Las Sendas man’s clash with hiker provokes citation
September 27, 2018
By Jim Walsh
Former Mesa City Councilman Bill Jaffa’s new home sits on the side of a mountain in Las Sendas, looking like a giant white fortress.
But if Jaffa and his wife, Joanne, were searching for peace and tranquility, their plan appears to have backfired.
Bill Jaffa, an accountant who served on the council in the late 1990s, has suddenly emerged as a YouTube star – but not in a complimentary fashion.
The video depicts him as an angry homeowner who confronts hikers on the nearby Hawes Loop Trail, calling police on one woman and accusing her of trespassing.
The YouTube videos went viral, registering at least 70,000 hits.
Jaffa’s confrontation with Elaine Norton wasn’t the first time he has butted heads with hikers.
A Mesa police report states he has called police 10 times since 2016, accusing hikers of trespassing on his property.
The focus of his run-ins is a narrow, rocky trail that is popular with hikers and mountain bikers in Las Sendas.
It snakes past Jaffa’s home before meandering up the mountain. The house appears to have at least two patios to accentuate the view and a large retaining wall.
Videos posted on Facebook and on the sites of news outlets show Jaffa confronting Norton, accusing her of trespassing. Norton refuses to back down and defends herself, saying she is on a public trail and disputing his accounts to a police 911 dispatcher.
His accounts escalate as he tells the dispatcher she is aggressive, that he feels threatened, that it’s an emergency and that he fears Norton might even be armed.
“I’ve got a woman trespassing on our property. We feel threatened,’’ Jaffa tells the 911 dispatcher on the video.
“What does the trail say? What does the trail say?’’ Jaffa shouts at Norton, referring to a green sign marking the trail.
With Jaffa’s smartphone apparently on speaker, Norton tells the dispatcher, “I’m on hiking trail. He jumps over his fence. He physically threatened me.’’
“You’re not threatened,’’ she says in response to Jaffa’s statements. “Oh my God.’’
A Mesa police detective investigated the July confrontation and sided with Norton, writing in a report that there is no evidence that Norton trespassed on Jaffa’s property and warning him to stop confronting hikers.
Police issued Jaffa a misdemeanor citation, accusing him of disorderly conduct and false reporting by allegedly misleading the 911 dispatcher into believing there was an emergency so that he would get a faster response from officers.
“Based on the facts and evidence of this case, I find that the actions of Mr. Jaffa are not justified as he left his own property to confront Elaine who was not on his property or in violation of any statutes,’’ the police report said.
“Based upon what I observed in the video, it was clear that Mr. Jaffa engaged in seriously disruptive behavior with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of Elaine,’’ the report continues.
At one point, the detective returned to Jaffa’s home and explained to him and his wife why he was being cited, showing him maps and photos to demonstrate that Norton violated no laws, the report said.
“During the conservation, I addressed the approach taken on Elaine, saying it was wrong,’’ the detective wrote. “Mr. and Mrs. Jaffa both laughed, and Mrs. Jaffa stated, “We agree with that.’’
Joanne Jaffa “later described Mr. Jaffa, saying he never loses it,” except for the trespassers, the report said.
It wasn’t very amusing to Norton, however. She told police she has anxiety whenever she hikes the trail, wondering if Jaffa is going to confront her again.
She told police that she knew Jaffa was a well-connected ex-councilman and she wondered if she was merely asking for more trouble by filing a complaint, but did so anyway because she felt she was in the right.
Norton told police she was so fearful that she would be arrested by police that “she called her husband, who is in Afghanistan, so that he could arrange for persons to take care of their home, their child and their pets since Elaine believed she was going to jail.’’
Two other hikers contacted Mesa police and told them that they had been confronted on the trail in a similar manner by Jaffa. The detective wrote that those incidents were reported too late and would not be considered for charges.
Jaffa did not return a reporter’s call to his accounting office seeking comment, but he issued statements to at least two Phoenix television stations that covered the story.
“Needless to say, I could have handled the situation with the hiker better. My actions were not the result of this one hiker, but all of the issues I have had to deal with over a period of months/years” related to the house’s construction, Jaffa wrote.
In a statement, city spokesman Kevin Christopher said the city-owned trail was never on Jaffa’s property, but a portion had been moved in July to make it even further away from Jaffa’s land.
He said Mesa is going to erect a fence as a barrier “that will clearly mark the property line for the city as well as the property owned by Jaffa.”
Part of Jaffa’s contention was Norton left the new portion of the trail and used the older, closed portion, arguing that she had stepped on his property before he confronted her.
But the police detective found that Norton violated no laws in leaving the new portion of the trail. While the city would prefer that she stay on the trail, he said she could walk anywhere she likes as long as it’s not on Jaffa’s land.
Jaffa’s behavior stands in contrast with his public career as an accountant, a councilman and a member of several civic and charitable boards listed on his firm’s website.
The Jaffa Simmons website said he served on the boards of such organizations as the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Child Crisis Center.