An on-duty Native American tribal police officer was responsible for a fatal hit-and-run on Thanksgiving Day — and later notified the victim’s family, according to a local sheriff’s office in Arizona.
Josh Anderson, 45, stands accused of crimes including assault, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault causing serious physical injury, criminal negligence, reckless driving, interference with an officer, death caused by a vehicle, and leaving the scene of a fatality collision, the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.
Said to be well-known among the residents of the Fort Apache Reservation, he was employed by the White Mountain Apache Police Department for some 20 years until his resignation.
During the early morning hours on Nov. 23, the police department received a report about a woman struck by a vehicle on State Route 73, roughly 2.5 miles south of Hon-Dah Casino. There, Iris Billy, 30, was found dead.
“We were expecting her home that morning,” Billy’s sister, Phylene Burnette, said in comments to independent and CBS-affiliated Phoenix TV station KTVK.
Burnette noted her sister left behind two boys, 9 and 10.
“They still need her,” she said. “She was the sole parent, she was everything to them. To know it was someone in our local police department, emotions are all over the place. It’s sadness and anger, like why? He needs to stay in jail.”
Billy had been killed by a passing vehicle that fled the scene of the crime, the sheriff’s office said. One of the officers that responded to the call was Anderson himself.
The officer was arrested late the next day after the investigation determined his patrol vehicle had damage consistent with striking a pedestrian, according to the sheriff’s office.
In a GoFundMe, the victim’s family criticized the investigation.
“We have so many questions although the police report has not been done or released, they do have the suspect in custody,” the fundraiser reads. “The suspect is a police officer from the White Mountain Apache Police Dept Joshua Anderson. He was the one who bumped her came back to the scene to ‘help’, then came to our parent’s house with 3 other officers to give the news that it was her that was the victim. She has left behind 2 boys.”
Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Swanty explained the odd turn of events to KTVK.
“They started to recognize there was a police car that was there (at the scene) that had some damage on it, but again, in rural Arizona, our cars get torn up sometimes because officers go to the forest,” the spokesperson told the TV station. “But as the investigation continued, there was more and more indication saying something just isn’t fitting here. Who would ever think it was the police car involved that’s now back on scene? That is just not normal.”
Anderson resigned from the police department immediately after his arrest.
According to Swanty, a police department supervisor made the connection and finalized his conclusion after going to Anderson’s home to inspect the defendant’s police-issued vehicle personally.
“I can’t imagine that scenario there at all. Next of kin are probably one of the worst assignments to be given, let alone knowing you had something to do with it, I can’t imagine that,” the spokesperson said, KTVK reported. “Had he stopped, rendered aid like the rest of us would be required to do, we wouldn’t be speaking today.”
In the press release, which was shared by Anderson’s former employer, the sheriff’s office said the incident was isolated.
“This is an extremely sad time for the family of the victim, the men and women at the White Mountain Apache Police Department, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe,” the press release reads. “This event is an isolated incident and is not a reflection of the fine police officers that serve and protect the citizens of the White Mountain Apache Reservation every day.”
The investigation has since been turned over to the FBI.
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