, Waugh indicated that at no time did she acknowledge the officer and signal that she would pull over.
Yavapai County Sheriff's Office jurisdiction is "8,200 square miles of which 8,000 is dark," according to Waugh.
When questioned, the sheriff said the officer did the traffic stop "by the book." The only maneuver, for which he faulted the officer, was pulling his vehicle in front of hers. He told the gathering that Neunum has worked 14 years in law enforcement, in homicide, special crimes investigations and other duties.
Waugh says the sergeant drove a fully marked "2006 Ford Expedition, the largest vehicle in the fleet."
He read from testimony given by a witness who was parked alongside Cornville Road talking on a cell phone when the traffic stop occurred nearby. The witness saw the officer break out the window of the woman's vehicle with his baton and heard the woman screaming and he asked him if he could help.
"At no time did Neunum throw Roberts to the ground and put a knee in her back," Waugh said.
He also disputed reports that the woman was trying to call 911 when the officer broke the window to open her car door. Phone records show that no calls were made from her phone from 16 minutes prior to the arrest until 20 minutes after the arrest.
"There was no indication that she made calls to her husband or 911," Waugh said.
He said YCSO deputies have made 40,000 traffic stops since he has become sheriff, and this is the first time he has heard of such an incident.
"There has to have been a reason, a problem with this stop," Maryanne Mills of Sedona told the sheriff.
He said Neunum's tactics were appropriate and would not have evolved to such a state had she acknowledged the officer.
"I think I am defending what is right," said Waugh.
Waugh said that if someone is concerned an officer may not be legitimate, he or she should move to a well-lighted area. But, he cautioned that in some areas of the county, there are "25 to 75 miles between well-lighted areas. Make sure to signal or acknowledge the officer and roll down the window enough to hear."
Waugh said that he is not familiar with any other case in which a police imposter used a fully marked police vehicle.
Jon Hutchinson is a reporter with the Verde Independent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org