Greenlee Sheriff Sumner continues spat with BOS over GPS, mistakenly calls out an investigator for speeding during traffic stop

Still from Zoom meeting: The Greenlee County Board of Supervisors, from left, David Gomez, Chairman Richard Lunt, and Ron Campbell, listen to Sheriff Tim Sumner’s GPS report via Zoom.

By Jon Johnson

GREENLEE COUNTY – Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner continues to question the use of GPS in county vehicles and gave an update to the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors that appeared to be in spite rather than concern or complete context. 

During the “Call to the Public” portion of the Feb. 22 BOS meeting, Sumner gave a PowerPoint presentation regarding GPS speeding and driving alerts. Sumner gave his report remotely while speaking during the Zoom meeting. The presentation showed quarterly GPS stats for 2022.  

Sumner advised that, according to his reading of the GPS information, County Administrator Derek Rapier committed the most speed alerts for the first quarter; BOS Vice-Chairman David Gomez had the most for the second quarter and that due to their overall driver safety scorecard Chairman Richard Lunt and Gomez were both the top-two candidates for coaching; Public Works Manager Tony Hines had the most speed alerts for the third quarter; and the most speed alerts for the fourth quarter was a probation vehicle with an unlisted driver. While the GPS information listed 760 total speed infractions, none of those were apparently captured by any working law enforcement.    

Sheriff Sumner also called out Greenlee County Attorney’s Office Investigator Eric Ellison for the county’s “Top Speed Alert” at 101 mph.   

“I just want to know what is being done with this system, basically,” Sheriff Sumner said. “It’s been talked about in here for a while – all since it came up with me – right, and, supposedly, the system is supposed to be making better drivers.” 

It is unknown if the sheriff realized his investigation was thwarted by a simple viewing of his own data, or if he intentionally left out relevant facts, but a detailed activity report regarding the listed 101 mph speed Investigator Ellison was called out for clearly shows he was traveling at 66 mph on U.S. Highway 70 at 8:04 a.m. just prior to the sudden increase in speed. What could have caused a law enforcement officer to suddenly increase in speed? In this case, it was because he was chasing down a speeder.  

Investigator Ellison’s county vehicle was measured at 75 mph at 8:05 a.m., and finally at Sheriff’s Sumner’s “top speed alert” award at 101 mph at 8:06 a.m. However, the very next GPS reading (which is taken roughly once per minute) has Ellison’s vehicle at 0 mph. The GPS data shows his vehicle at 10 mph in the next minute before being parked at 0 mph the following minute.

This full data readout of the incident shows factual evidence of Investigator Ellison’s account of performing his duties as an officer of law by chasing down and pulling over a speeder. Yes, that’s correct, Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner told the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors that Investigator Eric Ellison was the “worst speeder” in the county for accelerating to 101 mph to perform a traffic stop on a vehicle that was speeding.

Investigator Ellison expressed his disdain for the apparent mischaracterization and explained the full context of the incident to the Gila Herald in detail. 

“I want it to be clear I am still a certified police officer,” Ellison said. “I drive a white unmarked patrol car equipped with emergency lights. I also swore an oath to uphold the law. On Sep. 27, 2022, myself and another car were passed in a no-passing lane at a high rate of speed. At that time, I was driving 66 mph in the 65 mph zone. I activated my emergency lights and accelerated to 101 mph to catch up to the aggressive driver, as the record shows. We then came to a quick stop in the middle of the westbound lane blocking traffic and causing a hazard. I exited my patrol car and asked the driver to pull off the roadway in a safe location. The driver then drove to a safety pull out where I conducted the traffic stop. This is also what the GPS data sheet represents. After the traffic stop was completed, the driver went on their way.” 

“I am not ashamed of doing my job and protecting the lives of others,” Ellison said. “The data shows me driving normally for the rest of that day in question. This is the same datasheet the Sheriff has access to. The Sheriff being in law enforcement should have found it evident that I conducted a traffic stop on the day of question and disclosed that information in his presentation to the board of supervisors.”

Sumner was re-elected in a four-way race in 2020 with just 36 percent of the overall vote and narrowly defeated Ellison (1,203 votes) by 130 votes. Former Sheriff Larry Avila (827 votes) and Jaime Aguilar (309 votes) split the vote enough to allow Sumner to remain in his position. 

Sumner is suing the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors for its refusal to pay invoices produced by the Sheriff without any prior approval. Basically, Sheriff Sumner apparently believes he can run his department autonomously from oversight by the Board of Supervisors and that the board should cave to whatever financial demands he makes regarding his office.

Previously, Sheriff Sumner began taking patrol vehicles to Safford for servicing instead of having Greenlee County’s Fleet department service them as normal. This occurred after public records of Sheriff Sumner’s speeding captured on his patrol GPS system were published. In turn, Sumner desired to take the GPS systems out of the patrol vehicles, and this is one reason, county officials surmise, that he elected to take the vehicles elsewhere to be serviced. 

When Sumner’s financial demands (including those for his own IT department) were rejected by the BOS, Sumner sued and said he had the authority to determine how much his department needed financially.

The lawsuit is currently pending with Sumner having filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. The Greenlee BOS responded and requested the matter be dismissed. (See: “Greenlee Sheriff Sumner wants lawsuit against county moved to Apache, Greenlee BOS move to dismiss” – Gila Herald Feb. 20, 2023.)

Both Sumner and the BOS have requested attorneys’ fees from the other side while both sets of attorneys are being paid from the county’s general fund, i.e. the taxpayer.

In his PowerPoint presentation to the board, Sumner said the GPS units showed poor driving habits have increased for county vehicles and asked what was being done with the information since the county was paying for the GPS units. He then advised he had “cut some waste” himself by finding a GPS unit on one of the Sheriff’s Office’s patrol vehicles and removing it.