PHOENIX (CN) - A border vigilante charged with pointing his AR-15 rifle at a deputy sheriff he mistook for a drug smuggler pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, Arizona prosecutors said.
Richard Malley, 50, encountered the officer in August 2013 in the desert southwest of Phoenix, and refused to stand down after being told to surrender his weapon.
A grand jury indicted Malley on a charge of aggravated assault, which could have put him behind bars for up to 15 years.
Malley agreed on Friday to serve no less than 6 months in jail, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said, adding that Malley "is required to surrender his weapon," and as a felon will no longer be allowed to own a firearm.
Malley said in a motion to dismiss filed in January that he was "assisting the Border Patrol by reporting the location of drug runners" with two other border-watchers on the night of Aug. 17, 2013.
Calling themselves the Arizona Special Operations Group, the men were staked out in the desert about an hour southwest of Phoenix, not far from Gila Bend, along Interstate 8.
Deputy P. Arend and others with the Maricopa County Sheriff Department's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Task Force were patrolling the same area.
Around 10:30 p.m., the two heavily camouflaged, armed men came across each other near mile marker 140 in the desert along I-8, each thinking the other was a smuggler.
Deputy Arend was "checking mile markers which are frequently used in drug trafficking," according to a sheriff's department report.
"He approached mile marker 140 and flashed his lights and honked his horn, which is common practice for him while attempting to get drug smugglers to run up to his vehicle."
Arend walked around the area, following signs of fresh foot tracks with a flashlight. Then he "heard a noise behind him and someone start yelling commands."
Arend said that Malley sounded like "law enforcement" while pointing an AR-15 rifle at him and shining a flashlight in his face, the report states. The man identified himself as a member of the Arizona Special Operations Group, and said that he carried no identification with him because he "feared cartel members would find out his identity."
Malley said, "You aren't taking my weapons," after Arend identified himself and told him to "surrender his firearms," according to court records.
Arend called for backup and Malley was taken into custody and booked.
According to the responding deputy's report, Malley "admitted raising his rifle up and pointing it at deputy Arend."
"While on the side of the road he informed me he was in fear for his life because he was in the middle of the desert and felt that deputy Arend was a drug smuggler working for a cartel," the report states. "It should be noted Richard drove his own vehicle in the area of the desert in search of the activity he believed to be seeing. Richard stated he pointed the gun at deputy Arend when he made contact because deputy Arend flashed his high beams on and off and honked his horn when he pulled up to the mile marker. He also stated that deputy Arend was walking around the area with his light on the ground. Richard said he has never seen a drug lord being picked up and he does not know what it would look like but assumed that is what was taking place on the side of the road. Richard stated he felt he had the right to point his rifle at the individual because he had reasonable suspicion to believe a crime was occurring."
Malley claimed in his motion to dismiss that he had pointed the flashlight "affixed to his AR-15 rifle" at the deputy because he thought he was a drug smuggler. He stated that Arend was "wearing camouflage from head to toe and had long straggly hair," and that his actions were "absolutely consistent with drug dealers and drug activity."
He also claimed that a prosecutor's use of the words "militia" and "minuteman" had prejudiced him with the grand jury.
"There is no positive connotation of militia and it is simply untrue," the motion states. "Namely, Mr. Malley is not a member of the Minuteman Militia. To many people, militia means: racist xenophobe."
At the time of his arrest, Malley was unemployed and living in suburban Phoenix with his mother, court records show.
He will be sentenced on Dec. 3 in Phoenix.