Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mesa police: Officer used crime database to harass women

A Mesa police officer has been indicted on charges of misusing a law-enforcement database to date and harass women he met on duty.

One of the women was a theft victim, and others were suspects he had pulled over for traffic violations.

The indictment came just a week after another Mesa police officer and his wife were indicted on felony mortgage fraud charges in an unrelated case.

Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said he was "outraged" by the two cases and has placed both men on paid leave pending internal investigations.

Officer Todd Randall Duthie, an five-year veteran, was indicted on four felony counts of having unauthorized access to a state criminal history database and one misdemeanor count of harassment.

The charges stem from Duthie allegedly using his position to follow and score dates with four women, according to a police report.

Duthie's attorney Scott Halverson declined to comment on the case and Duthie did not return a message left at his Queen Creek home.

Mesa police initially opened an internal investigation last fall after one of the women complained, a police report states. But once an investigator found Duthie may have violated the law, a criminal investigation was opened, Wessing said.

Duthie contacted the first woman Sept. 15, 2009, after she reported a theft at the Las Palmas Carniceria at 7246 E. Main Street, the report states. The officer then began calling her and stopping by the store and the woman's residence.

A GPS system inside Duthie's squad car tracked his movements as he repeatedly parked outside another woman's house and as he continued to pull over two other women, who claim he tried to date them.

During a traffic stop with another woman July 8, 2010, Duthie reportedly said "I'm supposed to give you a ticket, but I won't. Since I'm not . . . let me have a date or something," the report states.

Duthie has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which came just a week after Officer Mark Anthony Escarcega and his wife Blanca were indicted on charges of mortgage fraud.

The charges stem from the purchase of a home in Mesa four years ago, authorities have stated.

Blanca Escarcega allegedly claimed she separated from her husband and received a mortgage loan modification from Bank of America stating the separation created a financial hardship, according to the Associated Press.

However, the couple never separated, and they purchased a new home and rented out the old one, court documents state.

Word of the Escarcegas' housing deal reached the department and, sensing a crime had been committed, the FBI was contacted, Mesa police spokesman Sgt. Ed Wessing said.

The Escarcegas have also pleaded not guilty.

Wessing said the department is trying to remain as transparent as possible with officer misconduct cases.

"The public doesn't need to worry that we have a corruption or misconduct issue. As an agency, we take these types of violation very seriously," he said.

Wessing added that Milstead was furious when he learned of the initial internal investigation into Duthie's activities.

"He was outraged that a member of our agency would conduct himself in that manner," Wessing said. "When an officer engages in misconduct like this, it impacts all of us. We are as outraged as the community is."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Maricopa County Sheriff deputies faulted in ID-theft case

Maricopa County sheriff's deputies violated the constitutional rights of two Hispanic men when they stopped and detained the men as part of a 2009 identity-theft investigation at a landscaping company, according to a federal judge's ruling Monday.

U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell ruled that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies had no reason to stop Julian and Julio Mora before dawn on Feb. 11, 2009, nor any reason to make a warrantless arrest when deputies detained the Moras for nearly three hours.

The only reason the arresting deputies had to detain the men, according to Campbell's ruling, was because Julian Mora told deputies that he worked at Handyman Maintenance Inc., where sheriff's deputies were searching for suspected identity thieves.

Sheriff's deputies arrested 60 employees during the raid on the business, out of 109 employees at the site, on suspicion of a variety of crimes, ranging from fraud and identity theft to immigration violations.

Julian Mora's admission that he worked someplace where deputies suspected wrongdoing was not enough for the deputies to believe Julian Mora committed a crime, Campbell wrote.

"Any mistakes on the part of the John Doe deputies, even if made in good faith, were not 'those of reasonable men, acting on facts leading sensibly to their conclusions of probability,' " Campbell wrote.

Tim Casey, an attorney representing the Sheriffs Office, said the sheriff's defense was hampered because sheriff's officials were never able to identify the deputies who stopped the Moras.

More than 100 deputies were on scene that day, but without those who stopped the Moras, the judge was left to rule on the Moras version of events, Casey said.

"Without that, there was no testimony on why they were stopped," Casey said. "It was lack of evidence. They won because there's no evidence on that."

As important as Campbell's ruling is to the Moras, it bears more significance for the future of Arpaio's work-site enforcement operations, said Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, which represented the Moras.

Campbell also ruled that the arrests were the result of Arpaio's enforcement policies and that Maricopa County is liable for how those policies are enforced.

"It's the first test of their workplace raid policy, a plan they repeated many times," said Pochoda, who added that the ruling could serve as a deterrent. "It's a very important win."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mesa Police Officer Arrested For Mortgage Fraud

A Mesa police officer and his wife have been arrested for lying to their mortgage lender after a federal investigation.

Blanca and Mark Escarcega purchased a home four years ago in Santa Rita Ranch in Mesa. According to, they paid $344,000 for the 1,880-square-foot home. Today, estimates it's only worth $175,000.

According to the Maricopa county attorney's office, the trouble began when Blanca wrote a hardship letter to their lender, Bank of America, asking for a loan modification, claiming she and her husband had separated.

According to court documents, she wrote the letter between October 2009 and August 2010. Bank of America gave her a loan modification, with the stipulation she live there at least another year.

But the county attorney's office said the couple was never separated. Instead, they rented out their Santa Rita home, and together purchased a 4,000-square-foot home in Valencia Groves in Mesa last August. According to county records, the couple paid $325,000 for their new home, using $10,395 as a down payment.

According to sources, Mark Escarcega came to work bragging about how he and his wife had rigged a deal with their lender to move up in house, but his colleagues recognized fraud and told the chief, who notified the FBI.

On Monday, both Blanca and Mark Escarcega were booked and charged with one count of residential mortgage fraud. If convicted, they could get up to three years behind bars. Both pleaded not guilty.

Michelle Christie is their current tenant, who knew nothing of her landlords' legal troubles. "It's kind of upsetting," Christie said. "Hopefully the owners will contact me and let me know what's going to happen to me, and my kids."

Kelly Gorman is a real estate attorney in Glendale. He said even the slightest fib on a mortgage application is considered fraud.

"There are people now that will try to game the system, because they know there are others catching breaks on their loans. So they'll try to restructure it," Gorman said.

The Mesa police department has suspended Escarcega on administrative leave until it can conduct its own internal investigation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Former Glendale police sergeant arrested in Oregon

A former Glendale police sergeant is being held without bond in an Oregon jail after he reportedly assaulted his live-in girlfriend, records show.

Brent Thomas, who resigned last November amid an internal investigation, is also accused of continuing to possess firearms despite an order of protection filed by his estranged wife that bars him from doing so.

Last summer, an anonymous caller reported Thomas, 44, had abused his wife. The couple was in the midst of a divorce when the allegations surfaced. Thomas's wife said he had abused her for years, and shared pictures of her injuries.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office decided earlier this year not to file charges against Thomas.

Thomas, who spent 14 years as a Glendale officer, recently moved to Oregon.

Lincoln City, Ore. police responded to Thomas's new home early Sunday after a caller reported he had assaulted his girlfriend. They arrived to find his 27-year-old girlfriend's face covered in blood and her eyes swollen, according to a probable cause statement filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

The woman said the two had been arguing when Thomas told her to leave because their "relationship was not going to work."

He reportedly grabbed the woman by the throat when she tried to get money from a safe and later punched her "multiple times in the face and head," according to court filings.

She was treated at a hospital and later released.

Police responding to the couple's home also discovered dozens of loaded firearms including AR-15 rifles and semiautomatic handguns.

A July 2010 order of protection bars Thomas from possessing guns. Police allege Thomas has continued to operate a website that sells firearms and accessories despite the order.

In the hours after the reported assault, police struggled to find Thomas. A gun was noted to be missing.

Police later arrested Thomas along a Benton County highway, about 75 miles away.

Officers found $400,000 cash in Thomas's trunk but not the handgun, according to a court filing.

Thomas was arrested on suspicion of 71 counts of contempt of court for possessing firearms in his home, as well as felony assault, menacing, strangulation and harassment.

On Monday, a Lincoln County judge denied bail for Thomas after prosecutors argued he had failed to abide by the rules of the protective order, fled his home after the alleged assault and removed a handgun before he left.

A Monday court filing by prosecutors also cited Thomas's training as Glendale SWAT officer.

An attorney representing Thomas has previously denied abuse allegations against him.

Thomas had no major disciplinary problems and good performance reviews before the July 2010 call which spurred a criminal and internal investigation of Thomas.

Glendale police have said Thomas was relieved of enforcement duties immediately after the abuse allegations surfaced. He was ordered to return his department weapons and told he would be reassigned to administrative tasks during the investigation.

He never returned to work and chose not to speak to police investigators, a spokesman said.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Richard Chrisman BBQ at PLEA Offices Protested

from The Feathered Bastard

Protesters berate cops coming out of the Chrisman BBQ

Cops and other attendees had to run the gauntlet today at a BBQ/fundraiser for fired, killer-cop Richard Chrisman, held in an underground enclosure at the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the powerful police union that reps rank and file Phoenix police officers.

About a dozen or so protesters, led by local radio host/activist Carlos Galindo, showed up to give the BBQ-goers hell as they walked into and out of the event.

PLEA's building at 1102 West Adams St., in Phoenix

Activists chanted "Shame on you," and called cops walking past "vampires" and "murderers." Hispanic cops caught the worst of it, and were met with bullhorn blasts of "vendido" ("sell-out" in Spanish) and "Malinche," which is sort of like calling someone a Benedict Arnold en Espanol.

Just in front of the ramp leading down was a makeshift shrine for Daniel Rodriguez, the unarmed south Phoenix resident who was gunned down by Chrisman on October 5.

Chrisman was recently axed by the Phoenix Police Department, and he faces charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty in the killing of Rodriguez and his dog.

On the sidewalk, prison abolitionist Peggy Plews wrote brightly-colored chalk messages such as "PLEA endorses police violence."

A shrine to slain South Phoenix resident Danny Rodriguez

There were occasional words exchanged between the demonstrators and those going to the BBQ, but the PPD's low-key, plainclothes Community Response Squad was on hand to keep the peace. There were no incidents.

That may change tonight when the BBQ resumes from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. A lot more protesters are expected in the evening as folks get off work. Hopefully the demonstration remains peaceful.

Galindo, leading the protest against PLEA today...

Escorted by a plainclothes cop, I descended into the underground parking structure and was led to PLEA treasurer Joe Clure. He told me he wasn't going to talk with me, and then asked me to leave.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I reckon. I have to say the event seemed better attended than I expected. However, I didn't spot Chrisman or PLEA President Mark Spencer for that matter.

I'll check out the scene later on and report back here. Till then...

UPDATE: I swung by the PLEA offices later that evening to eyeball the ongoing protest. According to members of the Phoenix Police Department's Community Response Squad, there had been around 40 protesters outside the PLEA offices during the 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. shift. By the time I arrived around 8:30 p.m., the protest had shrunk to less than 20 people or so.

There had been a little drama in my absence. Some of the protesters went down an alley next to the PLEA offices, and PLEA representatives had demanded they be cited for trespassing. But it was determined that the passage was a right of way, and the matter was dropped.

PLEA representatives, annoyed by the rambunctious demonstration, which included folks harranguing the gathering on bullhorns, set up speakers and blasted loud music at the activists. The bullhorn-speaker battle had quieted by the time of my arrival.

I witnessed one tense moment when Galindo and PLEA board chairman Frank Marino faced off, but that eventually dissipated.

Out, out, damn spot: PLEA board chairman Marino hosing down the sidewalk

Officers showing up to participate in the BBQ slowed to a trickle by around 10 p.m. And the protesters finally decided to pack it in.

Sergeant Mark Schweikert of the Community Response Squad told me there had been no arrests or citations at the protest during the day.

I have to commend the CRS, which includes such veteran officers as Sergeant Al Ramirez, for keeping the peace and negotiating between the two opposing sides. No doubt the fact that so many of their fellow cops were involved made this particular demonstration a difficult one for them to handle.

Kudos also to the protesters for remaining peaceful, while getting their point across to the cops attending. PLEA's BBQ deserved the condemnation.

At the end of the evening, PLEA chairman Marino came out to hose off the chalk messages left by Peggy Plews and others. (Most had been wiped off by those who'd made them, so Marino's job was a light one.) As I watched him, I couldn't help but think that the mark of Cain both PLEA and Richard Chrisman have helped affix to the Phoenix Police Department will not be so easily washed away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Protest PLEA (Police Law Enforcement Association) and Their Guests

PLEA/Chrisman protest called for by activist Carlos Galindo

This protest is in response to PLEA's irresponsible attempt to raise funds for Rogue Cop Richard Chrisman's defense after Chrisman was charged with second degree murder for allegedly shooting and killing an unarmed U.S. Citizen of Mexican descent.

We previously led protests in October in front of the Phoenix Police Department for a week straight.

We ask that you join us for three shifts of protesting!

10:00 AM-2:00 PM
5:00 PM-8:00 PM
10:00 PM-1:00 AM

Your presence is extremely important! We must continue to resist abuses by law enforcement and discriminatory behavior related to a devaluation of not just human life but Latinos and Immigrants in Arizona.

Help stop the HATE! Come help us CALL OUT the Chrisman supporters! Bring your signs or pick one up from us!

If you don't speak up now, who'll speak up when they come for you?

Wake up Arizona!!! Hell is knocking at your door!!!

Richard Chrisman, Killer Cop, Feted by PLEA at BBQ/Fundraiser This Thursday

No shame in PLEA's game, as you can see

I have to wonder if the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association would be so supportive of fired killer-cop Richard Chrisman if his victim had been white instead of Latino.

PLEA has gone all out to back Chrisman, who has kept his lips zipped about the October 5 shooting of unarmed south Phoenix resident Daniel Rodriguez. Simultaneously, the police union has taken great pains to smear Phoenix Police Officer Sergio Virgillo, the other cop present when the shooting went down.

Virgillo told investigators there was no reason for Chrisman to shoot Rodriguez and his dog. Neither were a serious threat to either officer, according to Virgillo. Chrisman currently faces charges of second-degree murder, animal cruelty, and aggravated assault over the incident.

Rodriguez's mother recently filed a notice of claim with the City of Phoenix for $30 million.

Chrisman's a PLEA member, Virgillo is not, though PLEA technically represents both men under the union's Memorandum of Understanding with the city. PLEA helped Chrisman make bail, and PLEA President Mark Spencer and PLEA lobbyist Levi Bolton have tried to influence the Maricopa County Attorney's case against Chrisman.

Spencer and Bolton made contact with MCAO liaison Keith Manning, raising the issue of the Chrisman case with him. And 48 hours after the shooting, Spencer called a detective at the PPD's Drug Enforcement Bureau to dig up dirt on Virgillo and his wife. (Spencer refused to be interviewed by MCAO investigators over the matter.)

KPHO/Channel 5 (a.k.a., "PLEA TV") later ran a piece detailing Virgillo's wife's conviction for being part of a drug trafficking scheme. According to an interview done by the MCAO with the same cop Spencer pumped for info, wiretaps on Virgillo at the time revealed he had no knowledge of his wife's lawbreaking.

Now PLEA, which has transformed itself under Spencer's watch into an anti-immigrant lobbying group, is holding a BBQ/fundraiser for Chrisman, who was recently axed by the PPD. The BBQ will take place at PLEA's offices at 1102 West Adams Street in Phoenix this Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Whether or not Chrisman is found guilty of second-degree murder, his activities have been a stain on the department. First there was the 2005 incident where he planted a crack pipe on a homeless, mentally ill African-American woman, which landed him on the MCAO's Brady list.

He should have been fired then, but he was given a day's suspension instead. Then there was his involvement in the PPD's off-duty scandal.

Bottom line: Chrisman is a bad cop, and deserves his dismissal. And PLEA, with this BBQ and its other actions, has let us all know what sort of organization it is.

My guess is that PLEA would not have been so forthcoming had Rodriguez's last name been Jones, if you catch my drift. PLEA has defined itself as anti-Hispanic, despite having a few minorities on its staff and board. This includes Bolton, who is African-American, but still cops PLEA's bigoted line toward Latinos.

Yeah, Chrisman has (or had) a Hispanic girlfriend. That doesn't spare him or PLEA in this, no matter how often Chrisman parades her before the cameras.

(I should point out that PLEA's views are not the same as all of the officers they represent, certainly. In fact, PLEA's dues-paying membership has been steadily declining over the last couple of years.)

PLEA's anti-Hispanic stance as well as PLEA's unwavering support of Chrisman will taint it for some time to come. This BBQ should be closely monitored by the press. Those who attend should be scolded for lending aid to a man who has so clearly disgraced the profession of law enforcement.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cottonwood police shoot, kill suicidal woman

Cottonwood police shot and killed an armed 60-year-old woman who was threatening suicide on the sidewalk of a main thoroughfare Saturday.

Police spokesman Sgt. Gareth Braxton said that around 3:45 p.m., authorities responded to the Camelot RV Park near Main and 10th streets to calls of a woman threatening to commit suicide.

A witness said they saw a woman voicing such threats while carrying a handgun.

They located the woman, who lived in the RV park, armed with two handguns and threatening suicide.

Police made contact with the woman as she walked down Main Street and failed twice to apprehend her with Tasers, Braxton said.

An officer then used a rifle to shoot the woman as she drew her weapon. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety Shooting Reconstruction Team assisted the criminal investigation and the officer has been placed on administrative leave, which is a common practice following an officer-involved shooting, Braxton said.

A criminal investigation of the officer's actions will be followed by a second investigation to look into whether his actions were within the bounds of the department's policies.

"Obviously, we need to gather all of the facts and make sure we have a complete story as to how the events unfolded, in order to avoid speculation," Braxton said in a written statement. "You can expect a meticulous investigation to occur as you would with any situation such as this."

Police will release the name of the woman on Monday once her family has been notified.