Chief Probation Officer retires and two employees terminated
By Jon Johnson
CLIFTON – The Greenlee County Probation Department was rocked by allegations against some of its most senior members. Now, the top two senior officers are gone along with the Community Work Service Supervisor and the county is dealing with the fallout.
The Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts released three detailed reports regarding offenses its investigation alleges were made by former Greenlee County Chief Probation Officer John Armstrong, former probation officer Joseph Montez, and former Community Work Service Supervisor Alfred Ramirez.
The reports detail a number of alleged violations by Montez regarding his work as a probation officer, including falsifying records for financial gain, failing to properly oversee probationers, sexual harassment, bullying, and threatening. The Arizona Supreme Court is handling the administrative aspect of the case since the probation department falls under the state’s jurisdiction. If any criminal charges were to be brought forth due to the investigation, it would likely be the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that would prosecute.
The first allegation against Montez is that he falsified the number of hours he was working to be paid more than what he actually worked. In addition to being paid for work he did not perform, the report alleges Montez failed to adequately perform contact with his probationers. A review of Montez’s 2021 face-to-face contacts for medium and high-risk cases showed he met only 27% of the contact standards for December, with only 35% in September and 39% for April. For the course of the year, Montez had an average of a roughly 50/50 chance of meeting the contact standards in such cases.
The investigation also alleges Ramirez violated several policies and procedures as well as abused his authority through discrimination and harassment. One of the more damaging claims is that Montez and Ramirez forced a female probationer to perform CWS even though she had just gotten out of the hospital for a stroke.
“He (Ramirez) kept telling me after I had my stroke, he told me he was gonna violate me if I wasn’t on that van the week after I got out of the hospital,” a probationer said during an investigation. “I was in there for a month. I couldn’t use my right side. My doctor had told me not to go back for at least six weeks but I had to, and Alfie just said, ‘Well, I won’t make you do anything. You’ll just sit in the van.’ But, it’s like he took none of my medical issues seriously.”
The report also makes accusations of Montez threatening a fellow probation officer, and punitively punishing a female client. The allegation also reveals a statement from a former client who advised that when she was incarcerated in April 2021 Montez told her she would never make it anywhere without him.
“She needed him to be successful; and he would do everything in his power to take her kids away because she is a horrible mother and does not deserve them,” the former client reported Montez threatened. He also told her she would be nothing but an alcoholic and a “druggie” for the rest of her life without his help. He also told her if she did not agree to his terms, he would make her life a living hell, according to the allegation.
Looking for love in the Probation Department?
The report calls out Ramirez’s and Montez’s actions in several aspects, including possible quid-pro-quo regarding leniency toward probationers in exchange for romantic opportunities.
While Montez wasn’t seeing some clients enough, he was seeing others too much and off the books – according to the allegation.
And several former clients reported Ramirez making inappropriate comments to them on various occasions as well as attempting to date them or take them to the casino. For his part, Montez had statements regarding probationers’ luck having a relative date him otherwise he would have acted toward them differently. He also was listed as having made inappropriate comments and both Ramirez and Montez were participants in a couple of barbecues along with Armstrong that included several female clients. During one barbecue, an attendee said the men were making sexual jokes and that the topic of anal sex was talked about.
The report lists an instance in July 2019 when Montez failed to enter a contact note when he directed a female client to meet him at his residence. Other multiple contact notes that failed to be entered included texting and visiting a female client in jail, eating lunch with another female client, multiple contacts with multiple clients at various events (including a barbecue at the Blackjack campground on Aug. 14, 2021, and a barbecue at the old Safford bridge on Aug. 30, 2021),
The Buck stops here
At the top, former Greenlee County Chief Probation Officer John Armstrong oversaw his office and oversaw the actions of those underneath him.
The report on Armstrong alleges that he falsified records, harassed probationers, failed to provide adequate supervision, and committed several court and judicial policy and procedure violations.
And those barbecues, one attendee said they were put on by Armstrong and Montez.
“Sometimes they would do a, a – like Joseph and John Armstrong would pay for stuff like, we’d go to the mountains for community service and we would have like a picnic and stuff,” a probationer advised during an investigation. “Alfie had confided in me in some things that they were doing up there that I . . . It’s none of my business.”
Another allegation lists Armstrong for calling out a probation officer for their religion while using foul language. The officer said she did not find it necessarily offensive, however, since others working in the vicinity are of the same religion.
In the aftermath of the investigation, both Montez and Ramirez were terminated, and Armstrong retired prior to the release of the report. After an extensive search, Irvin Talley was hired as the new Greenlee County Chief Probation Officer. Talley was formerly with the Graham County Probation Department.
As far as any damages to probationers, that is still being investigated.
Newly appointed Greenlee County Attorney Scott Adams sent out a letter on Tuesday to local criminal defense attorneys informing them of the situation and set several status review hearings for those involved.
The letter states, in part, “If you feel that a client who you represented was treated unfairly by the Greenlee County Probation Department, we welcome you to contact our office. In many cases, we will be willing to stipulate to a Review Hearing in front of Superior Court to discuss concerns, without the need for formal Rule 32 or Rule 33 proceedings.”
Adams was appointed Greenlee County Attorney because Jeremy Ford had to resign in order to run for Greenlee County Superior Court Judge this Fall. Ford is currently serving as Greenlee County Chief Deputy County Attorney – which is a hired position versus an elected one.