Daniel Barnett has been visiting his mother's grave at Evergreen Cemetery since 1978—but after a Mother's Day visit gone wrong this year, he and his wife could be banned from ever returning.
When the couple arrived at the Oracle Road cemetery in the early evening of Sunday, May 13, they discovered his mother's tombstone was covered in dried mud, and her gravesite was unkempt.
"It was still light outside when we started cleaning it up," Sandra Barnett said, "but by the time we were done, yes, it was dark outside."
Just as the two were finishing, they said, a truck with red and blue lights blinking and a spotlight shining on them pulled up. Daniel said the driver yelled that the cemetery was closed, and they had two minutes to get off the property.
At that point, a second truck drove up, also with flashing lights and a spotlight. Sandra said that when she asked the drivers to stop shining the lights on them, one of the drivers told them to stay away from the truck, because he had a gun.
"Sure, I probably didn't react well when they said, 'We're going to call the police.' I told them, 'I guess you're going to have to do that,'" Barnett said.
The couple loaded their car with the buckets and rags they had used to clean the headstone, then said goodbye to Daniel's mom one last time before getting into the car. As they were about to head out of the cemetery's south entrance onto Miracle Mile, they saw a police car with its lights flashing behind them.
According to the Barnetts, the police officer asked the cemetery's security crew if charges should be filed. When one of the security staff members said yes, the officer cited the Barnetts for disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, and let them go.
On Thursday, May 24, the Barnetts were arraigned before a Tucson City Court judge, who told them that the charges could result in a $265 fine for each charge; more than 20 hours of community service; and banishment from Evergreen—despite the fact that Daniel's mother has been buried there for more than 30 years, and his father was buried beside her in 2006.
The Barnetts pleaded not guilty. On Monday, June 25, and Tuesday, June 26, they are scheduled to go separately before a judge for pretrial conferences.
Daniel said the thought of having these new charges on his record is more than a headache. Daniel is a convicted felon, and the charges could derail his plan to restore his civil rights, a process he wants to start this fall with the help of UA Rogers College of Law professor Andy Silverman.
Daniel, a former crack addict, was released from his second stint in prison in 2009 after serving one year on five different charges, including drug-possession.
Silverman runs the Civil Rights Restoration Clinic, which works with area attorneys to help former convicts regain their civil rights if they've been convicted of two or more felony charges.
According to state law, in order for Daniel to have his rights restored—which would allow him to vote, serve on a jury, run for public office and increase his chances at better employment—he has to apply to the Pima County sentencing court to have the judgment vacated. He's worried that the charges from Evergreen will ruin his chances.
Daniel said the restoration process required he receive a "certificate of absolute discharge" from the Arizona Department of Corrections. To get that, Daniel had to show that he had completed his probation and, using letters of reference, provide evidence that he's turned his life around.
Daniel said he remains sober and has been married for the past two years. "It means a lot to have my rights restored," Daniel said. "Especially to a prospective employer. It means I've gone out of my way to be part of society—that my life really is different."
When the police officer wrote up the citations on Mother's Day, Daniel said he told the officer it was ironic, because during the years he smoked crack, he spent many nights doing drugs among the cemetery's headstones and trees. He never got caught.
According to the police report, one of the two security guards who called the police said he was sympathetic to the Barnetts, but that Daniel talked back and said "that he didn't need to leave because the cemetery never closed."
Sandra said the report doesn't reflect what actually happened. She said that when they were asked to leave, they began gathering their things.
When the police car appeared behind them, "Of course, we pulled over immediately before heading into the street," Sandra said. "We didn't feel we had done anything wrong. It also seems like it could have been different if they just looked at the headstone we were at and realized we were telling the truth."
The officer who stopped them showed them a sign that said the cemetery opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. But Sandra said the sign is confusing, because the hours are posted with a "laundry list" of other cemetery rules.
William Addison, the president of Evergreen, said the sign near the east entrance previously did not have the hours listed. However, since the Mother's Day citation, Addison said new signs have been posted showing when the cemetery opens and closes. Because of that issue, Addison said the charges against the Barnetts most likely "won't stick." Still, he defended the security guards' actions.
"I understand Mr. Barnett has problems, but we can't make a decision on trespassing charges case by case. Ninety-nine times out of 100, most people on the grounds after hours are there to do vandalism," Addison said.
The security guards, Ramon Moreno Jr. and Ramon Moreno Sr., listed the same phone number and address as contact information on the police report. When the Weekly called, a person who identified himself as Ramon Moreno Sr. said he wasn't allowed to comment and to call Addison.
Daniel said he can only hope the charges are dropped.
"I've worked hard to make a new life," he said. "But I also can't imagine never being able to go back to visit my mother."