County board narrowly votes to investigate Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos over sexual assault probe

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 9:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to investigate the conduct of Sheriff Chris Nanos concerning a sexual assault case of one of his deputies.

The board will ask the Arizona Attorney General’s office or the Arizona Department of Public Safety to conduct the probe.

At issue is the female deputy accused her superior officer of sexually assaulting her during a Christmas party last year and that his superior officers knew about it but did not attempt to stop it.

The accused, Sgt. Ricky Garcia has been fired and is awaiting trial on the sexual assault charges.

The deputy who was sexually assaulted is asking for an internal investigation. But Nanos has delayed it, saying the proper procedure is to wait until the criminal trial is complete before the internal investigation begins.

“Well, I would actually like to proceed with the investigation,” said District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson who made the motion calling for the probe.

She said her constituents want it and that was evident when several people called for it during the call to the audience.

“Why was the internal investigation put on hold,” asked speaker Stephanie Kirk. “One thing the various groups here can agree on is Nanos must go.”

“The men and women of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department are proud and heroic and they deserve to have their honor protected and the honor of agency,” said David Smith, the Chairman of the Pima County Republicans. “Please, please let’s bring in an outside agency” to investigate this.

The vote came soon after an executive session where the probe was discussed and led some board members to be concerned about tainting the criminal trial and a civil suit that has been filed.

Even though the board members cannot reveal what was discussed in executive session, they can offer opinions.

“Based on what we heard during the executive session, I think we could have an impact on either the criminal or civil case,” said District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott. “And so, I can’t support the item as written.”

The swing yes vote was District 2 Supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz who told 13 News the reason he voted in favor of the investigation was because “I felt that another set of eyes on what went down would be best for transparency and public confidence in the county.”

He also said that’s what he would want if the victim was his sister.

Adding fuel to what could be a contentious time between the board and the sheriff, Nanos sent an email to the board Sunday saying “Effective immediately the sheriff’s department will no longer be responsible for Board security.”

Although at this late date, he told them he would provide an officer today but said, “In the future, you will need to make other arrangements.”

Nanos, who has budget issues, which he blames on the board, says providing security for the board is expensive and says not doing so is a way to cut his budget.

Nanos also issued the following statement regarding Garcia and the Internal investigation:

“The Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) handling of internal issues around the Ricardo Garcia sexual assault investigation has been questioned by recent claims in a media release issued by an employee organization. Much has been made of this, including a number of concerns raised at today’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

On December 17, 2022, the Sheriff’s Department’s began its investigation into alleged criminal behavior which resulted in the arrest and indictment of Ricardo Garcia. The Sheriff has extended support to the victim throughout this process and investigative staff is engaged in the pending prosecution.

The Sheriff’s Department has investigated all manner of crimes, including occasionally cases naming department members as suspects. Many of those cases have resulted in arrests, prosecutions, and dismissals. Contrary to the opinions of some, it is not necessary to ask other agencies to investigate every time a department member is accused of a crime.

On June 15, 2023, a civil notice of claim came to the sheriff’s attention which raised concerns about the handling of the case internally. When a notice of this type is received, legal counsel is engaged to advise and represent the department and the sheriff. That legal counsel also advises the sheriff on how to proceed with requests for information related to such cases. Often that advice is to not comment until issues are addressed in the proper court.

On July 31, 2023, an IA complaint was filed with concerns directly related to those outlined in the civil notice of claim and legal counsel was immediately contacted.

In this instance and any other criminal cases, the department administrative inquiries follow the completion of criminal cases. With open civil claims, administrative inquiries also hold, as facts and witnesses must be preserved and available for the civil proceedings. Administrative efforts can interfere with court proceedings if engaged in prematurely. In all cases of a sensitive nature, the Sheriff’s Department places a high priority on preserving the privacy and dignity of crime victims. These principles guide us in this case.

Requests for outside reviews and demands for transparency are understandable and the department offers full cooperation. This does not eliminate the concerns previously mentioned, including that of preserving the integrity of the criminal prosecution and the dignity of the victim. The sensational claims covered in the media do not reflect the facts of this case or the decisions of this office. We shall proceed with our principles in mind.”