Officer Says Sheriff Defamed Him in a Vendetta

FLORENCE, Ariz. (CN) — Irked by a police union boss who endorsed a political opponent, the former sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, south of Phoenix, fired him and had him falsely accused of sex charges, the former official claims in court.

Scott Strobel sued the Pinal County Sheriff’s and County Attorney’s Offices and the Board of Supervisors in Pinal County Court.

Pinal County, pop. 376,000, whose seat is Florence, is Arizona’s third most-populous county, behind Maricopa (Greater Phoenix) and Pima (Greater Tucson). Fast-growing Pinal County includes the cities of Casa Grande and Maricopa.

Strobel was a sheriff’s deputy and head of the Pinal County Deputies Association in 2012 when its rank and file endorsed Ty Morgan over incumbent Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu asked Strobel to overrule the association’s vote, but he refused, according to Strobel’s March 3 lawsuit.

Four years later, Strobel was indicted on four counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of child luring.

Strobel claims Babeu “ignored a conflict of interest on initiating and conducting a criminal investigation” into the allegations. Babeu, a two-term sheriff from 2008 to 2016, ran for Congress as a Republican in 2016 and was defeated in the November election. He is not a party to Strobel’s lawsuit.

Strobel says in the complaint: “During the Grand Jury presentation, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office [PCAO] and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office [PCSO] failed to present information in a fair and impartial manner, provided false and misleading information to the grand jury, and failed to provide clearly exculpatory information to the Grand Jury.”

Strobel was fired in March 2016.

Three months later, his attorneys petitioned the grand jury to rehear the case. It “failed to find probable cause on any of the five charges” and dismissed the charges without prejudice, according to court documents.

Strobel says Babeu and other Pinal County officials continued to claim he had committed sex crimes, and persuaded a merit board to change his termination to “constructive discharge,” instead of reversing it.

Strobel also claims Babeu leaked confidential and false information to the press, in breach of policy, and colluded with former Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, who allegedly directed members of his staff to prosecute Strobel on the charges “without sufficient corroboration or evidence.”

In February, FBI agents obtained items from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, spokesperson Navideh Forghani confirmed by telephone.

Forghani said the search was informal and directed further questions to the FBI, whose Phoenix spokeswoman Jill McCabe declined to comment.

The Arizona Republic reported the search was related to unofficial accounts of Babeu and Voyles misusing funds from an anti-racketeering fund they controlled.

Strobel seeks damages for defamation, infliction of emotional distress, wanton and willful conduct and constructive discharge.

He is represented by Matthew Long with Rowley Long & Simmons in Mesa, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office does not comment on pending cases.


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