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.


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