Police Board Revokes Certification Of DPS Trooper Turned Felon And Initiates Action Against Several Former Officers

Arizona Department of Public Safety badge [Photo courtesy AZDPS]

The Arizona Peace Officer Training and Standards (AZPOST) board considered a wide range of compliance issues during its Jan. 20 meeting, including revoking the certification of a former DPS trooper convicted of two felonies, the voluntary relinquishment or denial of four peace officer certifications, and the initiation of proceedings against several current and former officers.

The board voted to revoke Pedro J. Aguila-Muniz’s peace officer certification after learning the former DPS trooper pleaded guilty last year to two felonies of attempted forgery as part of a negotiated plea agreement. He was sentenced in November 2020 to two years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution to DPS.

Steve Jacobs, AZPOST compliance specialist, advised the board that Aguila-Muniz became the focus of a DPS internal affairs investigation in 2018 that resulted in findings that the trooper accessed a law enforcement database for non-official purposes. Aguila-Muniz also claimed hours he did not work, misused his DPS-assigned fuel card to put gas in his own vehicle, and used his state-owned patrol vehicle for personal purposes.

The internal investigation led to the criminal indictment in July 2019 on 27 counts of forgery, 8 counts of unauthorized access of a confidential law enforcement database, and 1 count of a custodial money violation. The board unanimously revoked Aguila-Muniz’s certification.

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The board also voted Wednesday to initiate proceedings against Courtney L. Hicks and Nathaniel T. Miller, two former officers with the Surprise Police Department who admitted conspiring with each other in 2019 to lie about their extramarital relationship.

According to public records, Hicks’ then-husband contacted a Surprise PD supervisor in November 2019 with concerns that his wife and Miller were having an affair. At the time, the two officers were worked together in the department’s Community Relations unit.

Both were interviewed about the allegation but denied any relationship outside of being co-workers and friends. A few weeks later Miller’s then-wife also contacted department officials with concerns about the officers’ relationship and asked for Hicks or Miller to be transferred to a different unit.

Hicks and Miller were reinterviewed in early December 2019 at which time they both admitted to a romantic relationship but insisted it was conducted while off-duty. Another Surprise PD employee, however, came forth with information which resulted in Miller being interviewed a third time.

AZPOST Compliance Specialist Arlene Heckel informed the board Miller admitted during the third interview that he had engaged in sexual conduct with Hicks while on-duty. Miller also admitted to being dishonest in his two earlier interviews and to colluding with Hicks in their prior denials.

Records show Hicks and Miller were hired in 2008 and both resigned in May 2020. Their peace officer certifications are currently inactive, but the board could vote at a future meeting to suspend or revoke the certifications.

The board also voted to initiate proceedings against former Phoenix sergeant Leo R. Buffa following a presentation by Compliance Specialist Mike Deltenre.

Buffa was employed by Phoenix PD in May 2016 when he learned his wife had had an affair eight years earlier. While off-duty, Buffa went to the residence of the man, identified as P.E., with whom Buffa’s wife had been involved and “created a ruse” to lure the man outside, according to Deltenre.

“Sergeant Buffa then knocked P.E. to the ground and punched him in the head and face,” Deltenre told the board. The victim, who did not know Buffa, later identified the sergeant through an internet search and notified Phoenix PD.

In July 2016, Buffa was placed on medical leave and never returned to active duty. He was convicted in 2017 of misdemeanor assault but his medical leave status kept him from being interviewed by the professional standards bureau, Deltenre said.

City of Phoenix records show Buffa was approved in early 2020 for a “catastrophic disability” retirement stemming from a 2012 on-duty injury.

“Had Sergeant Buffa remained employed he would have been referred to the police chief or the discipline review board for a 24 or 40 hour suspension without pay and possible demotion,” Deltenre told the board, which voted unanimously to initiate proceedings against Buffa’s certification.

The board also voted to initiate proceedings in another Phoenix PD compliance case involving an officer who was pulled over for criminal speeding while driving his personal vehicle at nearly 100 mph in a 65 mph zone on the 101.

According to public records, Officer Tyken J. Solie was pulled over by a DPS trooper in September 2019 while on his way home from work during morning rush hour. He refused to sign the traffic citation and acted unprofessionally toward the trooper, who was dispatched to look for a vehicle reported to 911 by another driver for swerving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed.

Solie was wearing his uniform shirt, pants, and a Phoenix PD hat when pulled over. An investigation revealed he had several prior contacts with fellow law enforcement officers concerning his driving habits.

A six-week unpaid suspension was imposed by the department where Solis still works. AZPOST could impose a suspension or even revocation of Solis’ peace officer certification, or decide to defer to Phoenix PD’s handling of the matter.