By Terri Jo Neff / Cochise County Record
Mike Carrafa, editor of the Tombstone Gazette newspaper, will stand trial May 15 on a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a conversation he had on the city’s boardwalk last summer about the town’s mayor, Dusty Escapule.
Carrafa is an outspoken critic of mayor Escapule and since 2013 he has used his position with the weekly Gazette to write about the mayor’s actions, city spending, and other town hall activities.
Recent headlines include “Dictator Dusty” and “Corruption at City Hall.” The Gazette’s main competitor is the Tombstone News, a weekly publication owned by Escapule and his wife Cheri which also serves as the official newspaper for city notices.
According to the criminal complaint, Carrafa is charged with a class one misdemeanor for “yelling and cursing” on the boardwalk of Allen Street “in an aggressive and aggravated manner” on the morning of July 23.
The incident occurred around 10:00am after Carrafa had interaction with two employees of Old Tombstone Stables, which operates one of the stagecoach companies permitted to run on the historic street.
The police report written by deputy Chris Robison of the Tombstone Marshal’s Office notes that Carrafa had gone to the company’s booth at 5th and Allen Streets to retrieve some items borrowed from him by Will Wolven, a stagecoach employee. Carrafa then engaged in a conversation with another employee, Richard “Tom” Gridler, who was up on a stagecoach.
Gridler and Carrafa began discussing a flyer being passing around town that contained unflattering comments about the mayor. Carrafa says Girdler asked why Carrafa was always “picking on” Escapule. Gridler ended the conversation after a few minutes and Carrafa left the area.
Mayor’s wife called Marshal to complain about Carrafa’s conduct
Court records show Cheri Escapule called Marshal Bob Randall thirty minutes later to report the incident. Deputy Robison obtained a statement from Gridler who noted Carrafa was “slandering the mayor in a obnoxious manner.”
The deputy’s report also notes two employees of nearby businesses described Gridler and Carrafa as “arguing” and that Carrafa was “shouting and cursing.” Another witness said Carrafa used profanity in the presence of a three year old boy who was petting the horse.
Although the deputy’s report indicates he “tried to contact” Carrafa on July 23, Marshal Randall confirms Carrafa was not served with the criminal complaint until August 20, four weeks after the incident. Carrafa said it was a “surprise” to find out he had been under investigation for nearly a month.
Carrafa even wrote about his conversation with Gridler in the Gazette’s July 28 edition under the headline “Why am I Picking on Dusty?” In the article, Carrafa answered the question by noting “I am just exposing who the man really is and how he will lie at the drop of a hat and in his newspaper to further his agenda.”
He did swear twice while by the stagecoach, admits Carrafa, and says he apologized to the boy’s father at the time. However, Carrafa insists he did not disturb the peace and was not disorderly. Additional written statements Carrafa secured from other witnesses do not describe there being a disturbance.
Those witnesses, as well as Cheri Escapule, have been subpoenaed for the trial by Justice of the Peace Adam Ambrose [District 1, Bisbee] at the request of Carrafa’s attorney Joel Borowiec.
Ambrose will hear the trial without a jury beginning at 9:00am on May 15. Deputy county attorney Jason Lindstrom is prosecuting the case. If found guilty, Carrafa faces up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The disorderly complaint was not Carrafa’s only contact with the Marshal’s Office last August. The Gazette published several articles last year critical of the city’s passage and enforcement of ordinances, and in August Carrafa was cited for violating a handicap parking ordinance. The citation was dismissed in October.
Years of rancor, distrust, and court actions
Carrafa says the acrimony between he and Escapule dates back to the 2008 mayoral election. Carrafa, who moved to Tombstone from Florida in 2006, owned Six Gun City, a popular restaurant and saloon that featured an outdoor reenactment show on 5th and Toughnut Streets. Carrafa supported Escapule’s candidacy, but shortly after the election the two had a falling out over Escapule’s policies and how those policies were enforced.
In a 2009 dispute related to Six Gun City, Carrafa and two other men were arrested by Tombstone Marshal Larry Talvy for disorderly conduct and interfering with a government officer.
Carrafa and the others filed suits against the City claiming false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and negligent supervision. Those actions were consolidated in a federal civil rights action which the city’s insurance provider later settled in August 2011.
The criminal charges against the three men were dismissed. A reported total payout of more than $100,000 was made to those arrested.
Six Gun City burned down in December 2010, and although the fire was investigated by Sierra Vista and Tucson fire officials their findings were inconclusive. The animosity between Carrafa and Escapule intensified as rumors swirled about the true cause of the fire.
A harassment complaint filed against Carrafa in 2012 is tied to an insult he directed at Tombstone city attorney Randall Bays, whose skills and professionalism are frequently criticized in the Gazette since Carrafa came on board.
In April 2016, Carrafa mounted a campaign to challenge Escapule for mayor. Carrafa insisted publicly that Escapule and Bays were involved in a decision to disqualify one of his nomination forms. A special court action filed by Carrafa with the Cochise County Superior Court failed to get his name on the ballot.
Escapule went on to win reelection August 30, just a week after deputy Robison served Carrafa with the disorderly conduct charge for the stagecoach incident.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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