Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Broke-ass Maricopa County Sheriff's Sergeant Arrested for Theft

PHOENIX - A Maricopa County Sheriff's detention officer has been arrested after he's allegedly caught on surveillance video stealing over $7,000 from a jail safe.

Sgt. Jason Vance, 31, has been arrested for felony theft.

The investigation started after Lower Buckeye Jail supervisors noticed a large sum of money was missing from a safe during a routine cash count.

Detectives examined surveillance video from inside the jail, which showed Vance taking the money from the safe while on-duty. They interviewed him and Vance openly confessed to the crime, MCSO says.

They say that Vance knew he was in the view of the cameras and tried to conceal what he was doing.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio says, "It is a very sad situation to have to arrest one of my own officers but this is a clear act of a crime and he must be held accountable."

Apparently Vance hadn't been working a lot lately and was in bad financial shape. His car was repossessed from the Lower Buckeye Jail parking lot.

"He was on leave without pay for 6 weeks so evidently he needed money to get his car back, but you don't go steal money from a safe to get your car back," says Sheriff Joe.

The safe holds cash brought in by inmates or deposited by their families while they are in custody.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Former Phoenix cop shook down drug dealers, now pleads guilty to theft charge

Phoenix police officer James Wren

A former Phoenix police officer accused of shakin' down drug dealers pled guilty to theft charges in a Maricopa County Superior Court this morning.

Former Officer James Wren pled guilty to solicitation to commit theft, which is a hell of a deal considering the crimes with which he'd initially been charged.

Initially, Wren was charged with theft, money laundering, armed robbery, kidnapping, and use of a wire or electronic communication in drug-related transactions. The penalties for those crimes can be pretty steep (just ask O.J. about kidnapping), so copping only to theft is a pretty sweet deal -- especially when you look at what Wren did.

Wren got busted when the Avondale Police Department contacted the Phoenix PD to say one of its officers, Wren, 23, based out of the Maryvale Precinct (not the South Mountain Precinct -- we were shocked, too), was using traffic stops to steal money from drug dealers.

Avondale police got a tip from an informant who claimed he had conducted two "operations" with Wren where the informant led the officer to the cars of drug dealers after a deal had been made.

Wren, according to the informant, would then pull over the car and steal money.

In one instance, according to court documents acquired by New Times, Wren pulled over a drug dealer, stole his money, and then threw his car keys into the desert before releasing him.

On June 10, about 10 p.m., Wren stopped somebody he thought was a drug dealer who had $40,000 in the car in the 6300 block of West McDowell Road.

The alleged drug dealer was actually an undercover Phoenix police officer.

According to police, over the course of the traffic stop, Wren became suspicious and let the driver go.

Wren then drove to the Estrella Mountain Precinct Station where he was arrested by Phoenix police.

The arrest came after Phoenix cops made video and audio recordings of Wren and the Avondale informant discussing the previous thefts and arranging the one that ultimately led to his arrest.

Wren is on tape asking the informant details about the target of the heist, including whether the subject driving the car would be armed. He has since resigned from the department.

Wren will be sentenced on January 28, by Judge Michael Kemp.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

3 Officers Indicted in Overtime Investigation: Sgt. Drenth, Ofc. Chrisman were involved, Police Chief says

PHOENIX - A jury has indicted three current and one former member of the Phoenix Police Department on felony theft charges -- and had Sgt. Sean Drenth still lived -- he would be indicted too.

According to the indictment, officers in the South Mountain Precinct billed businesses for off-duty work they allegedly did not do.

This is a story we've been following for weeks now.

It involves a troubled apartment complex in south Phoenix. One of the alleged businesses, Cotton Center Townhomes, suffered the largest hit -- involving a security job contracted with the Phoenix Police Department by three homeowners associations to help reduce crime in the area.

The officers allegedly billed the business for off-duty security work that was never performed. All of the officers work or worked at the South Mountain precinct.

Former Officer George Emil Contreras was indicted on four felony counts, including fraud and theft. Current Officers, Steven Peck, Aaron Lentz and Sgt. Benjamin Sywarungsymun were also indicted on theft charges related to off-duty work. Contreras resigned shortly after the investigation started, just two years away from being able to retire with his full pension.

Contreras is alleged to have committed thefts in excess of $9,000, Lentz $2,000, Sywarungsymun $1,800 and Peck $1,700. According to the indictment, total losses are in excess of $16,000.

During a 3:30 p.m. press conference, Public Safety Manager Jack Harris said that an additional 25 officers were investigated. Those officers did not rise to the level of charging by the Attorney General's Office, but will be turned over the Professional Standards Bureau for a misconduct review. The officers' future with the department will be decided once their investigation concludes.

Sgt. Sean Drenth was part of the investigation and would've met the AG's office's criteria for a criminal charge, Public Safety Manager Jack Harris said. He said that if Drenth had not been deceased, he would be facing a felony indictment.

Sgt. Drenth was killed one month ago and no arrests have been made in the case -- his death is being investigated as a homicide but suicide has not been ruled out.

"I don't know if he knew he was facing indictment, but he knew that he was part of the investigation because all of the employees had been interviewed."

Harris also added that Officer Richard Chrisman is one of the 25 officers being investigated for misconduct -- but the AG's office determined his actions did not rise to the level of a crime. Chrisman has been charged with murder in the death of a suspect.

In spite of the announcement, Harris defended his department largely, saying these bad apples do not represent his department as a whole.

"It's criminal in some cases, it's misconduct, but it's not corruption in the traditional sense... so painting the Phoenix Police department as a corrupt agency is not fair," Harris said. "If we were a corrupt organization I wouldn't be telling you what's going on. I wouldn't be standing up here and explaining to you our position on what has occurred."

Since this came to light, there's been a big shake-up at the precinct with a group of officers being reassigned. Harris also said he will be reviewing the off-duty police officer security work program. The involved employees are suspended from performing off-duty work as of now.

Rick Romley Says Police Union's Under Investigation in the Chrisman Murder Case

Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) president Mark Spencer

by Stephen Lemons


Can the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the powerful union that represents Phoenix Police Department officers, successfully derail the case against Officer Richard Chrisman, the Phoenix cop indicted for second-degree murder in the October 5 shooting of an unarmed man?

That's the question I have as interim County Attorney Rick Romley leaves office on November 22, to be replaced with County Attorney-elect Bill Montgomery.

PLEA endorsed Montgomery in his victorious Republican primary challenge to Romley, and PLEA contributed $410 to his campaign coffers, though Montgomery hardly needed the help.

His official sponsor, longtime Romley enemy Sheriff Joe Arpaio, spent more than a half-million dollars on TV ads and mailers bashing Romley. That effort, or at least the cash dropped on the mailers, earned Arpaio a hefty campaign fine of $154,000.

So you could at least argue that Montgomery owes PLEA less than he owes the sheriff, though PLEA's endorsement's worth a lot more that its little donation.

Also, PLEA's reportedly tight with at least one member of Monty's newly announced executive staff. And from day one, PLEA has vigorously defended Chrisman against allegations leveled at him by fellow officer Sergio Virgillo.

Virgillo told investigators that the victim, Daniel Rodriguez, posed no threat to the officers, who were responding to a domestic-violence call placed by Rod­riguez's mother.

According to Virgillo, Chrisman, challenged by Rodriguez as to why the cops were in his mom's residence, put a gun to Rodriguez's head, telling him, "I don't need no warrant, motherfucker."

Why would a cop make this stuff up about another cop, thus instantly earning him the enmity of fellow law enforcement officers? If the confrontation went down the way Virgillo said and if he'd kept his mouth shut and backed Chrisman's tale, the whole incident probably would've been forgotten after the initial reports on it.

But PLEA's having none of Virgillo's account. The union ponied up the dough for Chrisman's bail and apparently began planting stories with friendly reporters at CBS 5 and elsewhere (according to my sources), aimed at smearing Virgillo, who's not a PLEA member.

That campaign caught the eye of Romley, who has told me that PLEA and other Phoenix police officers are now under investigation by his office and the Phoenix Police Department for possible witness tampering and obstruction of justice. In addition, Romley said an FBI agent's assigned to the matter.

"I think there's a concerted effort by PLEA and some of its members to obstruct the success of this case going forward," Romley told me. "And they need to know that I'm going to play hardball."

Sadly, Romley won't be playing hardball from the County Attorney's Office, but he's never been quiet on the sidelines, and I wouldn't expect him to clam up after November 22. By informing me of an investigation into PLEA, Romley was sending a message.

"This thing doesn't go away just because Rick Romley has to leave," he said.

I called the FBI, where spokesman Manuel Johnson said, "We're aware of the situation." He specified that the FBI knows about the County Attorney's Office and PPD probes.

Johnson would neither confirm nor deny Romley's statement that there was an FBI agent assigned to the matter. He said that in cases in which law enforcement's accused of alleged misconduct under "color of law," it's not uncommon for the FBI to wait until local investigations run their course. He said there was no active FBI investigation, but he left the door open for that to change.

(Note: PLEA President Mark Spencer hadn't returned a call for comment as this column went to press.)

Romley declined to discuss specifics of the investigation. However, I wondered to Assistant Phoenix Police Chief Andy Anderson, how PLEA had gotten internal e-mails among police officers concerning a phone call from Phoenix city councilmen Michael Nowakowski and Mike Johnson to Officer Virgillo concerning Daniel Rodriguez's death.

The e-mails are posted on PLEA's Web site. When I asked Anderson whether his department was investigating how the e-mails got there, he said he couldn't comment. I asked if the PPD was investigating PLEA, and he said that he couldn't make a statement at this time.

Nowakowski and Johnson have said they were calling only to offer support to Virgillo. The e-mails insinuate that Nowakowski and Johnson may have been trying to get Virgillo to stick to his story — which is what PLEA wants us to believe.

Granted, it's a legitimate news item for the media hounds who've reported on it. As was another item concerning Virgillo's wife, Maria, who was busted in 2008 and eventually caught three years' probation for being part of a drug-trafficking organization.

Virgillo, by all accounts, knew nothing of his wife's dealings. But as with the story regarding Nowakowski and Johnson, these twists effectively muddy the pool, no doubt part of PLEA's plan. If there's enough doubt in the mix when Montgomery ascends to the catbird seat, it could give him enough cover to act in Chrisman's favor.

Chrisman's attorney, Craig Mehrens — who wouldn't tell me whether PLEA's paying Chrisman's legal bills — contends that the grand jury was bogus from jump. He said the County Attorney's Office wouldn't allow his expert witness, police psychologist Dr. William Lewinski, to testify.

Mehrens said Lewinski interviewed Chrisman and has concluded that "this was a justifiable use of force," in the attorney's words.

"I wanted to make Dr. Lewinski available to the [county attorney] and the grand jury to tell them Rich Chrisman's version on the facts and, if they were interested, his expert opinion," Mehrens wrote in an e-mail to me.

Yet Mehrens admitted that he didn't offer his client to the grand jury to tell his side, which was the smart thing for Mehrens to do. Particularly if his client's guilty.

Romley scoffed at the suggestion that Lewinski should've gone before the grand jury.

"Mehrens knows better than that," Romley said. "His expert didn't even have any of the police reports or any of the information [on the case]."

And what about Mehrens' contention that he and Public Safety Manager (read: Police Chief) Jack Harris rushed to judgment regarding Chrisman — that the grand jury came too fast?

"That's ridiculous," Romley said. "How many murder investigations do we sit, [where] we have someone who's a potential subject and we do the grand jury right away? Just go back in history. It was a week [after the murder that the Chrisman grand jury] was done."

Romley also hotly contested the suggestion by Phoenix police Officer Eric Rude that the County Attorney dictated the probable-cause statement attached to the Chrisman indictment. Rude's testimony came before a hearing seeking a preliminary injunction against Chrisman's firing by Harris, a request the judge granted.

PLEA member Rude told the court that Chief Harris informed him that the County Attorney dictated what was to appear in the statement, referred to as a "form four." This, even though Phoenix homicide Detective Kenny Porter is listed as the author of the form four.

"I triple-checked it," Romley said. "We even contacted the officer that wrote the form four, and he said, 'Absolutely not.'"

PPD spokesman Tommy Thompson explained to me that in major cases, officers may corroborate facts with the county attorney, but the officers actually write the form fours themselves.

The latest round fired from Mehrens' office is a motion seeking a remand of the Chrisman case to the grand jury. Mehrens contends that the prosecutor assigned to the case, Juan Martinez, and another prosecutor, Ted Duffy, misled the grand jury by presenting the case "almost entirely from the point of view of Officer Sergio Virgillo."

Not long after its filing, the legal paperwork found its way to CBS 5, which then produced a hit piece on Duffy, noting that he'd been sanctioned, given a 30-day suspension, and put on probation by the State Bar of Arizona.

The Channel 5 story quoted defense attorney Daniel Raynak's saying he was surprised "anyone would put Duffy in charge of another murder case."

The TV report also noted that Duffy's "one of two prosecutors handling the Chrisman prosecution."

But the County Attorney's Office said it was Martinez who presented the case to the grand jury, not Duffy.

County Attorney's Office spokesman Bill Fitzgerald got back to me with this statement:

"Ted Duffy didn't have anything to do with the presentment of the Chrisman case. He was the person who was assigned that day to the grand jury to read from a piece of paper the standard admonishments with regard to all cases being heard by grand jurors that day.

"He reads from the piece of paper and takes a seat. The actual presentment of the case was done by Juan Martinez."

Asked about Duffy's involvement or non-involvement in the presentation of the case to the grand jury, Mehrens reacted, well, weirdly.

"You know, I am so tired of this shit," wrote Mehrens in an e-mail to me. "Why [is the County Attorney's Office] lying to you? More importantly, why are you buying into it? I actually know the answer to the former question: They cannot support their actions on the facts, so they spin."

Mehrens later added, "I know your paper supports Romley, having done a huge piece on how wonderful a guy he is. I know your paper supports and has done 'puff pieces' on the Phoenix PD homicide detectives and homicide detectives [who] have left for other employment, so why am I surprised? I shouldn't be."

So, uh, does this make New Times anti-cop or pro-cop? Confusing, eh?

Speaking for myself, I'm neither pro- nor anti-Phoenix PD. And as to Chrisman's guilt or innocence, that's for a jury to decide.

The line that's out there on the pro-Chrisman side is that Virgillo froze (or didn't engage) while Rodriguez and Chrisman struggled, that Rodriguez went for Chrisman's gun, and Chrisman had to kill him.

There were only three men involved in the incident, and one of them's dead.

The second, Virgillo, is a cop with a spotless record who's now loathed by many — if not most — of his brothers and sisters in arms for ratting out a fellow centurion.

The third, Chrisman, is tainted by his name's inclusion on the "Brady list" and the reason it was put there: planting a crack pipe on a mentally ill homeless woman in a sick prank we learned about only after he was indicted for murder two.

Chrisman's past behavior aside, I'd be willing to keep an open mind on whether the shooting was justified. That is, if Mehrens and PLEA weren't so actively sliming anyone who opposes or even questions them, and setting the stage for Montgomery to step in and put the kibosh on a possible trial.

That endgame may be good for Chrisman, Mehrens, and PLEA — which is using the affair to target its bĂȘte noire, Jack Harris. But would it be good for justice? No. Sorry, but now more than ever, we need a trial to sort out the death of Danny Rodriguez.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

N-S-M and P-P-D, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

Remember that photo from January 16th? Some may recall some months back, around January, when anarchists and others called out local immigrant organizations for collaborating with the police. The movement's leadership had decided that they would play with the Phoenix PD as part of their PR game with Sheriff Joe (they are each other's willing foil). They invited the cops into their planning meetings for what was then the most recent in a seemingly unending series of funeral procession-like marches to Arpaio's jails that stretched, like the domesticated anti-war marches of years before, into infinity towards both horizons with no end in sight. It was political pragmatism at its worst, since the PPD actually deports more people than the Sheriff Department does. Still, at the January 16th mobilization, the movement leaders worked closely with the Phoenix PD as it marched against Sheriff Arpaio.

This dance with the devil ended that day for most anarchists and anti-authoritarians with the police attack on the DO@ Bloc, a truly historic convergence of anarchists and revolutionary anti-authoritarian indigenous folks from around the state, which was an expedient conclusion for a movement leadership that was increasingly having to deal with anarchist and anti-authoritarian criticisms about the tameness, boringness and ineffectiveness of the struggle against the increasingly worrisome rise of the racist Right here in Arizona. Likewise the marginalization of many indigenous people within the movement and the hostility of the leadership to arguments that brought white people into situations that opposed white supremacy and controls on movement stood out to many of us as more than just problematic given the reactionary political circumstances.

We later found out as a result of the investigation following the Arpaio Five arrests that the police/movement collaboration had resulted in the compilation of a snatch/watch list which cops used to pick out particular people for arrest that day. Our understanding is that this list was in police possession ahead of time, placing more than a little doubt on the mainstream dialog about the police attack that says that cops were forced to attack by anarchist provocations. I myself was shadowed by cops while in the park and a comrade reported overhearing the officers talking about me. This was before the march.

At the time, the soft activist middle, eventually including almost every out of state radical who parachuted into town for the summer's glorious and oh-so-activist-hip fight over SB1070, refused to listen to anarchist criticisms of the cozy relationship between cops and the movement leaders, defending them without listening to local criticisms from people who had interacted with them for years. When we pointed out the obvious problems with working with cops tasked with deporting the base of the movement, not to mention the PPD's increasingly obvious corrupt and violent nature, we were treated like we had broken some taboo.

Denouncing us as sectarian, out of town activists and movement heavies combined to attempt to impose the most watered-down bourgeois popular front framework on a movement that by then was justifiably itching for radical action, regardless of whether it alienated the political middle (or forced them to choose a side). The time for moral appeals to the white center was clearly and at long last over for many people who itched for a fight back.

Well, here we are almost a year since January 16th and the latest clash with the National Socialist Movement offers us a perfect lesson that will be hard to ignore. Below you will find photos and video showing without a doubt the level of police collaboration with the NSM. For movement leaders to maintain their relationships with this racist organization in the face of this kind of evidence will be difficult indeed, although we've seen the kinds of political gymnastics they're capable of, so don't rule it out!

In this first picture you can see the NSM getting ready for a fight, surrounded by cops. Note how they are turning their flags upside down and wrapping them up to make clubs. You don't see any cops stopping them, do you? How many is that? I count at least five, maybe six, flags turned into weapons in this picture. This is not to say that we anti-fascists didn't come planning on disrupting their march -- we did. It's just worth noting the police complicity with their supposed "free speech" march. Notice also JT Ready on the far left in the glasses with the goatee marching with them. I'll come back to the significance of this a little later.

In this second photo, below, you can see an officer of the PPD (note his badge on his belt) giving an order for the NSM to stop marching. Indeed, at one point a cop was seen directing the NSM formation to tighten up.

Need more proof? Check out this video that clearly shows the cooperation between the Phoenix cops and the NSM throughout the entire march. Note how the police clear the sidewalk, moved the NSM into the street and then direct them forward.

Speaking of that, now consider this next photo! Clearly visible here are Phoenix cops with riot gear and shields standing side by side on the skirmish line with NSM shield-bearers while they blast pepper spray in the face of a protester (who is just out of the picture).

Finally, review this footage from the news. Local videographer Dennis Gilman is interviewed about his experience on Saturday. He shows the reporter some footage of everybody's favorite huggy bear Nazi, JT Ready, being allowed to pass through the police line to antagonize protesters. Later he did it again but was attacked with spit, bottles and firecrackers. Again, the cops did nothing to stop him. It seems like Nazis can come and go through the police line at will.

As Dennis points out in this interview, the cops actually extended the Nazi's permit so they could still hold their rally. This after we had held the NSM and the cops at bay in the street for well over an hour, past its expiration time. Escorting Nazis, giving them orders, letting them pass through their lines, sharing the front line with them, extending their permit -- at what point can we finally say out loud what so many of the victims of the police already know: the police are the violent arm of the state, determined to defend the existing order, whether through their own routine violence (rarely remarked upon in the dominant discourse) or, if need be, through collaboration with fascists. Either way, it's a war machine on the working class, intent on attacking and disrupting our attempts at wresting from them control of our own lives.

So what is a movement to do in the face of this obvious collusion between the white fascist street and the white fascist state? Will movement leaders just ignore it like they did on January 16th and continue to work with the murderous bastards of the PPD? Or can the movement finally understand that the cops are as much the enemy as the NSM is? It's not like this is a different Phoenix Police Department. It's the same force as in January. And it's not like they're acting differently. If you need a refresher, scroll back up to the photo introducing this article.

In fact there's actually more reason to worry about the cops, really, because as of now the Nazis don't have detention camps or deportation powers. But the police do. If someone is deported or delivered into state custody, they pass first directly through the hands of the police. Arguments that cops are just doing their jobs hold little water in terms of a defense -- after all, don't these ridiculous assertions just reinforce all the arguments anarchists make for the elimination of police entirely? But seeing the willing and natural alliance between police and Nazis has got to raise doubts in even their most stalwart defenders, I would think. No, the police are part of the problem.

If the mainstream movement leaders continue their relationships with these Nazi-lovers, then one can only presume that they find some utility in keeping them around. It can't be because it advances the struggle against the State, however, because here we are many years into this failed strategy and thousands upon thousands have been deported or, out of fear from the police more than Nazis, have self-deported themselves.

So, did we see that usefulness to the movement leadership on January 16th? Are the police convenient not because they advance the movement's larger goals of stopping deportations, but instead because they push forward the movement leadership's desire to police the radical, militant wing of the movement? As Grace, arrested that day and then blackmailed into taking a plea agreement, heads to jail next week, I know I'll be pondering that question with great interest.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Joke of the Day: Phoenix Cops banner drop removal FAIL!

Yesterday's wildly successful confrontation with the National Socialist Movement had many highlights and it's hard to pick out just one. Everyone really brought their 'A-game', for sure. The barricades, the rocks raining down on fascists' heads, the smoke bombs, the fact that we held the NSM at a standstill in the street for well over an hour (past the expiration of their original permit) -- there was a lot to celebrate. In the second in our occasional "joke of the day" series, I thought I would share what I thought was one of the day's funnier moments.

I should say, however, that there was some tough competition for today's prize. The RCP showed up at the rally, sporting matching Bob Avakian shirts (or is it John Goodman?) and hawking their pathetic little rag to unsuspecting victims. An audible laugh went out from the crowd when, just as things were really heating up in the street, someone noticed that the RCP was sitting idly by on the sidewalk holding a banner. "Where's 'the leadership we need' when we need it?" the call went out. The RCP, useless and backward, had no answers. Typical. I can't wait to read their imaginative little write up about the action. I'm sure the anarchist bloc will be transformed into steady Maoist cadre and the anarchist and anti-fascist banners and flags will become the RCP's "flag on a flag" and Avakian stencils. Hi-larious, to be sure! So, RCP gets an honorable mention.

But on to the winner. Before the NSM showed up, some enterprising anarchos dropped a fantastic anti-fascist banner off the parking structure across the street from where the boneheads were going to rally. It took a while for the dimwitted cops to notice it up there but when they did, a troop of riot cops was dispatched to remove it. Stomping up the stairwell, they split up into a couple groups and attempted to pull it down.

Hilarity ensued. Congratulations PPD on your well-deserved award! Enjoy:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Police officer's sociopathic personal license plate raises concerns

This can't be emphasized enough, this is a story on the longtime partner of the drug planting, corrupt, and murderous cop Richard Chrisman, who is now facing murder charges. This story is not about an aberration in the behavior of the police, this is the norm.

PHOENIX – A Phoenix police officer is in trouble for his personal license plate.

Police say they saw the license plate when Officer Austin Lewis responded to a crime scene while working off-duty at a nearby QuikTrip and killed a man.

Police say the killing was justified because that suspect had a gun.

The officer-involved shooting took place Oct. 17. Officer Lewis, a 9-year veteran, shot and killed the suspect after police say the man pulled out a gun.

Sgt. Steve Martos, with Phoenix police, says, “That individual failed to obey commands and reached into his waistband where he retrieved a handgun and pointed that handgun at officers.”

The license plate on Lewis’ personal plate read 451 M ALL. In police code, 451 means murder so the plate could be read as “Murder M’All.”

Police would not comment on the officer’s license plate or what it means but say the Professional Standards Bureau is investigating.

Lewis’ frequent partner, Officer Richard Chrisman, was arrested for murder on Oct. 5. He stands accused of murdering an unarmed man in South Phoenix. Both officers work out of the South Mountain precinct.

Lewis did not want to talk to 3TV about his license plate but says they have expired and he has put a different plate on his truck.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Phoenix police chase man who refused to show ID, fled, and died in police custody

(12/3/10) One month later and Phoenix PD have still not released information on an official cause of death.

Phoenix police have identified a man who fled from police on foot collapsed and died after being caught, police said.

Just before 7 p.m. Friday, Phoenix police responded to a call about a fight near 19th Avenue and Bell Road in north Phoenix.

Once there, they asked the three individuals involved for identification, said Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos. Two complied immediately.

The third, Oesha V. Reese, 35, fled the apartment, Martos said. Officers chased after him on foot for about six minutes.

After police took him into custody, the man complained he was having trouble breathing, then collapsed, Martos said. Firefighters performed first aid, and the man was taken to a nearby hospital where he died just after 8 p.m.

Martos said it is not known why the man fled or whether he suffered from any pre-existing medical conditions.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenix internal-affairs detectives investigating South Mountain Precinct

Phoenix police on Thursday confirmed that internal-affairs detectives have been investigating off-duty misconduct within South Mountain Precinct since 2007.

The complex investigation is focused on officers' off-duty security work - such as the assignments guarding nightclubs or working crowd control at parades or football games in which they earn extra money, Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump said.

Crump said the department's Professional Standards Bureau considers the investigation "still pending and still open." He declined to address specifics other than that detectives are looking into the actions of officers assigned to off-duty assignments in south Phoenix, rather than solely focusing on officers stationed at South Mountain Precinct.

Phoenix officers are authorized by the department to work off-duty security in uniform. They are also required to follow department policy.

Cmdr. Chuck Miiller, who oversees the police department's Public Affairs Bureau, said Friday that the recent reassignment of the South Mountain Precinct commander and several lieutenants was unconnected to the ongoing internal-affairs investigation into off-duty misconduct by officers.

Miiller said the reassignment of Cmdr. Jeff Alexander, who was replaced three weeks ago by Cmdr. Chris Crockett, and several lieuterants -- including Lts. Mark Tallman and Chris Moore of the Ahwatukee substation -- were part of a separate decision made by the department's chiefs to restructure leadership in the precinct.

Tallman and Moore will be replaced by Lt. Matt Giordano, also of Public Affairs Bureau, and Lt. Russ Frederiksen.

Republic reporter Cathryn Creno contributed to this report.

Phoenix officer's fatal shooting still "confuses" detectives

More than two weeks after Phoenix police Sgt. Sean Drenth's on-duty shooting death, police have yet to release a suspect's description, a license plate on a getaway car or any other details from the scene.

If Drenth was shot to death by an unknown assailant, investigators have refused to say anything about the killer after the highly decorated patrolman was discovered fatally wounded outside his patrol vehicle in an industrial lot near the Arizona Capitol.

Drenth's shooting is still being treated as a homicide, according to Phoenix police, though the cause and manner of Drenth's Oct. 18 death is still under review by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.

Phoenix homicide investigators have said little else other than they are forced to consider the possibility that Drenth committed suicide based on unidentified evidence collected at the scene of the shooting.

"We are still treating it as a homicide, as we always have, but there is still nothing definitive as to what happened out there," said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump, the department spokesman handling the Drenth case.

"If we had that definitive evidence - one way or another, that it was a homicide or suicide - there would be no reason to withhold that information," Crump said.

By now, crime-scene technicians have already swabbed for evidence such as hair and fibers from inside Drenth's patrol vehicle and conducted a blood-spatter analysis from evidence at the scene, though it was still unclear if the South Mountain Precinct sergeant was shot inside or outside the vehicle.

Silent Witness is offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information in the case with the hope that someone will provide an anonymous tip leading to an arrest, though Phoenix police have yet to confirm Drenth was murdered.

Police said he was neither writing a report nor responding to an emergency call when he parked at the lot near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Jefferson Street and 19th Avenue on Oct. 18.

The vehicle is one of three crime scenes in the Drenth case, according to experts. The scene around the vehicle and the sergeant's body are the others.

Each has already been processed for latent fingerprints and ballistics at this point of the investigation, though investigators have declined comment on the results of tests conducted in the Phoenix Police Crime Lab.

Doctors at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said they could take up to three months to release the official death-investigation report.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a longtime Pennsylvania medical examiner and forensic pathology expert at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said any shooting like Drenth's should be approached initially as it were a homicide.

He said based on his limited knowledge of the case, that a major metro police agency such as Phoenix police likely have an idea at this stage of the investigation - or that they simply could be stumped based on evidence that could suggest a murder or suicide.

"Two weeks of silence makes me highly suspicious," Wecht said. "It makes me think they've got some questions, that there may be more there than they're saying at this time and that it might not be a homicide," he said.

The case largely hinges on the weapon or weapons used in Drenth's shooting. Police have declined to confirm if Drenth was shot at a distance, from close alongside his vehicle or with one of his police weapons - such as his shotgun, his duty handgun or a secondary handgun officers carry on patrol.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Late Timing of Detention Officer's DUI Arrest Questioned

Maricopa County Sheriff's detention officer Adrian Salazar Guzman

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - A 26-year-old woman died in an accident caused by a suspected drunk driver -- and that driver, a Maricopa County Sheriff's detention officer, wasn't arrested until two weeks after the crime.

Adrian Salazar Guzman had a blood alcohol level of nearly 3 times the legal limit. It has many people asking why his arrest took so long.

Guzman has been charged with negligent homicide and several DUI-related charges in the death of 26-year-old Alisha Trejo. Court documents allege he ran a stop sign and hit Trejo, who was on a motorcycle stopped at the Goodyear intersection.

Her leg was amputated as a result of the impact and she died instantly.

At the hospital, Guzman admitted he had been drinking since 10 a.m. and felt "buzzed." A blood alcohol test taken by nurses at 2 a.m. registered at .225. At 4:23 a.m., DPS procured a search warrant and took another blood test, and the result was .14. The legal limit in Arizona is .08.

The accident happened on Oct. 16. But Guzman wasn't arrested until Oct. 29, nearly two weeks later. We've been trying to stay on top of this, but Goodyear Police has been very uncooperative with our questions and gave us the runaround.

FOX 10 wanted to know if this was standard procedure for Goodyear Police.

We called John Rowan with the department, and he says, Guzman's case was handled properly. When we asked him whether or not Guzman was given preferential treatment because he is a detention officer, the phone call was ended abruptly. We tried calling him back several times thereafter, and he didn't return the call.

It's a question that Alisha's grieving family also wants to know.

We called two law agencies in town to ask them what they think about the situation. One said that if a person was in the same position as Guzman, it is possible that he could have been released the same day. The agency would have slapped the driver with a DUI charge, opened an investigation, and then later on added a homicide charge in court.

The second agency said there is no way that guy should've been walking. The agency said it could take up to two weeks to get an accurate blood alcohol level read, but if a suspected drunk driver killed someone, it's just too serious. That driver should be taken to jail and not let out on the streets.