Republican and Tea Party leaders have physical altercation

The leaders of Graham County's Republican and Tea Party affiliations reportedly were involved in a physical altercation with each other early Monday afternoon.

SAFFORD – A trip to pick up Donald Trump campaign signs ended with a physical altercation between the leaders of Graham County’s Republican and Tea Party affiliations Monday.

Graham County Republican Party Chairman John Duane Rhodes was transported to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center early Monday afternoon for injuries sustained during a physical altercation with Graham County Tea Party Chairman David Morse. Rhodes was treated at the hospital and released later that night. In addition to a head injury, Rhodes suffered bruising on his ribs and chest, damaging cartilage around his breastbone, as well as a swollen neck from being strangled by Morse, he said. In his statements to police, Morse denied attacking Rhodes and said he merely pushed him down in an attempt to retrieve his cell phone.

“He (Morse) said he never touched me or anything,” Rhodes said. “He’s an absolute liar on every count of it . . . I’ve got gouges in my throat where his fingernails were in my throat.  He just went absolute postal.”

The incident occurred at Rhodes Construction Inc. at 1420 S. 1st Ave. Officers were dispatched to the business at about 1:34 p.m. and located Morse outside in front of an adjacent business. After being interviewed by Safford Police, Morse was given a citation for trespassing and assault and released.

Morse told Gila Valley Central that he was simply trying to help out with the Republican Party’s efforts to elect Trump as president by picking up campaign signs for dispersal when Rhodes acted belligerent toward him. He said Rhodes is Graham County’s contact point for the Trump campaign signs and that Trump’s campaign manager for Arizona instructed him to go to Rhodes’ business to pick up the signs. While there, however, he said Rhodes instigated the altercation by damaging his cell phone and refusing to call authorities.

An officer spoke with Christine Bauserman, the Southern Arizona Regional Field Director for the Trump campaign, who said she was on the phone with Rhodes when she heard him tell someone to leave his property multiple times.

Morse said Rhodes was yelling at him and then broke his cell phone. After which, Morse said he tried to talk to a 9-1-1 operator on the business’ telephone, but Rhodes allegedly grabbed and threw that down as well.

Graham County Dispatch confirmed it received two 9-1-1 calls, the first from Morse followed by one from Rhodes.

“It’s something that should not have gotten bad but it did,” Morse said. “If he hadn’t grabbed my phone and then refused to give it back and then grabbed hold of me when I tried to get it back and threw it on the floor, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”

Morse, who is the owner and operator of Firing Pin Gun & Pawn, allegedly told an officer that he took off his gun and left it in the car prior to entering Rhodes’ business because he knew Rhodes would make a big deal about it. Rhodes told Gila Valley Central that he was sure Morse had his gun on him and put it in the car before the officers arrived. However, Rhodes admitted not seeing the weapon.

According to a Safford Police report, Rhodes asked Morse to leave several times but Morse refused to do so until he got what he came for. Rhodes told an officer that Morse began recording him with his cell phone to provoke him and that Morse had a “(Expletive deleted-eating grin” on his face.

John Duane Rhodes

John Duane Rhodes

Rhodes said he knocked Morse’s phone out of his hands and then Morse grabbed him by the throat, body slammed him to the ground and put his right knee on Rhodes’ chest and his left knee onto his throat. At that time, Rhodes said he was having difficulty breathing and Morse continued the onslaught by punching him and hitting his head against the tile floor. Rhodes said he fought back by biting Morse’s leg and kicking him in his testicles.

“He was bashing my head on the tile at the yard,” Rhodes said. “When I got kind of free, I reached over and I bit him hard on the calf, and he stood up and reached over to stomp on my head with his right foot and that’s when I kicked him in the testicles as hard as I could and knocked him off of me . . . I defended myself the best I could.”

An officer noted that the floor of Rhodes’ office had blood smeared on it as if a scuffle had taken place.

While both the Tea Party and Republican Party in Graham County are backing the Republican nominee for president and support most of the same candidates for local, state and national offices, there has been bad blood between the respective group leaders for some time. However, this is the first reported time their war of words has ever become physical. Rhodes said Morse has harassed him numerous times in the past and recently sent a certified letter out to campaign donors accusing Rhodes of campaign finance impropriety. Rhodes said the accusation came from when the Republican Party gave him $1,000 from its building and maintenance fund to use toward his trip to the Republican National Convention, which paid for about 20 percent of the costs, he said.

Morse maintained his innocence to Gila Valley Central and said the situation simply escalated from the usual bad blood between the two men.

“He (Rhodes) is mad at me for a lot of stuff and I don’t want to go into more detail on that right now because that’s not relevant,” Morse said. “He’s just mad at me. He came out screaming and cussing and it didn’t work out too good.”

Rhodes said Morse took advantage of the situation and attempted to bully him.

“Dave is an opportunist, and he saw I was alone in my yard and that’s when he came in,” Rhodes said. “I asked him to leave multiple times . . .”

Rhodes filed a restraining order against Morse on Tuesday, but officers were not able to locate Morse to serve it.