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,

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