Friday, September 30, 2011

Border Patrol agent arrested on suspicion of criminal speeding

A suspended U.S. Border Patrol agent was arrested on suspicion of criminal speeding and found with a synthetic marijuana and prescription drugs in his car on Thursday, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Michael Atondo, 34, has been on indefinite suspension after he was accused of smuggling marijuana in his Border Patrol truck in April, according to the sheriff's office.

On Thursday, Atondo was pulled over on Arizona 85 by a Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy. Atondo identified himself as a Border Patrol agent and informed them he was driving back to work after spending a few days with friends in Glendale.

Deputies searched Atondo's vehicle, finding oxycodone, according to the sheriff's office. Atondo didn't have a prescription for the drug. Deputies also discovered a synthetic marijuana substance called "Jazz Kush."

Atondo was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion of criminal speeding and narcotic drug possession.

Atondo remains an employee with the Border Patrol but was put on suspension in connection with his arrest in April.

In that case, he was found near the border with 745 pounds of marijuana in his Border Patrol truck.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Surprise police officer demoted after harassment inquiries

Surprise police officials have demoted a high-ranking officer to patrol after two investigations into harassment accusations.

Officials said Lt. Craig Scartozzi, who has served as the department's spokesman and one of its youth outreach volunteers, "engaged in conduct that was pervasive and unwelcome" against a subordinate police officer, according to documents The Republic obtained under Arizona's public-records law. The specific incidents leading to the investigation were not provided.

The initial investigation focused on conduct by Scartozzi between August and October last year and led to a second investigation into other allegations of harassment.

A departmental disciplinary notice said between February and June of 2010, Scartozzi "used sexually based humor" and simulated sex acts, including "with a female officer of lower rank, in front of subordinate officers." The report did not make it clear if the woman was in the room at the time of the conduct.
The demotion, which included a substantial pay cut, took effect Aug. 29.

Scartozzi was promoted to lieutenant in 2006. He served as a sergeant in both the patrol and investigations divisions, was on the department's tactical team and the state gang task force known as GIITEM, for Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission.

Scartozzi, a former Marine who's been with the department since 1997, has a long history of volunteerism and is known for his role in the agency's youth outreach efforts. He was one of a handful of city volunteers in 2010 who started organizing events for teens, including a back-to-school mixer, chaperoned parties and a baseball clinic.

He has also volunteered on the department's honor guard, which serves at officer funerals and special events such as parades and visits from government dignitaries.

In 1998, he received a medal of merit from the Surprise Fire Department for his efforts to save an infant who was accidentally smothered in bed. The baby died later at a hospital.

Department spokesman, Sgt. Mark Ortega, said Scartozzi is known for performing exceptionally as an officer and exceeding the expectations of his superiors.

Scartozzi declined to comment on the investigation when contacted by The Republic on Friday but was optimistic about the future.

He expressed pride in his accomplishments as an officer and said he planned to put the past behind him and carry on in Surprise.

"I took an oath to protect those citizens that I serve and I'll continue to do that," he said.

Ortega said the department recently completed training officers on its harassment policy, but the training was not in response to the investigations.

Scartozzi was also handed a one-day suspension and letter of reprimand in 1998 after officials said he falsified another officer's report by entering a vulgar expression. The investigation determined that Scartozzi, who was a police officer then, violated standards of conduct and the department's policy on falsifying reports, documents say. Scartozzi entered the remark after the report's author left his desk to respond to an emergency, documents say.

He told investigators he meant the act as a joke and felt badly about the incident. Another officer was also investigated for allegations he participated by adding his own inappropriate statements.

The author of the report noticed the additions and deleted most of them but missed Scartozzi's comment, the investigation showed. The report was forwarded to the City Attorney's Office where the addition was discovered.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peoria man sues Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, cites abuse by deputies

A Peoria contractor claims in a lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office that deputies beat and shot him with a stun gun for no reason as he stood outside a concession stand at Phoenix International Raceway last year.

Michael T. Wyman, 50, maintains in his lawsuit that he greeted an old friend with a bear hug near the track's Speed Cantina during a NASCAR race last November when, without warning, a deputy put him in a choke hold. The deputy threw him to the ground, Wyman alleges, and another deputy began shooting Wyman in the leg with a stun gun.

Wyman was charged with resisting arrest, aggravated assault and disorderly conduct for his role in the Nov. 13 incident, but a judge dismissed the charges in March at the request of prosecutors.

Wyman filed a notice of claim against the county in May, offering to settle the issue for $2 million. County officials did not respond, according to Wyman's attorney, so Wyman earlier this month filed a civil suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the deputies involved in the incident.

"My deputies have a tough job," Arpaio said. "At this point, these are just allegations. I will await the true outcome of this lawsuit before I make any judgments."

Wyman says he made his claim in part because he suffered injuries that left him unable to do the work required for his company, Ricochet Excavating. The company survived the recent recession, but its future is threatened because of Wyman's run-in with deputies, said Daniel Treon, Wyman's attorney.

According to the lawsuit, Wyman saw his friend Ernie Griego near the Speed Cantina about 9 p.m. during a NASCAR Nationwide Series race, and the two greeted each other with "a high five and bear hugs."
Sheriff's deputies saw the exchange differently.

A police report on the incident indicates that a deputy was "alerted to a group of white males that appeared to be intoxicated and were grabbing and pushing one another. The subjects were pushing each other into people that were not part of their group," a deputy wrote.

Deputies were trying to get the group to move, according to the report, when Wyman turned to face Deputy Preston Boyer "and swung his arms at Deputy Boyer striking him on the right side of the face," according to a deputy's report.

When Boyer was struck, another deputy shot Wyman in the back with the stun gun, according to the police report.

Wyman's attorney said the sheriff's report offers only the deputies' perspective. He said the Sheriff's Office could not produce witnesses to verify the events laid out in the police report.

"We think that was an exaggerated statement full of unsubstantiated statements by law enforcement to justify what really, by all accounts, was a bizarre, uniformed attack on Mr. Wyman," Treon said. He said a handful of witnesses acquainted with Wyman, including a firefighter and a 911 operator, could verify Wyman's claims.

Wyman said his first encounter with a deputy came when Boyer came up from behind and began to choke him.

"Surprised, disoriented and unable to see his unidentified attacker, Michael grabbed onto his assailant's arm to try to loosen the choke hold so he could breathe," the lawsuit claims. "Another unknown MCSO deputy shoved Jan (Wyman's wife) aside and tasered Michael in the back."

Wyman's lawsuit and the sheriff's report both indicate that deputies shot Wyman twice with the stun gun, but Wyman's lawsuit claims the deputies went on to stomp on his arms and kick him before handcuffing him. The lawsuit also claims that sheriff's deputies continued to shock Wyman after he was handcuffed and that deputies threatened to stun-gun a Phoenix firefighter who was a friend of Wyman's when he tried to tell the deputies to stop.

Wyman's son, Wade, tried to talk to the deputies during the altercation but was shocked with a stun gun, kneed and kicked by deputies, the lawsuit alleges.

Michael and Wade Wyman both were taken into custody, but Wade was never cited, and a deputy did not write up a report on Wade's involvement, "a clear violation of policy," according to Treon.

Michael Wyman was taken to Fourth Avenue Jail, but officers told deputies to take Wyman to Maricopa Medical Center for treatment of his injuries, according to the complaint.

Wyman continues to experience nerve damage from the stun-gun shock and has undergone surgeries, including a skin graft, to repair damage from the weapon and broken bones from a deputy stomping on Wyman's foot, Treon said. Those injuries have made it difficult for the contractor to perform his work, he said.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Family sues Phoenix over unarmed man's killing by police

PHOENIX - The mother of a 29-year-old Phoenix man who was unarmed when he was fatally shot is suing the city and the police officer who killed him.

The lawsuit against the city of Phoenix and Officer Richard Chrisman was filed on Aug. 31 in Maricopa County Superior Court. It seeks unspecified damages but KNXV reported that Elvira Fernandez originally sought $29 million in a notice of claim.

Chrisman has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty. His trial set to begin in November.

On Oct. 5 last year, court records say that Chrisman pulled his pistol, put it against 29-year-old Danny Frank Rodriguez's head and told him he didn't need a warrant when Rodriguez ordered him out of his house.

Chrisman then shocked Rodriguez with a stun gun, fatally shot his pit bull and then fatally shot Rodriguez.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Former Tempe Cop Elliot Campbell Pleads Guilty to Stealing Evidence -- Including a Refrigerator

A former Tempe cop accused of stealing evidence from the agency's evidence room -- including a refrigerator -- has pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Initially, former Tempe Officer Elliot Campbell was booked on two counts of theft of a credit card, 10 counts of tampering with evidence, and one count each of forgery, burglary, and theft. He pleaded guilty this morning to attempt to commit theft of credit card obtained by fraudulent means, and tampering with physical evidence.

Campbell, an 11-year veteran, was arrested in May after an investigation revealed he looted the department's evidence room and used the items he stole -- including several gift cards to various retail stores -- for a little home improvement.

The Arizona Registrar of Contractors Office began investigating Campbell in April regarding his performing contract work without a contractor's license.

The investigation revealed that Campbell was driving on a suspended license. He was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which ultimately found he'd also been stealing evidence.

During the course of their investigation, authorities searched Campbell's squad car and found envelopes checked out of the department's evidence room in March 2008. Additionally, detectives found that Campbell also had checked out a refrigerator, a clothes washer, a watch, and some tools from the evidence room. He told employees in the evidence room he was planning to return the items to their owners, which is why he was allowed to take them.

It was later determined that the gift cards Campbell had checked out of the evidence room were used at Costco and Target stores near the officer's home. A search of his house turned up the watch and the refrigerator. The washing machine, Campbell later told police, was given to a friend.

Bill Richardson is a former Mesa detective who is often critical of the Tempe Police Department. He says Campbell never should have been permitted to remove the items from the evidence room in the first place.

In a letter to Tempe officials, Richardson wrote the following:

In all my years of experience and being involved in hundreds and hundreds of felony criminal cases I have never ever taken evidence out of the property/evidence division and personally returned it to a victim. I have never heard of such a thing. It is the duty of the property/evidence custodian to dispose of evidence and seized property not an officer involved in the case.
That said, if there are lose procedures in the property/evidence division of the Tempe PD there maybe other problems relating to misappropriated property and evidence. Phoenix just uncovered a case where a detective was purportedly taking drug evidence to court when he was using the drugs himself. Lax rules, lax supervision lead to police corruption.
When you discover one dirty cop you have to figure there are others who are exploiting the system.
Following his arrest, Campbell resigned from the department. His sentencing is scheduled for October 21.

Moreno's Mexican Grill Target of Joe Arpaio's Latest Employer Sanctions Raid Which Targeted Employees

Maricopa County is now safe from six illegal immigrants who were allegedly using stolen identities to work at a Mexican restaurant in Chandler.

That's right, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office conducted its latest illegal immigrant roundup at Moreno's Mexican grill in Chandler this morning. It netted a total of six arrests.

The MCSO says it received information that 14 illegal immigrants were using fake IDs in order to work at the restaurant. Only six were arrested today -- which is a vast improvement from the last time the sheriff went gangbusters on a Valley business in search of illegal immigrants.

Last week, Arpaio's boys in beige raided a Days Inn hotel in downtown Phoenix. The result: one arrest.

Per usual, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is trying to church-up the immigrant roundup, calling the raid an "employer sanctions operation." Also per usual, no employers were arrested -- just employees.

When asked if any employers were arrested, MCSO Officer Chris Hegstrom tells New Times "at this time, I can tell you we arrested six employees for using false identification."

Again, precisely zero employers were arrested during the sheriff's "employer sanctions operation" this morning -- but that's because the raid had nothing to do with sanctions for people who hire illegal immigrants; it was just your run-of-the-mill MCSO immigrant roundup under the guise of an "employer sanctions operation."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Phoenix officer held in prostitution case

A Phoenix police officer was arrested in El Paso last week on suspicion of soliciting prostitution, officials said.
Sheldon Czegledi, 47, identified by the Phoenix Police Department as a Central City Precinct patrol officer, was arrested Friday night, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Christina Acosta said.

Officials said Czegledi was arrested as part of a sting by sheriff's detectives in which a female deputy was working as "a decoy female prostitute."

In a Sheriff's Office report on the incident, Czegledi was alleged to have driven up to the female deputy standing on the street in front of a hotel parking lot and solicited her for "sexual intercourse for a fee of $45."

The report says Czegledi then gave the decoy officer "$5 for a deposit and stated he would return."
Shortly thereafter, deputies stopped Czegledi's car and he was arrested.

Czegledi was booked into a Sheriff's Office jail.

The report said the conversation between Czegledi and the female deputy was recorded.

Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Steve Martos said that once the Phoenix department receives an official report from El Paso, "We expect to conduct an administrative investigation into the matter."

Martos would not speculate on what sort of professional penalty an officer arrested and convicted of soliciting prostitution might receive but said it was not automatically a firing offense.

Martos said Czegledi was a 14-year veteran of the Phoenix force.