The legal defender for Coconino County has been put on paid administrative leave following accusations of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct against victims in an unrelated domestic violence case handled by Victim Witness Services.
The incident involving Gary Pearlmutter took place on Tuesday, Dec. 4 and stemmed from a parking dispute in front of a building at 201 E. Birch Ave. that houses both Victim Witness Services and the Legal Defender office in downtown Flagstaff.
The victims in the case, a mother and her daughter, were traveling to the Birch Avenue building to participate in an unrelated investigation, the women alleged that Pearlmutter yelled at them and struck the daughter with his car because the women were parked in his designated spot.
The women explained to police that the daughter was not physically hurt in the incident, but that both were disturbed by the interaction. The woman’s mother, who was also traveling to Victim Witness, alleges the incident triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder.
James Jayne, Coconino County manager, said Pearlmutter has been placed on administrative leave until further notice.
“We are taking this matter seriously and are fully cooperating with law enforcement as the legal process unfolds,” Jayne said.
No charges have been filed against Pearlmutter as a result of the incident. Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring’s office has worked against Pearlmutter’s office in multiple cases, and explained that Pearlmutter’s case will be forwarded to an outside agency for review.
Pearlmutter runs the legal defender’s office, which works as an arm of the county court system to help represent defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford the legal costs of representing themselves. He has worked for both the county’s public and legal defender offices for more than 20 years.
In 2016, Pearlmutter and Ring also ran against each other to become the head of the Coconino County’s Attorney Office, with Ring winning the seat. It is not clear at this time what agency will be processing the accusations.
Pearlmutter alleges in a statement delivered to the police, and given to Arizona Daily Sun, that he did not strike the woman with his vehicle.
Camera footage from the location was described in the Flagstaff Police Department report. The officer who viewed the footage explained that Pearlmutter parked his car in a manner that would make the women’s attempt to leave the space difficult.
The Flagstaff Police Department reported that it has concluded its investigation.
How close were they parked?
According to police reports, the mother and daughter were visiting Victim Witness Services, a resource and support system for survivors of crimes in the county, in reference to an unrelated domestic violence incident on the day of the parking dispute.
Because of the ice on the ground, the two allege they were unable to park their Kia Soul in their handicap spot, and parked in Pearlmutter’s spot.
While the women were inside, camera footage detailed in the police report shows Pearlmutter walking outside of the office and into the parking lot while the women are inside.
“He is seen looking at the Kia as he passes it and continues walking until he is out of the camera view. Seconds later, the BMW is seen backing up toward the Kia,” according to the officer describing the footage. “It is impossible for me to tell exact distances, but the BMW stops close to the Kia whereas the Kia would have a difficult time in leaving the parking spot.
“It should be noted there is an open parking spot next to where the Kia is parked,” the officer viewing the footage added. After re-parking his vehicle, he walks back into the building.
Pearlmutter alleges that he parked his BMW five feet away from the Kia, while the women allege it was close enough to make leaving difficult.
More than a half an hour passed until the women exit the Victim Witness office. The mother alleges she then noticed that Pearlmutter’s car was parked close to her vehicle.
The mother said they attempted to maneuver their Kia out of the parking spot, and her daughter exited the vehicle in an attempt to safely direct her mother out of the spot without hitting the BMW. The daughter told police she was standing next to the back right tire of the BMW.
The camera footage described in the report shows that Pearlmutter comes out of the building and appears to be talking to the mother driving the car from a distance, through her open window, though the footage does not have audio.
The mother alleges that Pearlmutter was yelling at the two of them from the front of the building. The mother told officers that Pearlmutter yelled, “What the [expletive] are you doing,” and, “You’re parked illegally.”
Alternatively, Pearlmutter alleges that he only yelled “please stop” to the women at this instance as the Kia was inches from colliding with his car, and said he did not use any swearing throughout the incident.
The mother then said her daughter attempted to diffuse the situation, but Pearlmutter kept yelling.
“Stop,” Pearlmutter alleges he shouted, before he walks toward the parking lot.
“Once in the parking lot, he goes to the driver’s side window of the Kia for a brief second and returns to his vehicle,” explained the officer viewing the camera footage. While the daughter told police that Pearlmutter came within an arm's length of her, Pearlmutter denies that he approached her.
Once inside his car, Pearlmutter starts the BMW, as the daughter is still standing near the back bumper.
“It is difficult to see clearly any body motions on [the daughter] similar to being struck at a slow speed by a bumper … but there is some movement and looks like she puts her hands out toward the vehicle as it stops,” the officer explained from the footage.
The mother alleges she heard her daughter yell, “You hit me with your car," bur Pearlmutter denies that he hit the woman.
After the incident
The perspectives of the dispute differs between the parties at this point. The officer explains that the camera footage shows Pearlmutter get out of his car and walk back into the building, with the daughter following up shortly after.
Pearlmutter alleges that he left the scene after telling the daughter, “I did not hit you.” He alleges he took photos of how the two cars were parked, and then walked back into the Victim Witness building where he saw the daughter already inside.
“I then said in a raised voice that this parking problem is ridiculous and needs to stop,” Pearlmutter said in his statement.
The daughter alleges that after she yelled about her knee, Pearlmutter exited the car and started to yell about what had happened. Unsure of how to act, the daughter alleges she ran inside and hit the buzzer inside of the Victim Witness building in an attempt to get someone to help her.
The daughter alleges that Pearlmutter followed her into the hallway yelling, as she was hysterical and crying.
Once a person from Victim Witness responded to the buzzer, a worker on the scene said to police she let the daughter in. The worker also alleges that Pearlmutter looked at her and said “this keeps happening, people parking in my spot!” The worker alleges that Jen Runge, director of Victim Witness, took Pearlmutter away from the daughter.
Back at the car, after hearing her daughter yell, the mother alleges her post-traumatic distress disorder began to trigger. She says she sat in her car crying, attempting to regain her composure, as “she was now in the middle of a full PTSD episode,” the report explained.
While the daughter said the incident did not report any physical injuries, the daughter believed that Pearlmutter knew she was standing there and intentionally hit her. She expressed her desire to press charges, and initiated the investigation.