Monday, October 25, 2010

Ex-Glendale police officer to temporarily lose his badge

Glendale police officer Daniel Arreola

A former Glendale police officer accused of turning in incorrect timesheets and sending offensive messages to other officers will not wear an Arizona police badge for almost two years.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board decided to suspend Daniel Arreola's peace-officer certification until late 2011 in a Wednesday hearing.


Arreola resigned in September 2009 after a Glendale police internal investigation found he had falsely claimed hours on 11 dates when he was actually on vacation, compensatory time or sick leave. The investigation also found the three-year officer sent sexually and racially offensive messages to other officers on a computer in his police cruiser.

The police board, which provides training and oversight to Arizona police, approved a consent agreement to suspend Arreola's certification to serve as an officer in the state. Fellow ex-Glendale officer Adam Fisher voluntarily relinquished his certification last October after a Glendale police probe also accused him of falsifying timesheets and sending offensive messages, among other allegations.


Arreola, who attended the Wednesday hearing, declined to comment. In a letter previously sent to Glendale Police Chief Steve Conrad and the police board, the former officer wrote that some of the timesheet errors cited in the investigation shouldn't be upheld. He said the errors occurred either because he did not complete the form himself or he was confused by the format of the timesheet.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ex-officer barred from police work for 2 years

A former Tempe officer accused of pursuing romantic encounters while on duty has been suspended from serving as an Arizona police officer for at least two years.

The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board on Wednesday voted to suspend the certification of Jared Blanchard, 26.

"He became preoccupied with females on many, many calls," AZPOST presenter Bob Irish said.

Jared's pursuit of romantic relationships clearly led to neglect of duty on at least two occasions. Irish said.

"There's something about this that makes me incredibly uneasy," said AZPOST board Chairman Joseph Duarte.

Blanchard, a sworn officer since March 2007, resigned in lieu of termination in August 2009.

In one case, Blanchard pulled over a 21-year-old single mother near Tempe Marketplace and cited her for expired registration and no proof of insurance, according to Tempe police reports.

Blanchard got her number from the citation and texted "you are the prettiest girl I've ever pulled over."

Blanchard said he later had sex with the woman. He also admitted to pursuing romantic encounters with at least three others he met while on duty, some of whom were victims of crimes, according to an internal investigation conducted by the Tempe Police Department.

Asked this week about the Blanchard case, Sgt. Steve Carbajal, a Tempe police spokesman, said, "Obviously, we take these incidents very seriously. It's totally inappropriate and unacceptable to meet women on duty or men on duty and cultivate relationships on duty."

Blanchard was placed on desk duty in February 2009 after his neighbor called Mesa police to report that Blanchard, while off duty, had grabbed her breast while in her apartment in May 2008. Blanchard insisted it happened while the two were playfully touching.

The neighbor said she smoked marijuana and had drugs in her apartment when Blanchard was there, though he never used any. Officers are obligated to act when a crime is taking place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nowakowski, Johnson say call to officer was not inappropriate

Vice Mayor Michael Nowakowski and Councilman Michael Johnson say allegations that they tried to influence a witness in the case involving Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman are false. Chrisman is being charged with second-degree murder.

On the website for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, items posted suggest that Nowakowski and Councilman Michael Johnson inappropriately contacted Officer Sergio Virgillo shortly after Virgillo worked a domestic-violence call with Chrisman.

Chrisman fatally shot 29-year-old Danny Frank Rodriquez earlier this month, and, according to court records, Virgillo told investigators Chrisman needlessly killed an unarmed man who posed no threat.

On Thursday at his arraignment in Maricopa County Superior Court, Chrisman pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder and other charges.

According to a string of e-mails posted on the police union’s website, Virgillo felt uncomfortable with the calls from the elected officials.

“During this conversation, the councilmen stated things like …‘You are not going to second guess yourself…Right?; and ‘You did the right out out there … Right?,’” according to the e-mails PLEA has posted.

PLEA has suggested the call could have violated the Phoenix City Charter and that politicians are “possibly trying to exert influence over a criminal investigation.”

Nowakowski said he and Johnson did call Virgillo but were in no way trying to persuade Virgillo to do anything. Nowakowski said he always contacts people involved in serious police situations to express support for the Police Department and “let them know they’re in my prayers.”

The allegations are PLEA’s attempt to discredit Virgillio as a sound witness in a case against one of the union’s members, Nowakowski said.

It’s a “game to try to have us call Sergio a liar,” Nowakowski said. “They wanted us to say something bad about Sergio.”

PLEA represents Chrisman and helped post the officer’s bail shortly after he was arrested on the murder charge. Virgillio is not a member of PLEA.

“It’s just crazy politics,” Nowakowski said. “Mark (Spencer) is doing what he can to protect his PLEA guy.”

Johnson said he was commending Virgillo for "stepping forward" and "telling his side of the story."

"It's good for an officer who sees something wrong to step forward and tell the truth," Johnson said.

Johnson would not comment on the e-mails which he called "third party e-mails written between a sergeant and a lieutenant based on an alleged conversation with Sergio and written to discredit him (Sergio)."

--Lynh Bui,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Phoenix police officer arrested in domestic-violence case after choking girlfriend

Phoenix police officer Sutton Wohlman

A Phoenix police officer has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault after a witness told authorities the officer choked his live-in girlfriend, according to a news release issued Monday by the Phoenix Police Department.

Sutton Wohlman, 29, was booked early Monday morning at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office jail.

Wohlman likely will face two felony charges of resisting arrest from an officer and aggravated assault.

At 11:45 p.m. Sunday, Phoenix police responded to a domestic violence call after a female witness reported intervening in the assault involving Wohlman and his girlfriend at their home. Wohlman's girlfriend suffered minor injuries.

The first officer who arrived tried to detain Wohlman by placing him in handcuffs, but Wohlman resisted, according to Phoenix police.

One of the officers arresting Wohlman suffered minor injuries in the scuffle, said Sgt. Trent Crump, a spokesman for Phoenix police.

Wohlman was taken into custody after being treated at a local hospital for an injury to his forehead during the struggle with officers, according to Phoenix police.

Wohlman and his girlfriend had been living together for four months, Crump said. Authorities believe the couple came home from a night of drinking before the assault took place, and Wohlman is believed to have been under the influence during the assault.

He is being placed on paid administrative leave while investigations continue.

Wohlman is an officer for the Squaw Peak Precinct and has been with the Phoenix Police Department for three years.

"We employ people, and these kinds of things occur," Crump said.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Phoenix man fatally shot by police officer

A man was fatally shot by Phoenix police when he pointed a gun at officers during a Sunday morning foot pursuit, police said.

The shooting occurred about 3 a.m. Sunday near an empty parking lot by 67th Avenue and McDowell Road, said Sgt. Steve Martos, of the Phoenix Police Department.

Patrol officers initially tried to stop two suspects in a 2001 GMC Denali after observing suspicious behavior and a minor traffic violation.

The vehicle fled, but was sighted shortly after by other officers on patrol who also attempted to make the vehicle stop.

The car fled and collided with a median near 67th Avenue and McDowell Road.

Two suspects fled the scene on foot into a vacant lot, where Martos said two officers were able to detain the passenger of the GMC Denali.

A third patrol officer and an off-duty uniformed police officer, who heard of the pursuit on a radio, chased the driver of the vehicle on foot.

Martos said the driver disobeyed orders to stop and instead grabbed a handgun from his waist.

"He retrieved a handgun and pointed it at the officers who fired their weapons," Martos said.

The driver, who has not been identified, was declared dead at the scene. The other suspect was taken to a local hospital with a minor injury received from the collision.

No officers injured.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Phoenix police officer indicted in fatal shooting

A Maricopa County grand jury has indicted a Phoenix police officer on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting of an unarmed man in south Phoenix on Oct. 5.

Officer Richard Chrisman was also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and cruelty to animals.

Interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris announced the indictment at a news conference Thursday.

"I sincerely believe in these good men and women, and I believe that their example epitomizes all that is good about public safety in our communities today," Romley said. "But we as citizens put our trust and our lives in their hands, and when one abuses and violates that trust, we must hold them accountable to the community for that breach."

When asked why it took more than a week to obtain the murder charges, Harris said, "We make decisions based on the facts of the investigation, not rumors, not people being upset. We base them on facts."

Harris said he understood outrage in the community over the shooting of Frank Rodriguez, 29.

"I think the community should be angry," Harris said. "They should be upset. If it were my neighbor, I would be angry as well."

Later in the day, Elvira Fernandez, Rodriguez's mother, said at a separate news conference at her lawyer's office that when she heard about the new charges against Chrisman, "I thought, finally, thank God somebody heard us."

Fernandez said her son "didn't even know I called 911. I was emotional. I thought the police would have a talk with him. I told them, 'Don't hurt my son, just talk to him.' "

She said she heard "banging on the door when they broke it down and I heard my son screaming."

Harris said that he would meet with Chrisman next week to initiate termination procedures against the officer.

Harris and Romley also released information about Chrisman that placed him on the "Brady" list, named for a court case regarding police officers who had committed acts that called their judgment into question.

In 2005, Chrisman was one of four police officers caught on surveillance video planting a drug pipe on a mentally challenged homeless woman as a joke. In the video, Chrisman can be seen placing something in the hand of a police officer who then pretends to take it out of the woman's dress. The woman was not charged with drug offenses.

Chrisman was disciplined and suspended for one day. His name remained on the Brady list.

Craig Mehrens, Chrisman's attorney, said the videotaped incident "has nothing to do with (Chrisman's) use of force. Rick is selectively releasing things to bolster his case."

Shortly after noon on Oct. 5, Chrisman, 36, and Officer Sergio Virgillo went to the south Phoenix trailer home of Rodriguez's mother. Fernandez had called 911 because she had been arguing with Rodriguez and she was afraid he would assault her.

Rodriguez asked to see a warrant when the officers entered the home, and Chrisman reportedly put his gun to Rodriguez's head and told him he didn't need a warrant, according to court documents. The documents went on to say that both officers fired their stun guns against Rodriguez. Then Chrisman sprayed him with pepper spray and shot a young dog barking in the living room.

Virgillo told investigators the dog was not threatening them and he saw no reason why Chrisman would shoot it. The suspect asked why Chrisman had shot his dog, and Virgillo said he tried to calm Rodriguez down and talk him into coming outside.

Rodriguez told the officers he was leaving with his bicycle, but Virgillo moved to block the door and Chrisman began struggling with Rodriguez over the handlebars.

Chrisman then reportedly pulled out his handgun and shot Rodriguez more than once. Rodriguez died at the scene.

Chrisman was arrested about five hours after the shooting and was freed on bail. He was not rearrested after the indictment.

Mehrens, who successfully defended a Chandler police officer who shot a woman to death at a pharmacy drive-up window in 2002, claims that the Rodriguez shooting was justified.

Mehrens sent a letter to Deputy County Attorney Juan Martinez, who will handle the Chrisman case, asking him to consider the opinion of an expert on police officer use of force.

"Nobody called for my expert's opinion," Mehrens told The Arizona Republic. "You mean the prosecutor is not supposed to look at both sides? I'd have a great case with a fair prosecutor."

Attorneys for Rodriguez's parents attended Thursday morning's news conference. Michael Manning, who represents Rodriguez's father, said he and the father were pleased by Chrisman's indictment, calling the inquiry into the shooting "a brave and courageous investigation."

Hispanic community activist Lydia Guzman said, "I'm pleased to see that the police department has been transparent in every stage of the investigation. I appreciate the police officer who came forward and I worry about any retaliation he may suffer."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mesa police video shows violent arrest, suspect files claim

MESA, AZ - A man who was reportedly Tased, kicked and punched on the ground by Mesa police officers has filed a notice of claim against the Mesa Police Department, saying the officers knowingly and intentionally breached their duties and exceeded their authority, and that he was taken into custody in a negligent manner.
A video of the chase and arrest shot by a Mesa police helicopter shows Aaron Belander raising his arms in the air. A voice from the chopper says, “He’s got his hands up, he’s got his hands up. I don’t see anything in his hands.”

“We’ve got a man who appears to have stopped running, doesn’t seem to be making any types of aggressive movements towards anyone, and he’s Tased in the back,” said Belander’s attorney, Matt Schwartzstein. “The moment he falls down, he’s kicked in the head.”

Police reports from the officers involved that night last November paint a very different picture. The officers said they were conducting the high-risk traffic stop of a violent convicted felon who did not comply with commands to show his hands. The reports say police were tipped off that Belander had a gun.

“The officers did note in their reports that he had a history of violence in his past,” said Schwartzstein. “I did not see any crimes of violence that he was convicted of as of November 6th, 2009.”

According to police reports, Belander drove away in his truck during that traffic stop, initiating a chase that ended at Highland High School, where Belander got out of the truck and started running. Police reports say Belander threw a gun on the ground during the chase.

The video shows officers catching up to Belander, who stops running and raises his hands in the air. A voice apparently from the helicopter communicating to officers on the ground, advises them that Belander has his arms up and does not appear to have anything in his hands.

Officers wrote in their reports that they believed Belander was reaching for his midsection, where he may have had a gun, and that he did not comply with verbal commands to get on the ground. Several officers also stated that Belander resisted arrest, fighting, kicking and grabbing an officer’s arm as they tried to take him into custody.

“He had his hands up and he wasn't moving-- that changed from the moment they Tased him in the back,” said Schwartzstein. “They kicked him in the head, and then they kicked him again in the side and in the arm and it went on from there. It's hard to say at what point a person is resisting arrest or just protecting themselves.”

One officer said he tried to kick Belander in the shoulder to subdue him, but ended up kicking him in the face because he was flailing around.

“For all I know, he was convulsing after being kicked in the head,” said Schwartzstein.

Belander’s attorneys say the video shows six officers Tasing Belander multiple times and delivering dozens of blows to the suspect after he surrendered and was on the ground and did not make any threatening movements.

A medical exam at the jail concluded Belander suffered cuts, scrapes and broken bones. Belander’s notice of claim says he may have also suffered memory loss and posttraumatic stress.

Belander is behind bars. His attorneys filed a notice of claim for $350,000.

None of the officers involved have been placed on leave.

It is the Mesa Police Department’s policy not to comment on ongoing internal investigations.,-suspect-files-claim

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

15 arrested during raid of Phoenix meat-packing business

Fifteen people were arrested after Maricopa County sheriff's deputies served a search warrant at a Phoenix meat-packing business with employees suspected of using stolen identities on Tuesday.

Between 30 and 40 employees at Prime Cut Meat & Seafood Company were detained by the deputies as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office looked for 15 to 20 people suspected of identity theft. The Sheriff's Office had been investigating the case for several months, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.

"We're going to continue business raids because you have to understand we have an unemployment problem," Arpaio said. "We took off 15 people with felonies off the street."

At least five of the people arrested had fake dates of birth and Social Security numbers. One of those arrested, a woman, was using the identification of a 90-year-old woman, Arpaio said.

"This is a serious problem, and I'm the bad guy," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. "People forget (the people we arrested) have false identification, and that's a serious problem."

As the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office drove away from the business, the co-workers of the arrested people waved, cried and one of them shouted in Spanish, "This is an injustice!"

"They destroy families, separate them," said Erasto Martinez, 47, an employee.

Chad Poppen, the owner of Prime Cut Meat & Seafood Company said he was upset at how the system worked.

"I lost one-third of my working staff," said Poppen, who said he runs his employees' information through E-Verify. The system is "forcing you to hire based on the color of their skin."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Radio host leads Phoenix police protests

Protestors planned to gather Monday outside Phoenix Police headquarters for the fifth straight day to continue to draw attention to last week's officer-involved shooting of an unarmed man.

The protest set to begin this afternoon at 620 West Washington Street will include a re-enactment of the incident, with community activists portraying two Phoenix police officers and a 29-year-old domestic violence suspect fatally shot inside his mother's trailer home on Oct. 5.

Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman shot and killed suspect Danny Frank Rodriquez during a scuffle in the trailer home near Central Avenue and Baseline Road.

A fellow officer told investigators Chrisman held a gun to Rodriquez's head and that the suspect never posed a serious threat of violence to the officers, according to court records.

Organizer Carlos Galindo, (left) a Spanish-language talk show host, said protests would continue until Chrisman is charged with murder.

Chrisman was arrested last week and charged with aggravated assault, though Maricopa County prosecutors could possibly re-arrest the officer on murder charges, officials said.

On Monday, protestors also planned to line the sidewalk near police headquarters with memorial lanterns to mark Rodriquez's death. Galindo said one activist would use a toy gun and mask made out of a jail booking photo of Chrisman to portray the officer. Galindo added that he has worked with Phoenix police to make them aware of the protest schedule.

Protests last week drew as many as 60-80 people, many who heard Galindo's calls to the public.

Galindo, who hosts a Hispanic Christian radio-show, helped the family of murder victim Juan Varela protest at the state Capitol in May. Police said Varela was killed by a White neighbor who shouted racial slurs during the shooting.

The case was not initally labelled as a hate-crime, though prosecutors later added it as an aggravating factor, which could lead to enhanced sentencing if shooting suspect Gary Kelley is convicted.

Arizona city police to get wearable video cameras

LAKE HAVASU CITY - Lake Havasu City police will soon be equipped with head-mounted video cameras that record their contacts with suspects and citizens.

The city is buying a system from Scottsdale-based Taser International that captures video and audio for later use in court or in other cases where the officer's actions might be in question.

The AXON system has been tested across Mohave County in recent months. Lake Havasu will be the first city in the state to deploy the units operationally.

It is buying seven units, and 90 percent of their cost is being paid for with a U.S. Justice Department grant.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Phoenix police shooting protests continue

Protests against a police shooting of an unarmed Latino man will continue through the weekend, organizers said.

Protests will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday outside Phoenix police headquarters at 620 W. Washington St., according to coordinator and radio host Carlos Galindo.

In addition, on Monday evening there are plans to light luminarias all along the area in front of the headquarters, he said.

A first protest Thursday night following a memorial for Rodriguez drew approximately 30 people.

Galindo said he expected larger crowds through the weekend, and accused the Valley's Latino leaders of engaging in "pick-and-choose activism."

"Why aren't the usual Latino activists out there? You know if this was in Los Angeles there would be burning cars," Galindo said. "But in Arizona it's apathetic Latinos and failed leadership."

Phoenix police Officers Richard Chrisman and Sergio Virgillo responded to a domestic-violence call Tuesday, which resulted in the death of Rodriquez and a family dog.

Rodriquez's mother had placed the 911 call.

According to court records documenting an interview with Virgillo, Rodriquez was unarmed but there was a struggle. During the struggle, he said, Chrisman shot the dog; Rodriquez was shot later.

Rodriquez died at the scene.

Chrisman was arrested and faces felony charges, but his representatives, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, issued a statement in support of his actions.

Galindo said the protests represent the Latino community's desire to see Chief Jack Harris and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley have Chrisman rearrested and charged with murder.

"We're not going to put up with the injustices and the abuse on behalf of the police," Galindo told The Republic on Friday.

Galindo said the protests would continue past Monday if necessary.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Protesters demand justice in officer shooting

About 60 people gathered with signs and megaphones outside the Phoenix police headquarters Friday night to protest an officer involved shooting that left an unarmed domestic-violence suspect dead.

The protest was a follow-up to a memorial for Danny Frank Rodriquez outside the headquarters Thursday night, with approximately 30 people in attendance, according to coordinator and radio host Carlos Galindo.

Phoenix police officers Richard Chrisman and Sergio Virgillo responded to a domestic-violence call Tuesday, which resulted in the death of Rodriquez and a family dog.

Rodriquez's mother had placed the 911 call.

According to court records documenting an interview with Virgillo, Rodriquez was unarmed but there was a struggle. During the struggle, he said, Chrisman shot the dog; Rodriquez was shot later.

Rodriquez died at the scene.

Chrisman was arrested and faces felony charges, but his representatives, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, issued a statement in support of his actions.

Galindo said the protest represents the Latino community's desire to see Chief Jack Harris and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley have Chrisman rearrested and charged with murder.

"We're not going to put up with the injustices and the abuse on behalf of the police," Galindo said.

Adults, children and a man dressed as Uncle Sam carried signs as they circled in front of the headquarters chanting, "no justice, no peace, no Phoenix police." One sign read, "We demand justice and respect for the Latino community," while another read, "Welcome to Phoenix, the capitol of racism."

A pit-bull and Labrador mix was among the crowd, wearing a T-shirt with inked bullet holes and the words, "Would you kill me too?"

Mesa resident Susanna Astarte said she joined the protest when she heard about the dog, saying her greyhound was shot by a police officer years earlier.

"I was so distraught that someone would shoot my dog," she said. "[Police] need to be retrained so that the first thing to do is talk first, Taser second, and shoot last."

Several speakers took over the megaphone and spoke to the crowd in Spanish, but Galindo and Manuel Martinez gave speeches in both English and Spanish. A memorial for Rodriquez with candles, photos and a cross, sat in the middle of the group.

Galindo recounted the events leading up to Rodriquez's death. The crowd burst into applause when Galindo shouted, "We demand justice. We demand a re-arrest!"

Martinez asked the crowd to support of the other officer, who he said could be considered "a snitch."

"Not all officers are bad," he said. "There are many good officers of all races. We need to support this officer."

Galindos said the protests would continue throughout the weekend.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mesa police shoot, kill man officers said was suicidal

For the second time in a week, Mesa police said a suicidal man was shot and killed by officers during a confrontation.

The officer-involved shooting occurred late Wednesday night, Mesa Police said, in the 700 block of West Farmdale Avenue.

Police said officers were alerted to the scene at around 8:00 p.m. Negotiators were on scene when the suspect exited the house through the garage for the first time.

Police said the suspect had a gun but did not raise the weapon at officers. Police then fired rubber bullets and a percussion grenade at the man as way to force him to surrender. The suspect instead went back in the house.

Mesa Police Detective Steve Berry said the man exited a second time, and police responded by firing bean-bag rounds at him. Police said the suspect continued to approach officers and raised his weapon at authorities. One officer responded by firing his weapon at the suspect. Details on how many rounds were fired and where the suspect was hit were not available.

Mesa Police said no officers were injured, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the hospital. Police said they were dispatched to the scene after receiving a suicidal person call.

No further details were available.

On Monday, Cole Ravel, 35, died from injuries he received after Mesa police shot him Sept. 30 at an apartment complex at 1840 W. Emilita Ave. as he reportedly came after the officers with a machete.

Police said at the time of the shooting that Ravel's mother told them he had threatened to commit suicide earlier that day.

As one of the officers entered the apartment, Ravel met him with a "large machete-type" knife, police said.

The officer fell in the doorway and as he attempted to back away, Ravel advanced toward him, police said. By then two other officers had arrived and opened fire, striking him multiple times.

The officers chose not to use their Tasers on Ravel because he was too close to them, police said.