Pipeline contractor accused of making verbal threat

The contractor for Prescott’s 36-inch pipeline allegedly threatened to punch out Yavapai County Public Works Director Richard Straub.

"I thought he was going to swing at me," Straub said. "We all thought he was going to swing."

A city subcontractor on the $8.3 million pipeline project, Copeland Geotechnical Consultants, also alleges the same contractor, Al Johansen, verbally abused one of its employees.

County officials notified the Prescott Police Department about their run-in, on the advice of the county attorney’s office. But county officials decided not to push for criminal charges against Johansen, after Prescott Environmental Services Director Brad Huza urged them not to.

A Prescott police officer interviewed Straub, Johansen and two other county employees about the June 2000 incident but didn’t follow up after the county officials decided they didn’t want to do anything more than document the incident.

Straub and his two employees, Joe Huot and Gary Purviance, all offered the same basic scenario to the police officer. They said Johansen repeatedly cussed at them and told them, "I’ll bash your (expletive) head(s) in if you don’t ... leave me (or my guys) alone."

Johansen told the police officer he did not use profanity toward the county officials, and he never threatened them, except when Huot pointed his finger at Johansen, according to the police report.

The incident occurred when Johansen’s company trucks were accessing the county right of way along Pioneer Parkway so crews could start laying the pipeline in that area. The pipeline runs from Prescott’s wells at Chino Valley south 13 miles to Prescott.

Purviance blocked the trucks at a Pioneer Park gate so county officials could talk to Johansen’s crew about the need for a permit to work on the right of way. Huot and Straub then arrived to talk to the crew, and Johansen arrived shortly thereafter.

Johansen told the officer he didn’t know he needed a permit, and said he lost his temper. Johansen later told The Daily Courier he thought Prescott officials already had the permit.

Johansen’s run-in with Copeland employee Jennifer Fine in March 2000 prompted a letter to Johansen from Copeland, as well as an internal memo from then-Chino Valley Public Works employee Mike Willett, who witnessed the incident.

"In my opinion it was the worst case of verbal abuse I have ever witnessed on a job site," Willett wrote. "Al’s verbal blast was directed personally towards Jennifer. He accused her of whining and was cursing at her and giving her direct orders about when and where he wanted her to test."

Prescott official Jerry Mora witnessed the incident and did nothing, Willett added.

Copeland’s letter to Johansen said several witnesses told him that "you stuck your finger in Ms. Fine’s face; cursed at her; accused her of ‘whining;’ and complained that she caused you to ‘get into trouble with the city.’ You then proceeded to bark orders at her as to where and when to take compaction tests."

Johansen denies ever telling the soils technicians where to take soil compaction tests.

But, more than one Copeland employee has complained that Johansen inappropriately directed them to specific areas for testing, when Copeland was trying to conduct random quality assurance testing for the city.

Willett’s memo noted that construction standards the city operates under specify, "Intemperate or disorderly workmen can be removed at the engineer’s (Huza’s) discretion."

Copeland’s letter also referenced that standard.

"As I read (the) standards, your behavior might warrant that you be banned from the site and not allowed back without approval of the engineer," Copeland wrote to Johansen.

After that incident, Prescott didn’t ask Copeland to perform any compaction tests for about six weeks. During part of that period, construction was "in-between phases," according to Prescott officials.

Then on May 15, 2000, a Prescott inspector’s field report shows that the city verbally asked Copeland to test twice a day. Records show a Copeland technician was on site May 15, 16 and 17.

"Then the city cited budgetary reasons and said they didn’t need us for a while," Copeland Vice President Bryan Carpenter said. Prescott asked Copeland to start testing again on June 7, and the company continued compaction testing until June 16 when it received a letter of dismissal from the city.

Chino Valley officials, who are currently inspecting repairs to the Prescott pipeline’s soil compaction in their community, said they have had no problems with Johansen.

"I haven’t had any trouble with Johansen because the city has denied me access to him," Chino Public Works Director Stu Spaulding said. "This is first time that we’ve inspected contractors where we haven’t been able to talk with the contractor at the request of the City of Prescott."

During the original construction of the three-mile Chino segment of the 13-mile pipeline, Prescott denied Chino’s authority to inspect it officially because the pipeline runs along a Chino Valley Irrigation Ditch easement.

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