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COP HUNT

Wendell Hunt is not perfect. He made a couple of mistakes in an otherwise fine, nearly 18-year career with the Tucson Police Department, where he rose to lieutenant. A physically imposing man, Hunt is educated, soft- and well-spoken, and not one to get riled up and overreact. When choosing sides, you absolutely would want Hunt on your team.

But a Republican troika of the Tucson Civil Service Commission voted unanimously on Aug. 5 to uphold TPD's firing of Hunt, 49. The commission did so even though Hunt and his lawyer, Jeff Rogers, seriously undercut charges against Hunt. A sexual harassment complaint was totally gutted when it was shown the woman who complained was the stalker, who also entered an affair with another, married cop.

Next came the complaint that Hunt was chronically tardy. This, too, was explained and set straight, but in cop land, perception is reality.

TPD command staff then wanted to bust Hunt for somehow acting inappropriately in the sensational Dr. David Stidham murder case, with its increasing sordid subplots that have claimed careers of others, including several in the county attorney's office. Hunt had dated Julie Herrington, who was set to join a partnership in a plastic-surgery practice planned by Dr. Bradley Schwartz, the man accused of hiring a hit man to kill Stidham.

When sheriff's detectives wanted to talk to Hunt about what he knew (about what Herrington knew) after the Oct. 5 murder, the manic Schwartz finagled Hunt's phone numbers from Herrington. He called Hunt while detectives were talking to him. Hunt knew of Schwartz, but didn't know him. Still, he helped detectives glean information from Schwartz, babbling over a speaker phone, that didn't hurt their case against him. But TPD nailed Hunt for not immediately filing a report about being interviewed by detectives from another cop agency. He had just put in a 15-hour-plus day, and everyone in TPD knew that two sheriff's detectives had come knocking to talk to Hunt. It was no secret.

The clincher: Pornography was found on Hunt's TPD-issued laptop computer. Some 1,127 images were found on the computer. At least 1,100, Rogers explained and showed the commission, were of the tame, '60s-style Playboy variety. The others were more hardcore, but likely the result of uncontrollable computer popups. The commission heard, including from other cops, that pictures of naked women are common in police locker rooms.

Images on Hunt's computer, while inappropriate, were apparently not seen by anyone else. Another lieutenant had recently received a two-week suspension because he had a pornographic image on his computer, an image seen by a woman who complained.

In the end--put together with a previous 30-day suspension Hunt took without complaint for having sex in a squad car--it was too much for the commission.


'STAR' LIGHT, 'STAR' BRIGHT, VALUE TOO HIGH TONIGHT

Editors and editorial writers at the Arizona Daily Star have yet to meet a tax they didn't like. You don't hear them bitch about sales-tax increases. You don't hear them bitch about Pima County's property taxes, long the highest in the state. But you will see the Star and new owners, Lee Enterprises, march into the Arizona Board of Equalization to demand that the taxable value of the fortress at 4850 S. Park Ave. be cut nearly in half.

Star Publishing wants to cut more than $5.5 million from the current value of its land and buildings that Pima County Assessor Bill Staples, the Democrat the Star supported in last year's election, and his staff have listed at $12.04 million. That does not include more than $5 million in equipment. In the Star's formula, it believes its property tax bill of $480,746 should be closer to $255,923. How that is justified given the consistent building expansion and upgrades at the daily's plant defies logic.

The greater and more amusing part of the hypocrisy is that Star Publishing has enlisted the Sage Tax Group, the leading property tax choppers in the county, and its tax hit man, Tom Naifeh.

The Star didn't think much of Naifeh when he served as the petulant, autocratic, abusive and manipulative chief deputy assessor to the buffoonish Alan Lang, a Democrat who was so bad he was recalled by the normally sleepy and tolerant electorate in 1994. As we've said before, Lang may have been the one gathering headlines with his gun-toting, party-going, bitch-slapping ways, but it was Naifeh causing the real damage to the area economy and the tax base with his manipulations of the tax rolls. Only the Star's Joe Burchell was smart and dogged enough to catch all that.

After a year of Smilin' Joe's coverage, Naifeh abandoned ship and returned to the business of helping businesses like the Star dodge taxes.


MAS ESTRELLA

Debbie Kornmiller's "Reader Advocate" item about new Star Publisher and Editor David Stoeffler creating a plan to have a plan notwithstanding (hey, at least she wasn't the middleman for another Freakonomics swipe against wild Star statistics), the new boss is far ahead of his predecessor, Jane Amari.

Stoeffler took time to do what a boss should do: He met with every Star worker and actually talked about what the paper and the employees do. That's a far cry from Amari, who was far too important to get dirty shaking hands with every lowly reporter. Some never met her during her five-year run. We know of one embarrassing incident in which Amari had to be introduced to one her top reporters by a local restaurateur.

The Star made another bright move last week, naming Hipolito Corella metro editor. Readers will see dramatic improvement over never-been-in-the-trenches Tim Konski. And readers and reporters can thank their lucky stars that Stoeffler didn't import a gypsy editor. Poli is just 37, but he is an old pro. After graduating from the University of Arizona, he went off to the Albuquerque Tribune to cover cops and robbers and returned in 1991 to cover the same beat. He also covered courts, Pima County government and politics and TUSD and education. He was always smart enough to know what he didn't know. That and his experience are great signs for reporters, editors and readers.

Corella graduated from Pueblo High in 1986 and is part of that era of Warriors gaining success, including Ramon Valadez on the Board of Supervisors; Richard Carranza, a former Pueblo principal who now is an administrator at Clark County Schools in Las Vegas; and Roman Soltero, recently named principal of Tully Elementary School and a member of the South Tucson City Council.


THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

Lawyers for Daphne Stidham filed suit against Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, the county and two of LaWall's former deputy prosecutors, Lourdes Lopez and Paul Skitzki, alleging they should have taken steps to protect her husband, Dr. David Brian Stidham, from being brutally murdered on Oct. 5 outside of his North First Avenue office.

The suit, filed Aug. 5 in Pima County Superior Court, follows a similar claim filed April 1 against LaWall and the county. The claim asked for $20 million for Daphne Stidham, 36, and her two young children, Alexandre and Catherine.

Lopez's ex-fiancé, Dr. Bradley Schwartz, is awaiting trial on charges that he hired a hit man to kill Stidham. Skitzki, now an assistant public defender, was close with Lopez and also friendly with Schwartz.

The lawsuit contends that Lopez and Skitzki knew of the numerous murder threats Schwartz made "but chose not to comply with their duties to report that information to law enforcement. Had they done so, the murder of Dr. Stidham would have more likely than not prevented by law enforcement intervention."

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