Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mesa cop makes obscene gesture at pro-immigrant protesters

Mesa police plan to discipline an officer who admitted making an obscene gesture as he drove past pro-immigrant protesters Wednesday in a marked police vehicle.

Sgt. Mike Doherty, a 20-year veteran, admitted he made obscene gestures "due to his general distaste for protesters," according to Holly Hosac, a Mesa police spokeswoman.

Doherty was in uniform when he passed about 30 members of Immigrants Without Borders, an immigrant advocacy group that has protested in the past against crackdowns on undocumented immigrants by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The group was protesting peacefully at Alma School Road and Main Street. Several group members reported an officer displaying an obscene gesture twice as he drove past them. Information from witnesses led police to identify Doherty.

"While Doherty stated that he did not know what the demonstration was about, he acknowledged his actions were inappropriate and unprofessional," Hosac wrote in a press release.

Police Chief George Gascón said the department is required to respect the Constitutional rights of everyone, saying, "there is no justifiable reason for this type of behavior."

Police said disciplinary action against Doherty is pending but did not elaborate.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Federal Steroid Probe of Phoenix Cops and Firefighters Widens

PHOENIX -- At least a dozen Phoenix civil servants -- police officers and firefighters -- are under investigation in a federal probe for alleged criminal use of anabolic steroids, CBS 5 Investigates has learned.

5 Investigates has learned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began targeting doctors and clinics that have been writing bogus prescriptions for steroids.

The Phoenix police and fire departments have explicit written policies against the use of illegal anabolic steroids on the job.

Still, their departments are in the thick of criminal investigations that began almost two years ago with the Mesa Police Department and has now drawn the attention of the DEA.

"It's very concerning to use that our employees are illegally using these substances," said Kim Humphrey, Phoenix Police Department commander in charge of internal affairs.

Humphrey said they're aware of the possibility that more than a dozen officers may be involved in the federal case.

Police Learn Of Probe 3 Months Ago

Humphrey said they learned of the investigation three months ago after Phoenix police contacted the State Of Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Board Of Medical Examiners when one of their officers who tested positive in a random drug screen produced a prescription that didn't appear to be legitimate.

In the wake of a CBS 5 investigation last year, Phoenix police started randomly screening officers for steroids.

The Phoenix Fire Department just started pre-employment testing for firefighters.

CBS 5's investigations uncovered more than a dozen other firefighters, police and corrections officers across the Valley arrested, charged and convicted of felony steroids possession and distribution.

Those cases have uncovered serious reports of domestic violence, restraining orders and allegations of rage.

Phoenix police are now working with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board in charge of certifying all arizona police officers to draft a statewide policy on illegal steroids.

Stay tuned to CBS 5 and for more exclusive details as the investigation unfolds in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Elderly couple in turmoil since botched police raid

Nearly six months have passed since a Gilbert SWAT team raided the house of an elderly Phoenix couple and started a fire that destroyed the family's home and killed their dog.

Salvador Celaya, 73, and Carlota Celaya, 69, said everything they spent their life working for was destroyed in the Dec. 20 fire.

The couple said they live in constant fear of police since the raid and wonder if they will ever own a home again.

Gilbert and Scottsdale police obtained a search warrant for the Celayas' house after an investigation led them to believe they would find suspected carjacker and thief Erasmo Ruiz Villarreal, 23, at the residence. At the onset of the raid, Gilbert police threw a flash-bang diversion device into the Celayas' adult grandson's bedroom window. A flash-bang device is a form of non-lethal hand grenade that is meant to disorient temporarily.

A Phoenix Fire Department investigation revealed that the flash-bang landed on a bed and ignited the fire. The Fire Department's report stated that Gilbert police did not use the device in accordance with the manufacturer's safety precautions, which included checking and clearing the area before deployment.

Gilbert police said that Salvador's decision to arm himself with a gun forced them to implement safety precautions that prevented them from putting the fire out.

Police did not find their suspect or any of the items listed on the search warrant, and Gilbert police have yet to release an internal investigation of their SWAT operation.

The Celayas said they hired Phoenix attorney Daniel Ortega after they had not heard from police about whether they would be reimbursed for their destroyed house and belongings.

Salvador and Carlota said they came to the United States as Mexican immigrants about 45 years ago and raised their family on meager but hard-earned wages as a mechanic and seamstress.

Since retiring, they have lived on Social Security and could not afford to insure their house.

"I guess we felt safe. We'd lived there 40 years. We never thought anything like this could happen to us," Carlota said in Spanish.

Salvador said that in Mexico where he grew up, he could understand police doing something like this, but he never imagined American police would use such force raiding a citizen's house.

The actions of the police during the raid, Carlota said, have caused vivid nightmares and depression for the couple and their daughter Sonia, who lives with her parents as their caretaker.

Crying, Carlota recalled police handcuffing them and sitting them in a parking lot behind their house until about 2 a.m. Carlota said police never told them they had a right to an attorney and asked them repeatedly about Villarreal.

"I told them over and over I didn't know who they were talking about," she said.

Carlota said they saw a lifetime of memories go up in flames as they watched their house burn. The family and the two dogs that survived the fire are living in a south Phoenix house that their sons had planned to renovate and sell.

"We miss everything from our home - my flowers, my trees, neighbors - everything," Carlota said. "Our whole life was there."

Sonia, also crying, said she feels terrible for her parents, desperately misses her dog and blames herself for not being home early enough the night of the raid to protect her family.

"I don't leave the house at night any more. I will never leave them alone again," said Sonia, who is being treated by a therapist for trauma she said is related to the raid. "I told police my dog was in there. They did nothing. I don't have children. Bino, he was my baby."

Sonia said she worries about the effect the raid has had on her parents' health. Salvador's Alzheimer's disease has worsened, she said. And her mother, she said, who is in remission from breast cancer, cannot sleep and has stomach pains.

Carlota, speaking through tears, said she recalled mistaking police for thieves and running to warn her husband.

"It was already night. I woke him to tell him they were robbing us," she said. "Why didn't they just knock? We would have let them search the whole house. They would have seen that what they were looking for wasn't there. We would still have our home."

Turning to his wife, Salvador said in Spanish that he only grabbed a gun to protect her and their grandson.

"I see on the news every night, murderers and kidnappers," he said. "Why did they do this to us? We never did anything."

Salvador said he knows that from every bad there comes good, and he remains grateful for the kindness of his neighbors.

"Everything we have now, this furniture, they donated to us," he said. "I am afraid we will have to live in a trailer. All this is in the hands of God now."

Carlota said she prays that Gilbert will right its mistake.

"Just reimburse us for our house, for the things we lost," she said.