Is It Just Us, Or Is The Tucson Police Department Really Beginning To Stink?
By The Editors
WE HAD A rather unpleasant experience with the Tucson Police Department last week.
In writing the accompanying story on Dr. Michael Mahl, Vicki Hart, for all practical purposes, was unable to get anyone at the cop shop to respond by deadline. The detective handling a case on which Hart requested information was always "out." The detective's boss, a lieutenant, although reached once and promising to call back, still hasn't done so. TPD's public-relations office has never provided Hart with her requested information--even after the reporter filed a formal request under Arizona law.
But that was just the icing on the cake.
TPD Det. LeeAnn Charlton called one of Hart's sources, a man, at his place of business and ordered him to stop talking to The Weekly immediately. (The man had already spoken to The Weekly. In fact, he came to us after it became apparent to him that TPD and other officials were ignoring his complaints.) When the source told Charlton that her call was inappropriate, she reiterated that he was not to speak to The Weekly, and said, "Are we clear, Mr._____?"
Then Charlton, who apparently has never heard of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, called Hart at home and demanded she stop working on the story. Charlton threatened to subpoena Hart's information.
Hart says it became very clear to her that Charlton had not even begun her investigation. Hart informed Charlton that a subpoena wasn't necessary--that she would gladly supply the detective with all of her information voluntarily, in hopes of resolving the most recent allegations against Mahl.
Hart took the information to the police station. What ensued can only be described as verbal abuse and attempted intimidation. Alone in a room with Hart, Charlton told the writer, "Just because there's smoke, doesn't mean there's fire." Warning Hart several times to "be careful," she informed the writer that the police deal only in facts, while reporters write things that can be misconstrued.
Raising her voice and pointing a finger, Charlton told Hart, "You're blowing my investigation...You'll be responsible for letting a dangerous perpetrator go free."
Blocking the doorway so Hart couldn't leave, Charlton began to shout, "Are you willing to take responsibility for this?" After the detective had repeated this several times, Hart answered , "Yes,
I'm willing to take responsibility for what I write."
At this point Charlton finally let Hart out of the room, as Charlton shouted, "HANDLE IT!"
Later that day, Hart attempted to make a complaint to Internal Affairs, and was told an officer would call that afternoon or the next morning. No one called.
When she called the police department the next day, Hart was told the Internal Affairs officer "never got around to calling," and, in fact, was already gone for the day and wouldn't be back until Monday.
Upon insisting on speaking to someone, Hart says a Sgt. Balda took her information, but advised her that he was being moved out of Internal Affairs, so all he could do was take the information and pass it on. Hart then called TPD Public Information Officer Eugene Mejia, and was told he was out for the day.
Later that afternoon, the man whom Charlton had so imperiously ordered not to speak to The Weekly called us to report that juvenile detention officials had apparently done something so revengeful toward him and one of the alleged victims in the Mahl case that it seemed well beyond the pall of common sense, not to mention simple human decency. This act appears to have involved the abuse of official power, a discussion of which we hope to share with our readers in a future issue. At this point, however, we've requested an investigation, and we don't wish to jeopardize the possibility, however remote, that one will occur.
UNFORTUNATELY, OUR experiences with today's Tucson Police Department don't seem all that unusual.
It doesn't surpise us, for example, that TPD officers can rush out, as they did recently, with the FBI to arrest an assistant Salpointe High School coach who was allegedly having naughty Internet conversations with a fake 14-year-old-boy, but for a considerable period of time TPD officers have been utterly unable to arrest a man whom real, live boys have accused of molestations.
Lately we've been hearing story after story about citizens who can no longer get a response from the police, as well as mistaken drug searches, cops passing motorists in trouble, cops berating victims for reporting crimes. And, more generally, officers who simply don't seem to care and who are rude to the public. The old guard, the seasoned officers who were once the glue that held TPD together, simply can't be found anymore.
In our opinion, this department is now badly out of control.
Police Chief Doug Smith is obviously not a strong leader. He's been oblivious while his department has been putrefying around him. And while everyone is busy suing everyone else over at the cop shop, the top cops don't appear to be working together (or even talking to each other, we hear)--and they're certainly not paying much attention to the needs of the public.
The recent media brouhaha involving Police Capt. Kevin Danaher's pathetic drunk-driving incident certainly points to deeper problems within the department. Anyone with a knowledge of alcohol abuse knows that Danaher's blood-alcohol count of 2.3, and the fact that the man was able to drive--or was even conscious--with that count points to a serious, long-term drinking problem. If Smith didn't know that about one of his top guns, he's an idiot.
The City of Tucson deserves to be served and protected by its police department. We must be able to trust that officers will respond quickly, while treating citizens with respect. Given the department's immense potential power over citizens' lives, and the opportunities for serious abuse a poorly run cop shop presents, we cannot sit idly by and hope TPD's problems will all iron out. The Tucson City Council must consider taking action sooner, rather than later.
Read the accompanying story about Dr. Michael Mahl in this issue.
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