Constable Deborah Martinez honored in public funeral a week after being killed during eviction
Pima County constable's h.s. principal commended her life of kindness, selflessness & passion to help
Family and friends of Deborah Martinez paid their final respects to the slain Pima County constable at a public funeral at St. Augustine Cathedral on Thursday, a week after she was shot and killed while serving an eviction.
With the American flag held tightly to her chest, a Pima County sheriff’s deputy led the procession for Martinez. An honor guard of 20 men and women from law enforcement, including the Sheriff’s Department, Tucson Police, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, flanked the stairs leading into the Downtown cathedral, with arms raised in salute over Martinez’s casket.
Behind her, eight men dressed in white short-sleeves shirts and black pants gently escorted Martinez’s body from Carillo’s Mortuary to the neighboring cathedral, where hundreds packed into the nave to celebrate Martinez’s life.
Local government leaders such as Pima County Supervisors Rex Scott and Adelita Grijalva and Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik were in attendance along with Tucson Chief of Police Chad Kasmar and Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.
Deborah Martinez-Garibay, 43, was shot and killed as she went to serve an eviction notice at Lind Commons, an apartment complex on Tucson’s North Side, along with 28-year-old Angela Fox-Heath, who worked as the complex's manager. As they approached his second-floor apartment, a 24-year-old resident ambushed them. He also cut his way through a closet in a shared wall, sources said, breaking into his neighbor’s apartment where he killed 25-year-old Elijah Miranda. The gunman then killed himself, police said.
Pueblo High School, where Martinez graduated in 1996, showed their respect for their fallen alumna. Mariachi Aztlán, a student band from the school, performed religious compositions such as “Ava Maria” and “Hallelujah” in the style of the Mexican genre, and Richard Gastellum, a former principal at the school when Martinez and her siblings attended, was asked by Martinez’s family to speak about her life.
She was 'a force of nature'
Family and friends described Martinez as “selfless, full of energy, driven to succeed and wonderwoman,” Gastellum said, speaking about her life after the Catholic mass.
“Deborah lived her life as a force of nature and full of energy,” he said.“Her passion was to make the world a better place by assisting those less fortunate.”
Gastellum gave examples of her tenacity, such as when she married her husband of 25 years, Gabriel Garibay, at the age of 18 without telling her parents. Martinez is survived by their 22-year-old daughter Ryane.
He also talked about her time training to become a U.S. Army Intelligence officer a short time after joining the military in 2001 and the intimidation of being on a base that was “unfamiliar territory with just smart men,” Gastellum said.
“She questioned her ability,” Gastellum said. “And was tempted to quit,” until she called her sister Michelle, who told her “she was just as smart and able as a man because she was a badass.”
Martinez earned the role of master interrogator after her training along with the rank of staff sergeant. She completed multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan before retiring from a 16-year military career.
She was then committed to helping veterans, Gastellum said. She ran the Tucson chapter of PGA HOPE, which tries to get veterans into golf to positively impact their lives. Martinez even stood up for veterans in public, Gastellum said, telling how she once argued with a volunteer to let a veteran take two donations of shoes instead of one.
Gastellum promised that the city of Tucson and Pima County are upset about her death and want to make the constable position safer.
“There are numerous discussions at Pima County and the city of Tucson. Police will be changing policies and protocols regarding the responsibilities of the constable position,” he said. “When that change happens, Deborah’s sacrifice will not have been in vain.”
Though Gastellum mentioned police changing policies for the constable position, constables work for the county. Law enforcement is conducting a “homicide investigation” into the murder of Martinez and the others who died that day, Gastellum said.
Gov. Doug Ducey ordered that flags be flown at half-staff last Friday, the day after the deadly incident, in honor of Martinez and the other "innocent victims."
'If I could contribute'
Her Army career began at the age of 25 after the September 11 terrorist attacks. She felt it was “wrong for me to sit at home when I knew I could contribute,” Gastellum said.
She made the same comment when talking to TucsonSentinel.com in late March, shortly after being tapped to replace “rebel eviction enforcer” Kristen Randall in Precinct 8, which sits mostly in Midtown Tucson but also in the North Side, where Martinez was killed.
“If I could contribute, it was not OK for me to sit at home and just do nothing,” she said at the time. “It’s the same reason I became a constable.”
Martinez joined the Pima County Constables Office at a turbulent time. Randall cited a “great divide” as the cause of her resignation, which came about five months after the permanent lapse of an eviction moratorium set during the COVID pandemic.
The Constables Office had been juggling an increased workload after the suspension of Constable Oscar Vasquez in the summer 2021 for refusing to carry out an eviction of a mother and her children, despite a court order, and for a pattern of misbehavior.
Later that year, George Camacho, constable for JP 9 on the South Side, faced a review by the Arizona Constables Ethics Standards and Training Board for complaints that he threatened former constable Joe Ferguson at a South Tucson bar. For his part, Camacho filed an order of protection against Ferguson, claiming he had been harassed by him.
Ferguson, a former reporter for the Arizona Daily Star and now a member of TucsonSentinel.com's Board of Directors, was appointed as a constable in January 2020 and faced Camacho during the Democratic primary later that year.
'A special human being'
In her first days as a constable, Martinez called for “unity,” a new constable “methodology” and “some standardized level of professionalism in the office."
However, she fell into hot water herself as she tried to hold on to the position that would later lead to her death. An investigation by Pima County that surfaced in May revealed that Martinez was suspected of criminal fraud, perjury and forgery for lying about her address and handing over petitions with fake signatures.
Martinez had been running for election as the incumbent for the Precinct 8 constable, and she had allegedly intimidated her primary opponents Chris Toth and Sami Hamed out of the race with hastily gotten restraining orders against them for harassment. Both denied there were claims against them by Martinez.
The CESTB, who probed Camacho’s case, voted unanimously in May to launch an investigation into the allegations against Martinez. Their investigation was still ongoing when she died, but it could have disqualified her from running for election to hold her position. Martinez denied the claims against her.
After the Aug. 2 primaries, Martinez was set as the Democratic candidate running to hold her constable seat for the remaining two years of the term that Randall left behind. She was to face Republican Bill Lake, a fellow constable — and relative of Randall — appointed to fill a vacancy last year. Lake’s candidacy comes after his current East Side precinct was combined with a Midtown precinct earlier this year due to the workload of the Constables Office.
Her death on Aug. 25 came on the heels of this controversy and a month after the CESTB had their first hearing on Martinez’s cases. However, even her rival Sami Hamed offered an olive branch in the wake of her shooting, writing the same night on Facebook that “I’m saddened to learn about the tragic death.”
“While our only interaction was not positive and involved a courtroom, my heart aches for her and her family, especially her daughter,” Hamed wrote. “No constable should be put in danger while serving the public as an officer of the court and elected official. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this sad time. May she Rest In Peace.”
Martinez took her devotion to being kind and charitable into her role as constable, Gastellum said. “As a peace officer, she wanted to approach people with empathy and humanity, characteristics learned from a lifetime of giving,” he said.
Martinez “wanted to treat people as equal,” Gastellum said, she “understood the awesome responsibility of carrying out her duties” as constable.
“When the opportunity arose to continue her life of service to the community as a constable, she saw the need, she had the desire and skills to succeed,” Gastellum said. “It takes a special human being to help others face life’s challenges… and her big brown eyes and beaming smile and positive attitude made her requests for help more palpable.”
TucsonSentinel.com’s Paul Ingram contributed to this report.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.