Tohono O'odham Roadblock Incident

State Inquiries:

AZ POST Documentation
PCSD roadblock guidelines

AZ POST Documentation & Certifications:

Shortly after this incident occurred, I made several inquiries with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) and the Pima County Sheriff's Dept. regarding the certification status of the defendant tribal police officers present at the roadblock when I was unlawfully detained and arrested. I also sought information regarding the Arizona cross-certification program that allows federal agents to enforce state law within Pima County.

I received information regarding this program along with copies of tribal police certifications and a list of cross-certified federal agents operating in Pima County at the time of the incident. None of the federal agents appearing on the list were employed by the Border Patrol or U.S. Customs which verifies Border Patrol and Customs agents were only present in their federal capacities. Additionally, this serves as evidence that the roadblock was an illegal multi-jurisdictional operation involving federal, state, and tribal actors operating under color of a sobriety checkpoint.

The certifications received regarding the tribal police serve as additional evidence that the defendant's in this civil lawsuit were operating under color of state law during the incident and cannot claim sovereign immunity as a bar against prosecution for their misconduct.

Document Title:
Filing Date:
File Type:
AZ POST Certified Enforcement Agencies - A list of AZ POST certified law enforcement agencies operating within Arizona in 2003.
707 KB pdf
Pima County Sheriff Dept. Open Records Request & Response - A request for a copy of the Pima County Sheriff's Dept. cross certification program along with certifications issued to all federal agents between 2000 & 2003.
92 KB pdf
AZ POST Certification for TOPD Lt. Michael Ford - A copy of Lt. Michael Ford's AZ POST certification
42 KB pdf
AZ POST Certification for TOPD Detective George Traviolia - A copy of Detective Traviolia's AZ POST certification
39 KB pdf
AZ POST Certification for TOPD K-9 Officer Eric O'Dell - A copy of Officer O'Dell 's AZ POST certification
40 KB pdf

PCSD Roadblock Guidelines:

It should be noted that thirty-two months after this incident took place, the TOPD finally implemented its first set of written roadblock guidelines. These guidelines took effect in August 2005. It wasn't until November 2005 that we became aware of its existence however from a letter sent to us by the attorney for the defendants. In keeping with standard TOPD practice however, the defendants initially refused to release copies of the guidelines unless I agreed to NOT post them to this website. The letter also demanded that if the guidelines were filed with the court, that they be filed under seal.

I refused to so stipulate and several months later the guidelines were released anyway without further demands. I have reviewed the guidelines and find them lacking in all the important safeguards put in place by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The analysis below is based upon the time frame that existed prior to the implementation of these new guidelines and represents the situation when I was initially stopped in 2002.

While defending against a malicious prosecution in 2003, copies of the tribal police roadblock guidelines were subpoenaed. The tribe claimed the guidelines were 'internal documents' and refused to release them to the court. As a result, the court dismissed the charges with prejudice in December 2003. Shortly thereafter, we filed a civil suit against four tribal police officers and subpoenaed the documents again during a limited discovery phase of the lawsuit. This time, the defendants admitted the TOPD had no roadblock guidelines in place and therefore could not release them to the court. This of course means they mislead the Ajo Justice court when the tribe informed the judge that the documents were internal to the tribe and would not be released to the justice court.

To push this point home, I submitted an Arizona Open Records request to the Pima County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) in September 2005 seeking copies of their guidelines. In early October, I received a copy of guidelines in force on Labor Day weekend in 2005. This was the first sobriety roadblock conducted by the sheriff's department in over 10 years. Somewhat to my surprise, the sheriff's department not only had guidelines and procedures in place, but the documents did a reasonable job in limiting the scope of roadblock operations to that specified by the Supreme Court in City of Indianapolis et al. v. EDMOND. Whether or not the on-scene officers actually complied with the guidelines is unknown. The fact that the guidelines exist however is encouraging in and of itself and provides a starting point for a more thorough review if ever needed.

In comparing and contrasting sheriff dept. guidelines with my TOPD experience, I note the following:

  • The PCSD notified the public prior to the roadblock but didn't release its location. In contrast, the TOPD doesn't bother to notify the public of pending roadblock operations.
  • The PCSD has written roadblock guidelines and procedures in place. In contrast, the TOPD has none. On-scene officers are given individualized discretion on how to conduct themselves and operations.
  • The PCSD setup their operation in a location that could be avoided by traveling alternative routes in the vicinity. In contrast, the TOPD setup their operation along roads that can't be avoided without traveling several hours out of the way.
  • The PCSD requires every participating officer to read, initial, and sign a copy of the roadblock briefing prior to operations. These documents are kept on file and made available to the public upon request. In contrast, the TOPD either destroys records while disputes are ongoing or never creates them to begin with.
  • The PCSD limits initial interactions with motorists to a single question regarding whether they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. No other questions are allowed during the initial stop. In contrast, the TOPD demand copies of a driver's insurance, registration, driver's license. The TOPD also attempt to intimidate drivers into allowing vehicle searches and make inquiries completely unrelated to impairment, etc.
  • PCSD guidelines state that searches of vehicles and/or occupants should not occur unless there is probable cause or is conducted incident to an arrest. In contrast, TOPD officers demand to search enclosed spaces such as trunks absent reasonable suspicion. Federal agents also participate in TOPD roadblocks to help search for drugs and illegal aliens under the guise of assisting with sobriety checks.
  • PCSD deputies do not request documentation from stopped individuals unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is impaired. In contrast, this is the first thing demanded by TOPD officers who are also looking for illegal aliens and use a license check as a pretext for assessing the behavior of the driver.
  • PCSD guidelines indicate that anyone choosing to avoid the roadblock should be allowed to do so unless traffic violations are observed. In contrast, the TOPD chase down anyone who chooses to avoid the roadblock.
  • PCSD guidelines indicate individuals who stop but choose not to roll down their window and interact with the stopping officer should be waived through the roadblock. In contrast, the TOPD forcibly remove such individuals from their vehicles, arrest them, and maliciously prosecutes them based on trumped up charges.
  • The PCSD responds to public requests for documentation. In contrast, the TOPD hides behind sovereign immunity and ignores the public's right to know.

The differences speak for themselves.

On a final note - even though PCSD guidelines appear to be largely in order, statistics from the operation indicate 571 stops were made at the PCSD roadblock on September 3, 2005. Only 4 DUI arrests resulted even though over 30 officers were present and one arrest resulted from chasing down an individual who attempted to avoid the roadblock in violation of the department's written guidelines. This seems like a waste of law enforcement resources given the low arrest rate and the fact that such suspicionless operations are ripe for abuse.

Document Title:
Filing Date:
File Type:
Open Records Request - My request for a copy of the Sheriff Department's Roadblock guideline and procedures
157 KB pdf
Roadblock Guidelines - The Pima County Sheriff Department Sobriety Checkpoint Guidelines in force on Labor Day weekend 2005
451 KB pdf
Public Notice - The roadblock press release from the Sheriff Dept. indicating a sobriety checkpoint would be conducted in Pima County within 24 hours. The location of the checkpoint was not released to the public
156 KB pdf
Memorandum - A memo from Sgt. Woolridge regarding the upcoming roadblock operation. The memo indicates that the operation will be funded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and that all participants should work their schedule so that time spent at the roadblock constitutes overtime.
547 KB pdf
Sobriety Roadblock Briefing - A briefing conducted just prior to the operation in which specific instructions were presented to every participating officer. Of interest are the instructions that absent reasonable suspicion, individuals who choose to avoid the roadblock or not roll down their window and interact with officers after being stopped should be allowed to go on their way. In addition, a driver's license check or check for other documentation was not part of the operation. I received over 30 copies of the briefing - each one signed by an officer participating in the operation.
508 KB pdf
Sobriety Roadblock Statistics - A Sheriff Dept. report indicating 571 stops were made during the operation and 4 DUI arrests resulted - a hit rate of 0.7%.
240 KB pdf