Originally Published: June 28, 2009 10:48 p.m.
Several Prescott investigation businesses and the county sheriff's office say they've noticed a disturbing trend lately of increasing attacks on process servers.
"It seems like the last year especially we are having assault after assault after assault," said Bob Palmer, owner of Palmer Investigations.
And by that, he says, he means actual physical assaults.
"It used to be when you knocked on a door, everybody was polite to you," Palmer continued. "It's a more violent culture now."
Kelli McFarland, owner of Alliance Investigations, said her employees mostly encounter yelling and door slamming.
But she has had a gun pulled on her, she said. She agrees things have been getting worse in the past year. However, she doesn't blame it solely on recent tough economic times.
She said she thinks it's because too many people are moving here from the "big cities" - people who are rude and self-centered by nature.
A third Prescott investigation firm has had guns pulled on its employees, too.
"We've had a couple of incidences where people have pointed a gun," said Douglas Hastings, northern Arizona manager for Hawkins and E-Z Messenger Legal-Support Providers. "I had it happen to me. I got out of there as quick as possible."
A recent incident points out the frustrations police have - and the dangers they face - when they're called in to sort out the situation.
It involved a 70-year-old Prescott homeowner and his wife and one of Hastings' process servers.
Seventy-year-old homeowner Robert Leech - who said he's a retired Army colonel who served two combat tours in Vietnam - said an unidentified man appeared at his house very early on the morning of June 18.
"When a stranger walks up to my door, I expect to see a name and ID," Leech said during a telephone interview Wednesday.
Instead, Leech said, "(The man) didn't show identification, but he entered our private courtyard and threw the papers down and then demanded my identification."
"That actually was one of my process servers," Hastings told The Daily Courier, "and he's as mild-mannered as they come."
Hastings added that the June 18 incident was the second time in the past month that particular process server has had a gun pulled on him.
"The process server is the victim in this," Hastings said.
But Leech has a different take on it. He says the process server wouldn't leave when Leech ordered him to and instead, stood inside the home's courtyard "yanking" on a locked inner gate demanding to see Leech's identification.
That's when Leech's wife, Cindy Fox, got an empty shotgun and stood just inside the couple's Arizona room with it, Leech said. When the process server spotted the weapon, he shouted at Fox, using a profanity, Fox said.
By the time two sheriff's deputies showed up, tempers were high and the situation was tense.
Leech ended up getting Tasered because the deputies thought he was going back inside his house for the shotgun, according to a sheriff's office press release.
No one was charged in the incident and the sheriff's office is conducting a "use of force" investigation to make sure its deputies acted properly, spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said.
"The overriding issue is officer safety," D'Evelyn said. "Deputies would never give anyone, already hostile to them, an opportunity to grab a weapon. (The) bottom line (is), the actions of Leech and Fox dictated the deputy's response, and we do not compromise officer safety. If Leech had cooperated, the deputies would likely have just taken a statement, left the scene and submitted a report to the county attorney."
Sgt. Brandon Bonney of the Prescott Valley Police Department said his department has had several incidents in recent years involving process servers. Some are resolved, some aren't, he said.
Such calls are usually no-win situations for the officers.
"Any dispute where emotions are running high can lead to ... danger," Bonney said.
Hastings said he'd like to see police be more responsive when process servers call them.
"They just aren't very helpful," he said.
But Bonney said officers must remain impartial in what is essentially a civil matter.
"Our primary function is to keep the peace and public safety," he continued. "We try to calm (everyone) and keep them calm and bring them to a point where we can reason with them."
But Palmer pointed out that process servers are officers of the court and not just private citizens.
"We get a court-issued ID card," he said.
Therefore, he'd like to see a little more support from the court system and law enforcement.
"If we're officers of the court, then the court needs to get behind us," he said, adding that the Arizona Supreme Court should issue a memorandum to police departments urging them to cooperate more with process servers.
He also said the Legislature should approve laws to protect them.
After all, he said, "If process servers weren't serving papers, the country's entire court system would grind to a halt."
D'Evelyn said that any resident who encounters a process server and has a question about the legal authority of the person to be on their property should remain calm and contact law enforcement rather than become confrontational.