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Fri, Oct. 18

Mohave County Assessor claims boyfriend charged in retaliation from Sheriff

William Gardner (Courtesy photo)

William Gardner (Courtesy photo)

Lake Havasu City – Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch is accusing Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster of retaliation after her boyfriend was charged with three felonies involving an October 2018 incident.

William Gardner, 58, faces three class-three felony charges after a confrontation with three dirt bike riders near Crystal Beach in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Gardner and Kentch live in a home that borders the Refuge at Crystal Beach. He has been indicted by a Mohave County Grand Jury on three counts of aggravated assault, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 26 in Mohave County Superior Court.

Gardner and Kentch say they believe that the assault charges, as well as a harassment charge against Gardner which he pleaded guilty to in April, were brought against Gardner as retaliation from Schuster.

“We feel it is retaliation 100 percent,” Kentch said.

Gardner and Kentch said they believe Schuster has been upset with them since a community meeting regarding illegal camping on State Trust Land near London Bridge Road and Fathom Drive. At the meeting Gardner confronted Schuster, arguing that the sheriff needed to do something about the problem of illegal campers in the area, and pointed to a county ordinance that he said gives the sheriff authority to ticket anyone camping within .25 miles of the roadway, anyone without a permit, or anyone who overstays their permit.

“He doesn’t like me,” Gardner said of Schuster. “I called him out in front of a group of people, I called him a liar, and I am constantly calling to say that you guys need to do this.”

Schuster denies the allegation of retaliation and claims that the charges that have been brought against Gardner over the past year are due solely to his own actions.

“All of the above instances involved a report filed by a victim or victims, alleging crimes, and naming Mr. Gardner as the offender,” Schuster said in an email to Today’s News-Herald. “For Mr. Gardner to suggest that this is retaliation on my part or the part of the Sheriff’s Office is utterly ridiculous. I do not take matters personally and Mr. Gardner’s actions clearly speak for themselves. There are victims in all these incidents, none of which do I, or any of my deputies know. These victims filed these reports based on Mr. Gardner’s actions alone and the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office is the jurisdictional agency mandated to conduct the investigation.

“The end result is I stand behind the actions of my Deputies 100%. They did their job appropriately and impartially. We do not enforce the law with bias or prejudice and all are treated fairly, equally, and impartially.

Schuster agreed that Gardner was “very vocal” at the meeting in demanding that Schuster take action against the campers. Schuster said he explained that he could not force campers to move if they have a valid camping permit until after it expires.

“Mr. Gardner was extremely upset and stated that I did not know the law,” Schuster wrote in the email. “I explained to him that I was well aware of the law and the fact that he did not like my answer changed nothing. He began to make comments that people might have to take matters into their own hands. I cautioned him then and there that anyone taking matters into their own hands would be held responsible for their actions.”

Within two months of the community meeting Gardner was involved in two altercations in the area near his home, both altercations resulted in charges being filed against Gardner. In both instances, Gardner said he indicated that he would also like to press charges against the individuals involved in the altercation but nothing ever came of those requests.

“They wouldn’t file charges against them,” Kentch said. “Again it was all that (Gardner) is the bad guy. And I can guarantee you that he is the bad guy because Sheriff Schuster is mad that we called him out in that meeting.”

Schuster said he was not personally involved in either of the incidents, but he stands behind the actions of his deputies in both cases.

“In both instances Mr. Gardner was the instigator of the contacts,” Schuster said. “He had no authority to take the action he did. There was no clear evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the witnesses and therefore no charges stemmed from their involvement.”

Run in with dirt bike riders

On Oct. 8, Bradley Mitchell, Casey Quinn, and an unidentified juvenile were reportedly riding their dirt bikes in the Crystal Beach cliffs, near Gardner and Kentch’s residence on Vista Drive.

According to a sheriff’s report, Mitchell told deputies that the three riders had been attempting to take pictures of their dirt bikes when Gardner started yelling at them. All three of the riders claim that they took off up a hill to get away from Gardner, but Gardner shot several rounds at the riders causing them to flee back to their truck.

“We went on the hill and then he began shooting rounds at us,” Mitchell’s statement to deputies says. “A couple hit the sand and a few went over our heads as we dropped for cover.”

Gardner’s account of the altercation is much different.

According to Gardner, he witnessed the three riders trying to get through the entrance of Crystal Beach and yelled down at them that they are not allowed to ride there, and told them to, “Get out of there.”

According to the police report, Gardner said he stopped one of the riders at the end of his driveway and told him that they are not allowed to ride in the wildlife reserve, and are not allowed to ride on the road without proper registration. Gardner said he told the rider that he would call to have them arrested if they didn’t leave.

Gardner said at that point the rider told him to, “Mind your own business,” before turning and peeling out in Gardner’s driveway, kicking rocks and gravel up at Gardner which Gardner claims caused cuts to his legs and left welts on his chest.

Later, Gardner says all three bikers went up to the top of a hill where they sat and revved their engines in what Gardner said was an attempt to intimidate him.

Gardner, who has one working eye that he said had cataracts at the time, said he grabbed his air rifle from inside the front door in order to use the scope to get a better view of what the riders were doing. According to the report, and the report taken from Gardner by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers on the day of the incident, Gardner pointed the gun at the kids. Gardner told Today’s News-Herald the barrel of the gun was down and in the loading position, so it was nonoperational when he was looking through it. Gardner claims that he shared that information with both the deputy who wrote the police report and with Fish and Wildlife when they came out the day of the incident to make a report. Neither report mentions the barrel being in a nonfiring position, however.

Gardner said while looking through the scope he heard the riders yell, “He has a gun.”

At that point, Gardner said he walked back toward his porch behind a tree that blocked him from view of the kids. He said he put down the air rifle and grabbed about three firecrackers from a tin. When the firecrackers exploded, the riders drove out of the area.

Although the two sides of the story differ widely, Schuster said in either case the charges of aggravated assault are warranted.

“While I have my personal opinion, my belief is truly irrelevant,” Schuster said. “Based on the investigation it was determined that Mr. Gardner pointed a weapon at the young men and they believed they were in immediate fear of injury or death as they reported hearing bullets fly over their head and strike the ground nearby. This warranted the charges which were reviewed and filed by the (Coconino) County Attorney.”

Kentch said she and Gardner are hopeful that the case will be dismissed at the preliminary hearing. If not she said they have no intention of reaching a plea agreement.

“We are going to go all the way to a jury trial for this,” Kentch said. “We are not going to let them get away with this.”

Harassment charge

On Oct. 31, Gardner said he went out onto State Trust Land to speak with people he believed to be camping illegally in the area.

Gardner said one of the campers took exception to him, and started yelling and swearing at him. Gardner also claims that the man threatened him saying to his wife, “go get my gun.”

Following the altercation Gardner went home, and the campers called the sheriff’s department to report harassment by Gardner.

‘Gardner was instructed to contact the sheriff’s office if he believed a crime was being committed and he was further instructed to cease and desist from any further harassment of people camping in the area,” Schuster said.

Schuster said no prosecution was desired for the Oct. 31 incident, so no charges were filed.

But Gardner went back out to State Trust Land to pass out informational fliers on Nov. 17. Gardner said he ran into the same man as before, who must have by then overstayed his permit which is a maximum of 14 days. Gardner said the man again started yelling and swearing at him, and also spit at him when he tried to give him the sheet.

Once again the campers tell a different story.

“In this case four independent witnesses all confirmed that Mr. Gardner was aggressive in nature and demanding they immediately leave the area,” Schuster said.

Gardner said he never received a summons, but on Jan. 9, two sheriff’s deputies showed up at his house with a warrant for his arrest.

“When they arrested him they destroyed his arms, they roughed him up bad and they tore both of his shoulders,” Kentch said. “They came to prove a point who was boss.”

Gardner said he suffered a detached bicep and torn rotator cuff on both arms resulting from the arrest. He said he currently has a notice of claim with the county to recuperate costs from surgery needed to repair the damage.

In April, Gardner took a stipulated guilty plea and deferral of entry of guilt to resolve the case. As part of the plea, Gardner agreed to pay $250 and attorney fees. He is also barred from “uninvited contact with campers on State Trust Land,” and from handing “out documents pertaining to State Trust Land rules.”

“I think it was an extremely fair way to resolve the case – I think all the terms were fair,” said Lake Havasu City Prosecutor Charles Yager, who handled the case. “There is a provision in this agreement where if Mr. Gardner remains law abiding and doesn’t do anything unlawful for a one-year period the actual charge is dismissed.”

Avoiding conflict of interest

Although the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department was in charge of the investigation for both cases, the Mohave County Attorney sent them both off to other entities for conflict of interest purposes stemming from Kentch’s position as an elected county official. The harassment case was brought by Lake Havasu City, and the aggravated assault charges are being prosecuted by the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.

“In this case we have a conflict of interest because we have to work with the assessor,” said Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith. “You wouldn’t want to make a decision where I am the one charging Mr. Gardner with a crime because that is going to make the assessor angry and we represent her a lot of times and give her legal advice. In the same way it would be unfair to the alleged victim to be the ones to decide not to file charges because then we would be accused of, ‘Oh, it is one elected official helping out another one; it’s the good old boys network.’”

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