Friday, December 31, 2010

Gilbert Taser incident: Man seeks $600,000 from town

For the second time in six months, Gilbert is facing a possible lawsuit from a man complaining police used excessive force in firing a Taser to incapacitate him before arrest.

Justin Lowell McLemore, 29, was arrested on June 10 at the Hyatt Place hotel near Val Vista Drive and Pecos Road after an altercation with a family member earlier in the evening.

Gilbert police used a Taser to incapacitate McLemore after he did not comply with orders to lie on the ground, according to a notice of claim filed on his behalf.

McLemore, a former Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputy, claims police acted on "irresponsible and inaccurate statements" and escalated the confrontation to "completely unnecessary levels" before shooting him in the chest with the Taser.

He wants a $600,000 settlement for an alleged violation of his civil rights and "the excruciating pain" inflicted by the Taser, according to the claim.

Tasers use a compressed nitrogen cartridge to propel two probes at a range of 15 to 35 feet, according to report from Scottsdale-based manufacturer Taser International. The energy can penetrate one inch of clothing, and the "initial effect" can last from about five seconds for law enforcement products and up to 30 seconds for consumer market models.

More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies in over 50 countries have purchased or tested the company's products, and about 5,000 police departments have purchased or are purchasing Taser devices to issue to all on-duty patrol officers, according to the company report.

McLemore's arrest came after a family member pulled a knife on him during a "minor altercation," and McLemore went to Hyatt Place to visit friends, according to the claim.

Gilbert police found McLemore by "pinging" his cell phone, a process that allows authorities to track a suspect by locating the nearest cell tower. At least 11 officers arrived, and McLemore said the situation was "(expletive) ridiculous" as he approached police, according to the claim.

When an officer ordered McLemore to lie on the ground, he instead walked to a police car and placed his hands on the car. He again refused to comply when ordered to lie down.

"The subject did not comply with my orders," Gilbert Officer Todd Johnson wrote in his report. "I activated my Taser and the probes struck the subject in the chest."

McLemore dropped to the ground and was arrested.

Police officers' use of Tasers has generated widespread criticism and support. The incidents have yielded numerous claims and lawsuits, including several in the Southeast Valley.

In July, Phoenix police Officer Seth Samuel Castillo filed a $500,000 claim after he was found on Jan. 3 "slumped over" behind the wheel of a black Jeep Commander, which was blocking an intersection in his Gilbert neighborhood, according to a police report.

A Gilbert police officer ordered Castillo out of the vehicle and told him to put his hands on the car. Castillo reportedly dropped his arms, and the officer, fearing he might draw a weapon, shot him in the back with the Taser, according to the report.

Gilbert has not paid to settle that claim, and Castillo has yet to file a civil lawsuit, town spokeswoman Beth Lucas said.

In 2007, an 18-year-old Gilbert man died after police used a Taser to shock him. An investigation by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office later determined drugs to be the primary cause of death and did not list the Taser strike as a contributing factor.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Phoenix police: DNA yields no leads in officer's fatal shooting

Forensic efforts to link DNA evidence collected at the scene of Phoenix police Sgt. Sean Drenth's fatal shooting have yielded no results, according to investigators who believe additional analyses could take several more months.

More than 10 weeks ago Drenth was found dead Oct. 18 alongside his patrol vehicle in a line-of-duty tragedy that has baffled detectives who have yet to confirm if Drenth was murder or if he committed suicide.

As the investigation continued earlier this month, Drenth was implicated in an off-duty work scandal reviewed by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The case led to felony charges against three current Phoenix police officers and a former officer.

Phoenix police leaders said Drenth could have also faced felony charges because the sergeant's alleged misconduct would have met the criteria for grand-jury consideration. He was among the officers accused of receiving money for off-duty security work they didn't perform.

Drenth, a longtime south Phoenix patrolman, was found dead around the time Phoenix learned about the Attorney General's Office investigation.

Officers investigated as part of the Attorney General's Office probe were required to submit DNA samples for the Drenth homicide investigation.

On Tuesday, Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump announced that investigators have failed to make a link between DNA samples and evidence collected from the scene of Drenth's death.

"The overall processing of the evidence and comparative analysis is not complete and is expected to take several months," Crump wrote in an e-mail. "We will continue working on the case until all leads have been exhausted."

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office has not yet released Drenth's completed death investigation. Reports take as long as three months, meaning that an official record would likely be released by Jan. 18.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bar Patron: Bouncers, Scottsdale Officer Used Excessive Force

A Scottsdale man says a Scottsdale police officer and bouncers at Jackrabbit Supper Club used excessive force when they subdued him during a bar brawl in July 2010.

Surveillance videotape from the Old Town Scottsdale nightclub shows (victim's name removed by request, hereafter referred to as ***) standing on the sidelines when the brawl began outside the bar.

"I wasn't trying to fight back," said ***.

The tape shows *** reach up to as a bouncer turns toward him.

The tape then shows two bouncers grab *** and slam him into a wall.

After turning him around, a Scottsdale officer shows up and repeatedly strikes *** with his baton.

*** is off screen during several of the strikes.

"They were barbarians. Almost brutal," said *** of the incident.

A photograph taken afterward shows a large bruise covering a portion of ***'s right leg.

"The manner in which they acted was absolutely uncalled for," said ***.

Sgt. Mark Clark, a Scottsdale police spokesperson, said the surveillance tape tells a different story about how *** reacted to the brawl.

"He lunged towards one of the doorman and stuck out his arm, like who knows what he was going to do," said Sgt. Clark.

Sgt Clark said the Scottsdale police officer repeatedly reported that he repeatedly asked *** to get on the ground before striking him with his baton.

"The video shows that he was trying to get away. If he was doing as the office asked him to do and commanded him to do there probably wouldn't have been a confrontation," said Clark.

The courts will decide what really happened during the incident.

*** was charged with disorderly conduct and failing to obey a police officer and will appear in court early next year.

*** also plans to file a notice of claim against Scottsdale police and Jackrabbit Supper Club for $3.5 million dollars.

After CBS 5 contacted Scottsdale police about the incident, Clark asked internal affairs investigators to review the videotape of the officer hitting ***.

Third body pulled from Arizona canal

A third body has been found at a Gila Bend canal where a group of illegal immigrants fled from authorities during a vehicle stop last week, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

Authorities say deputies and fire personnel were in route to recover the body. Two bodies were recovered earlier Thursday.

Detectives believe that survivors did not disclose there may be a third body in the water to thwart investigators.

Three suspected illegal immigrants were rescued from the canal and arrested after a traffic stop near U.S. 80, and clothing descriptions helped identify the two males pulled earlier Thursday from the water, the Sheriff's Office said.

One of bodies is that of a 17-year-old boy who had been traveling with his father, who survived, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. The other body is that of a male believed to be age 17-21.

Last week, deputies launched a robot into the 8-foot-deep canal. The water was murky and so full of debris that no bodies were visible.

Arpaio mentioned that this is the third case where a juvenile, or reported juvenile, has jumped into the same canal near Gillespie Dam.

"There is a trend occurring, and it has to stop," Arpaio said.

The first took place two weeks ago when a juvenile jumped into the deep water and was rescued by deputies.

"They are still taking chances, trying to evade our law enforcement," Arpaio said.

Arpaio said human smuggling is a complex and controversial problem, and he is not going to stop.

"I'm going to crack down even more starting in the new year," Arpaio said.

Divers recover 2 people from Arizona canal

Two kids murdered by policy and the enforcers of the brutal regime of law and order

GILA BEND - The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says the bodies of two suspected illegal immigrants have been recovered from a canal near Gila Bend along Old Route U.S. 80 west of Phoenix.

The Sheriff's Office said Thursday they believe these may be the two people who had jumped into the canal late last week.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Jeff Sprong says the teenagers went missing after a Sheriff's deputy pulled over a sedan carrying five illegal immigrants on a traffic violation near Gila Bend last Thursday night.

All five ran away from the vehicle and made their way into the canal. Three of the five were found later by deputies.

Authorities say the description of the clothing is consistent with what was recovered Wednesday night.

The investigation is ongoing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ex-Chandler officer Dan Lovelace, at center of Florence prison abuse probe

A former Chandler cop now working as a Pinal County detention officer is under internal investigation after using pepper spray on a detainee.

Dan Lovelace, who was at the center of two wrongful death suits that cost Chandler more than $4.6 million, was hired by the Sheriff's Office in mid-2009.

A Sheriff's Office statement said Lovelace used a "short burst of pepper spray" on an ICE detainee after he had defecated on the floor of a holding area and did not respond to detention officers' commands Dec. 11.

Lovelace has been transferred to another position within the department and does not have contact with inmates until the investigation is complete. Results are expected later this week.

The statement said the Professional Standards Unit reviews each use-of-force incident.

Lovelace shot and killed an Ahwatukee woman trying to fill a forged prescription at a Chandler drug store drive-through in 2002 while her toddler sat in the back seat. He was fired and charged with second-degree murder. A jury acquitted him, and in 2005 Lovelace fought unsuccessfully to get his job back.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu -- a Chandler police officer and union leader before voters put him in office -- sat with supporters at some of those proceedings. In 2009, he hired Lovelace to work in a Florence jail.

Babeu in 2009 said the college-educated Lovelace was hired in May and completed an eight-week detention officer training course in Tucson where he was selected to speak to his graduating class.

He is working in the Pinal County Adult Detention Center in Florence, which houses up to 1,504 pretrial inmates, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, and individuals sentenced to county lockup. Corrections officers do not carry weapons, nor do they enforce the law, Babeu said.

The 2002 shooting death of Dawn Rae Nelson, 35, ended Lovelace's career on the Chandler force but many came to his defense. Two of the jurors who acquitted him of murder charges later befriended him and showed up at personnel hearings as Lovelace fought to get his job back.

A motorcycle officer at the time of shooting death, Lovelace also had been involved in a 2000 high-speed chase that killed a college student. He was given a letter of reprimand for not using his siren in the chase.

The city settled wrongful-death lawsuits in both cases and paid out more than $4.6 million.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Two Children -- Feared Drowned in Canal Near Gila Bend After Running From MCSO Deputy

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office fears that two children believed to be undocumented immigrants -- both under the age of 18 -- drowned in a canal near Gila Bend after fleeing a car pulled over by a sheriff's deputy last night.

MCSO spokesman Jeff Sprong says the sheriff's dive team is headed to an area of the canal near mile post 11 on old US 80 to try and locate the bodies if the two did in fact drown.

The incident happened about 8:30 p.m. yesterday when a sheriff's deputy made a routine traffic stop on US 80. When the car came to a stop, the deputy says he watched five people jump out and start running from the vehicle.

The five suspected undocumented immigrants jumped into the nearby canal in an attempt to evade the deputy. At the time, the MCSO says, the canal's water flow was heavy.

Three of the suspects were pulled from the canal, while deputies were unable to locate the other two.

Last week, deputies rescued a minor from the same canal, in the same general area, Sprong says.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ex-Phoenix officer arrested in robberies had tested positive for steroids

A former Phoenix police officer accused of robbing several Valley banks in 2006 quit his job several months before the alleged heists following a positive steroids test, according to a state law enforcement accreditation agency.

After 13 years of service, Chad Michael Goulding, 40, resigned from the Phoenix Police Department in August 2005 in the middle of an internal investigation prompted by a girlfriend's accusation that led to the positive drug test, records show.

Records released Monday by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board highlighted that Goulding tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone.

Goulding's girlfriend, a fellow police officer, told detectives she feared Goulding "may cause her harm" due to the drug use, according to a termination report reviewed by AZPOST. The agency certifies and revokes police officer credentials.

According to the investigation, Goulding "explained that he was not sure if he was using steroids or not as he had purchased the pills from an acquaintance at his gym." Phoenix police drug tests also showed his testosterone levels were abnormally high.

Late last week, Goulding was arrested by FBI agents on suspicion of five Valley bank robberies in which he is accused of stealing more than $133,000 between June and November 2006.

A 95-count indictment accuses Goulding of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and theft in a string of Bank of America robberies in Mesa, Glendale, Chandler and Scottsdale.

Goulding is being held at Maricopa County Lower Buckeye Jail on a $1 million bond, according to the County Sheriff's Office. He is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ex-Phoenix officer accused of armed bank robberies

A former Phoenix police officer has been arrested on suspicion of five Valley bank robberies in which he is accused of making off with more than $133,000.

Chad Michael Goulding, 40, who left Phoenix Police in 2005 after 13 years, was taken into custody after a four-year investigation involving the FBI's Bank Robbery Task Force and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the agencies announced Thursday.

A 95-count indictment accuses Goulding of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and theft in a string of Bank of America robberies in Mesa, Glendale, Chandler and Scottsdale over a five-month period in 2006.

In a prepared statement, Nathan Gray, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's Phoenix division, heralded Goulding's arrest as an example of the bank robbery task force's commitment to "reducing the number of armed serial bank robberies."

Goulding allegedly wore a ski mask during the heists, according to investigators. He was identified in part through "assistance from the public," officials said.

The former officer is being held on a $1 million bond.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Phoenix officers on leave after settling Arizona Attorney General suit

Two Phoenix police officers have been put on administrative leave after they agreed to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General's Office that alleged they ran a home foreclosure scam.

Lee Brent Shaw of Gilbert and Mark Tallman of Chandler were accused of running companies that defrauded 148 homeowners between 2003 and 2007.

Recruiters allegedly approached the homeowners and persuaded them to sign up for a foreclosure rescue. Shaw and Tallman then would pay the recruiters, take over the mortgages and toss out the homeowners.

The solicitors who found the homeowners settled a similar lawsuit a year ago.

The two officers agreed to pay $310,000 to victimized homeowners, $148,000 in civil penalties and nearly $28,000 in legal costs. A police statement released Wednesday says an internal investigation is now under way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

OFFICER DOWN: The Phoenix Media and Cop-Killings

By Phoenix Insurgent

The recent shooting death of Officer David Uribe, shot in the head and neck while making a traffic stop, offers several opportunities for radical analysis. Typical of its easy-going treatment of local police departments, the media fell lock step behind the idea of the police officer as defender of public order and all things good. In fact, where any dissented from the gushing media monotone, they demanded an even more gratuitous lavishing of praise on Uribe and police in general.

Such was the case with John McDonald's melodramatic column in the Arizona Republic. In his sensationally titled article, "The day a cop died, this city lost its soul," McDonald expressed his exasperation at the TV when "two anchors and a weatherman laughed and giggled about the delightful mild temperatures just minutes after detailing the brutal execution of a local veteran cop." One wonders if McDonald even watches local television news, which in fact was dominated by endless coverage of the murder, manhunt and reaction for several days as local talking heads beatified Uribe with all due haste.


The media uniformly treated the Uribe killing as a loss for whole community. Even the killing of an unarmed man by Phoenix PD the very next day could not damper the media's enthusiasm for the story. Remarking on the shooting, Patty Kirkpatrick, a Channel 3 anchor, expressed relief that the conflict had ended in the death of the suspect, rather than a cop. In her mind it was preferable that an unarmed man die than a cop get hurt trying to carry out murder.

On May 12th, Benson's cartoon in the Republic featured a simple sketch of a police badge bearing Uribe's number. Written across a black band of mourning were the words, "thank you." But for what? "When we lose someone like that, we lose part of ourselves," answers the Phoenix Fire Department's chaplain, Rev. Father Carl G. Carlozzi in the Arizona Republic. In a letter to the editor, Patricia Fay of Phoenix explained it this way, "They are my protectors. Someone killed one of my protectors."


But there is a real tension between the public image of policing, defended so single-mindedly by the media, and the reality. Introducing channel 12's coverage of the Uribe funeral the following Tuesday, Lin Sue Cooney described the event as "a whole community" saying thank you. Effusive in their coverage of a car-wash fundraiser for the Uribe's family, local media outlets actively campaigned for valley residents to participate. Can the same police force that regularly kills unarmed people of color be the protectors of the community? Can the same police force that uses Tasers to kill, just as the Phoenix Police did on May 4th, 2005, killing a 24 year-old man, be protectors? Are the same police forces that disproportionately target, arrest and incarcerate the poor, and especially people of color, really defenders of the "community?"

But, everyone knows that police don't protect everyone equally and that they specifically target some segments of the community over others. For years the Scottsdale PD enforced what they called a "no-n****r zone," pulling over and harassing black people driving through the city. Incarceration rates for poor people versus rich people are so obvious that they hardly require mentioning. But many whites still continue to deny the just as obvious disparities in white and non-white incarceration rates. To believe that these disparities exist apart or in exception to the overall system of policing makes no sense. They exist because this is the way the system was meant to function.


The police system is designed primarily to defend the rich and toward that end to police poor people and poor people of color in particular. Made up of reporters primarily drawn from middle and upper classes, and owned by very rich people, the media serves that goal as propagandist for the police and defender of its own class interest, and they reflect the racism that all white people learn in their upbringing.

Let's look at the numbers. According the Princeton Review, the average television reporter, after five years on the job, earned $65,000 dollars a year. In the top 25 television markets the median salary as reported by the Missouri School of Journalism stood at $78,000 in 2000. According to the US Census, that rate stood at nearly twice the same figure for male workers in general, a rate which, it should be pointed out, itself remains higher than the median for non-whites and women. That disparity appears even sharper when we consider the Bureau of Labor Statistics count, which put the average annual wage in the U.S. as $36,764 for 2002. Even print reporters, generally paid less than their television comrades, fair better than average Americans. Clearly there is a class divide between many of us consuming the news and the people reporting, not to mention the editors and owners, and the media coverage shows it.

For example, the bulk of the media ignored a story that ran in the Arizona Republic the 11th, the very day Uribe was killed. Jahna Berry reported that a federal jury had awarded Gerardo Ramirez-Diaz $1 million dollars after a Phoenix police officer shot him in the gut without just cause. And just four days before the shooting of Uribe, in a rare display of public criticism, the Arizona Republic came out against the reinstatement of Chandler police officer Dan Lovelace. Lovelace was fired for using excessive force after he shot and killed unarmed Dawn Rae Nelson in her car, from behind, with her 14 month-old son sitting in the seat behind her. That murder occurred on October 11th, 2001, making the Republic's opposition to Lovelace's reinstatement a little late in coming, to say the least, though it does show just how extreme a case it takes for the local media to take a critical position towards local police.


Much of the coverage Uribe's killing focused on the supposed danger cops face in the carrying out of their duties. Multiple newscasters and residents interviewed regarded the police as "putting themselves on the line" for other people, risking their lives regularly or standing as soldiers on the front lines of American society. But reflecting a rate that has remained pretty consistent, police officers don't even rank in the top ten most dangerous jobs as most recently listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, just a little over a week before Uribe's killing, a farm worker was killed in Arizona when a bale of hay fell on him. Another worker, a roofer, was killed when he fell and drowned in a pool. The first didn't even merit mentioning his name in the brief Arizona Republic article that ran. Both farm worker and roofer do rank within the top ten most dangerous occupations. Interestingly, Latinos represent a large proportion of workers in these fields. Another recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a rate of five fatalities per 100,000 Hispanic workers in 2002 that was 25 percent higher than for all workers. This wouldn't happen if white workers would stand up with Latino workers against these kinds of abuses. But apparently local media finds the deaths of workers, especially workers of color, as too commonplace to merit coverage, even though that contradicts their attitude towards the job of police officer, who they misreport as in constant jeopardy.

So, in order to understand why the media, the rich and so many white people have fallen all over themselves to praise Uribe and to condemn his murder – while rarely admitting police excesses - we have to delve a little into the history of American police forces. The alleged danger of the job doesn't stand up as a sufficient explanation. Policing in America has two main origins, both of which serve to accomplish the same mission: to protect the wealth of the rich and powerful.


The first origin lies in the violent class struggles of the 19th century. During those times, workers were forced into the emerging factory system that the capitalist class was creating in the cities of the Northeast. In these factories workers had little power and were subjected to long hours. When armed class struggle broke out, the capitalists, outnumbered and not generally wishing to risk their own necks in the fighting, created police forces to wage war on the working class in defense of their factories and wealth. The first real police force in the US was founded in 1845 in New York City, center of the country's emerging industrial economy. As industrialism and modern capitalism spread, other cities followed New York's example.

Private property lies at the heart of capitalist exploitation. The authority of the boss derives precisely because s/he owns the means of production – the workplace, the computers, the machines and thus the profits. Because workers' interests depend on a redistribution of wealth and equality in the workplace, this brings us in inevitable conflict with the boss and his lackeys, the police. It's the same thing with the landlord. The landlord's ability to evict or demand rent couldn't exist without the system of private property and the police to back it up with violence.

The second main origin of American policing centers on the slave patrol system of the South. Charged with protecting white plantation owners, the slave patrols, or "patty rollers" as they were often called, brutally oppressed blacks, both slave and free. It is from the slave patrollers that American policing gets many of its traditions and powers. Patty rollers worked specific "beats" and could demand identification from any black person they encountered. The slave patrols incarcerated and returned, frequently with violence, any black person who could not prove their free status or provide written permission for their travel. Even in the North the police were charged with capturing and returning escaped slaves.

The influence of this racist tradition reverberates today in a variety of ways. An Arizona Daily Star review of Department of Public Safety records revealed that during traffic stops police searched Latinos more than twice as frequently as whites. And police searched blacks almost three times as frequently as whites – despite the fact that searches of whites turned up contraband much more regularly. Beyond racial profiling, which brings them into police contact more frequently in the first place, non-whites also face racist judges, unequal access to competent defense and sentencing guidelines that send them to prison at rates many times that of whites.

In fact, the history of Arizona police forces combines both origins. Back in the day, as now, Arizona was a mining state and Latinos composed a large percentage of the miners. In response to militant organizing by mine workers, the state created the Arizona Rangers. Ostensibly formed to combat cattle rustling, in actuality the government used the force primarily against miners and people of color. This tradition continues to contemporary times, and many of us remember the UMW strike of 1983 when then-Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, called out police and national guardsmen against workers in defense of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Police guarded scabs brought in by the company, effectively breaking the strike.

It is critical for working class white people to understand the true origins and purposes of American policing and to be critical of both the aims and causes of media defense of police and police departments. In the end, supporting police power means supporting the rich people that exploit the entire working class, white or not. The American system has given white workers privileges that non-white workers don't get, and many of them directly involve reduced exposure to police violence and policing in general. American history has shown, though, that when even white workers organize against the bosses and politicians, the police are brought in against us as well. It's time for white workers to stand in support of communities of color when they organize against the police of all kinds, including La Migra. We need to recognize that the police are a racist institution that cannot be justified if what we want is a world of equality and justice, and media defense of policing amounts to defense of racism and the rich.

Arpaio urged to probe calls to witness officer

A Washington-based government watchdog agency has asked the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to investigate allegations that two Phoenix city councilmen broke the law by contacting a police officer who reported the fatal shooting of an unarmed domestic violence suspect.

In a letter to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Judicial Watch asked MCSO to review any possible felonies committed by councilmen Michael Johnson and Michael Nowakowski in contacting the witness officer in the wake of the high-profile shooting that led to murder charges against south Phoenix patrolman Richard Chrisman, the officer who fired the shots.

The councilmen phoned Officer Sergio Virgillo, who was on scene with Chrisman during the shooting, to offer support to the officer for making the difficult step of reporting what he perceived to be criminal behavior by a fellow police officer.

Nowakowski (far right) told The Republic last month that the allegations are part of a police union attempt to discredit Virgillo as a sound witness in a case against one of the union’s members. He and Johnson have denied any wrongdoing.

In his Monday letter to Arpaio, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Phoenix officials declined to investigate the allegations that the councilman tried to influence Virgillo to continue with telling his side of the story.

Fitton added that "these contacts also may have run afoul of Arizona criminal laws against obstructing criminal investigations and witness tampering."

Virgillo told detectives he saw Chrisman threaten suspect Danny Rodriquez with a gun to the suspect's head just prior to the fatal shooting on Oct. 5. Chrisman has pleaded not-guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty for allegedly attacking Rodriquez and killing the suspect's dog.

Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the labor union representing Chrisman, has suggested the call could have violated the Phoenix City Charter and that politicians are “possibly trying to exert influence over a criminal investigation," according to a past message on the union's web site.

Virgillo reported the phone calls to his supervisors, telling them he felt uncomfortable receiving calls from elected officials on his cell phone, according to e-mails posted by PLEA.

PLEA has supported the ongoing Judicial Watch lawsuit against Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris to halt his monthly pension payments three years after his retirement as police chief. Judicial Watch has separately sued Phoenix for release of Mayor Phil Gordon's security logs, though a judge denied release of the records last month.

-- Michael Ferraresi

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Accused Detention Officer Resigns from Job

MCSO detention officer Kevin Gerster

PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said Thursday that detention officer Kevin Gerster resigned on Wednesday following his arrest earlier in the week on aggravated assault charges.

A jail surveillance video shows the former Arizona detention officer stepping on the neck of an inmate who was restrained and bent over a table.

The video shows the inmate, William Hughes, handcuffed behind his back, bent over a table, and surrounded by three officers. Gerster walks up to the men, gets on the table and steps on Hughes' neck.

The video of the assault also shows the officer later punching Hughes in the back of the head four times and kicking him in the leg once. Investigators also said they believe he slammed Hughes' head up against a wall in his jail cell, although there is no video evidence of that.

Sheridan said Hughes did not require medical treatment and didn't have any apparent neck injuries, although he had some bruising and a cut on his forehead, which investigators believe happened in his jail cell.
Gerster posted a $36,000 secured appearance bond Tuesday after he was booked into jail on aggravated assault charges stemming from Hughes' assault and from a June incident, which was uncovered during the recent investigation.

In a June video also released to the media, Gerster is shown punching inmate Michael Flores in the jaw.

Gerster also faces charges of accessing criminal history and one count of computer tampering. The sheriff's office said Gerster looked up the address of an ex-inmate for his friend, whose ex-wife was dating the inmate and who allegedly assaulted the two with a box cutter after getting the address from Gerster.

Another officer, Alan Keesee, who is shown in the November video slamming Hughes' head against the table, was not arrested, but the sheriff's office recommended he also be charged with aggravated assault.

Sheridan said the sheriff's office decided to release the video to the public because he and Sheriff Joe Arpaio "took it very seriously."

"We were upset with the actions of both these officers and we quickly initiated a criminal investigation," he said.

Phoenix police officers indicted on fraud, theft charges. All four were ordered to submit DNA in the death investigation of officer Sean Drenth

Dirty Phoenix cops: Sgt. Benjamin Sywarungsymun (from top left, clockwise), George Contreras, Officer Steven Peck and Officer Aaron Lentz

Three current and one former member of the Phoenix Police Department indicted on felony theft charges pleaded not guilty Wednesday to taking money for off-duty security work that allegedly was never performed.

The charges against former Officer George Contreras and current Officers Benjamin Swarungsymun, Steven Peck and Aaron Lentz cap a three-year state investigation into the officers' involvement in an off duty security job.

Meanwhile, KTAR Radio reports all four men were ordered by the court to submit DNA samples in the death investigation of Phoenix police Officer Sean Drenth. Contreras' attorney Cary Lackey says there's no connection between the security case and Drenth's death.

Police Chief Jack Harris says Drenth's alleged misconduct involving off-duty work would have been taken to the grand jury for consideration of charges.