Mueller is on the left, standing next to Pinal County Sheriff Babeu
A Pinal County sheriff’s deputy tapped to be a fill-in department spokesman is fighting a disorderly-conduct charge after an off-duty incident outside a Tempe bar where, police say, he punched another patron.
Richard “Hank” Mueller, 30, was put on paid administrative leave Oct. 22 pending an internal investigation and is expected to remain on leave through at least Dec. 14. He is scheduled for a Nov. 28 hearing on the misdemeanor charge in Tempe Municipal Court.
According to Tempe police records released this week, surveillance video captured Mueller and another man in a heated exchange that resulted in Mueller punching the man in the face about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 12. The victim told police he was intervening for a female friend who was getting unwanted attention from Mueller at the Firehouse, a bar and grill at University Drive and Mill Avenue.
Police said there was “no clear assault” because Mueller may have been defending himself. According to the report, video showed Mueller holding the man at arm’s length before the punch. The man — who told police he slapped Mueller’s hand away because he didn’t like to be touched — was not charged in the incident.
The Firehouse manager told police that Mueller had been causing problems throughout the night by taunting and threatening the bar security guards. One female employee complained that Mueller was “creeping her out,” according to the police report.
Firehouse employees called 911 after one confrontation, but police were not dispatched because Mueller appeared to have left. They called police a second time after the fight in the alley.
In their reports, officers described Mueller as being intoxicated and irrational. None of them identified Mueller as a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy or a law-enforcement officer.
Mueller was cited and released after promising to appear in court. It was not clear whether Mueller drove away, but the report indicated he was advised to get a ride home.
Mueller declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.
He was one of several Pinal sheriff’s employees who appeared in a commercial supporting Sheriff Paul Babeu’s candidacy for U.S. House, a race Babeu left in May to run for re-election.
Mueller was hired as a deputy in January 2009, the month Babeu first took office. Before joining the Sheriff’s Office, Mueller had been a detention officer with the Chandler Police Department — Babeu’s former employer, from which he drew several members of his command staff — and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Mueller graduated at the top of his class from the police academy. A review of his personnel file and disciplinary records revealed multiple blemishes. In one performance review, Mueller’s supervisor said the deputy “didn’t always (use) good tact, good judgment and common sense to resolve conflict (and) at times it may escalate out of control. Mueller still needs to work on this as he generates quite a few complaints when it comes to dealing with calls for service.”
His judgment was also questioned in an incident that began as a traffic stop and escalated to the forced entry and warrantless search of an apartment. In the incident, Mueller and at least one other officer held the occupants at gunpoint.
Mueller said he had kicked in the door because he and another officer thought they smelled marijuana. Mueller told internal-affairs detectives that he believed the driver who ran from him fled into the apartment but later admitted he wasn’t sure.
His patrol commander recommended Mueller serve an 80-hour suspension without pay.
“This shows a clear lack of understanding (of) PCSO policy, constitutional rights and established case law on Deputy Mueller’s part,” the supervisor wrote. “He became over zealous and lost his ability to make sound judgment. This lack of judgment placed the citizens of Pinal County, the other deputies and officer working with him in harm’s way, while placing the Sheriff’s Office in a position of great risk and liability.”
Chief Deputy Steve Henry, however, ordered Mueller to take 20 hours of unpaid leave and required him to take a class on search and seizure. He cited Mueller’s inexperience and praised him for his “honesty and virtue” in reporting the incident to his supervisor.
“It is evident there would have never been an investigation without this virtuous act,” Henry wrote.