Leon's Empty Day in Court

Even without his state police uniform, Van Jackson makes an impression. He is the physical epitome of a state trooper. At six feet five inches and 200-plus pounds, the former cop carries himself with the composed grace of an athlete. Despite the dignity of his well-cut pin-striped suit, however, he could not maintain the gravity called for last Tuesday in the courthouse; in the end, Van Jackson stood there grinning. Caught terrorizing the family of Leon Woodward because of the Woodwards' outspoken political beliefs, ex-Department of Public Safety Officer Van Jackson smiled after the charges against him went up in smoke.

On September 12, County Attorney Richard Romley decided that even the slap on the wrist the disgraced state policeman faced was too severe.

Consequently, the first petty misdemeanor count was dropped altogether by the prosecutor and Van Jackson was allowed to plead "no contest" to the second charge.

After the death threats, the campaign of intimidation, the harassing phone calls at three in the morning, the dirty-tricks intelligence file, the covert surveillance, after the entire sordid tale of the state police targeting a private citizen for retribution, Van Jackson walked out of court with a $685 fine.

No jail. No confession. No guilty plea. And no admission of who else at DPS was involved.

The man who spoke out about the abuses he perceived within DPS and thereby became the focus of state police vengeance, Leon Woodward, adamantly opposed the plea agreement. But no one was particularly interested in what the victim wanted.

The collapse by the County Attorney's Office occurred the same day that the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to punish anyone who burns a flag with a year in jail and fines up to $100,000. Apparently a lunatic with a Zippo lighter who torches a flag is seen as a bigger threat to the republic than state police officers who use their staggering authority to cow outspoken citizens.

Nor is it merely County Attorney Romley who is prepared to look the other way when rogue cops terrorize a citizen for vigorously exercising basic rights of free speech.

A secretary in the editorial office of this newspaper asked after the first column on Woodward and the state police, "Why are you defending a loudmouth like Leon? He's such a jerk."

After the second column, reader Pat Kent wrote to New Times: "In last week's episode of Leon the persecuted, a statement by his wife spoke volumes: `Leon, what have you done?' After all, his wife should know him better than anyone. I have heard this nasty, vulgar person many times on radio, in person and on TV. I'm sure he has many enemies out there. Why not give them equal time in your paper? It could go on for months." Even an attorney who has represented this newspaper and whose wife has marched in the streets of Phoenix to promote racial harmony had no sympathy for Woodward. If you don't want the state police to call you at three in the morning, that's easy: Don't irritate the cops, said the lawyer.

I reminded my friend that we weren't discussing some hothead who flipped off a motorcycle cop and then wondered why he'd been given a speeding ticket.

Leon Woodward believes that the state police are out of control. He thinks that DPS and Colonel Ralph Milstead organized a coup d'etat to overthrow the legally elected governor of Arizona, Evan Mecham. He may be obnoxious, but since Leon Woodward believes that the state police dumped Mecham, his protests are as American as apple pie.

And that's another thing, countered the lawyer. If the state police got rid of Evan Mecham, we ought to be grateful. Do you remember what this state was like when that man ran the show?

Of course I remember.
Mecham's term was marked by an unprecedented insensitivity to Jews, working women, homosexuals and minorities of all color. He defended the term "pickaninny" in reference to black children and revoked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

State government ground to a halt.
Even fellow Republicans were appalled at the conditions in Arizona.
Representative Chris Herstam of Phoenix in early October 1987: "What is more important: the political survival of Evan Mecham or the long-term future of this state?"

Then-House Majority Whip Jane Dee Hull in late October 1987: "The state is becoming paralyzed, not from a lack of government services but from the crisis a day that comes from the governor's office." She added: "I want to warn you that I do not think the last shoe has fallen."

His appointments to administrative posts included former felons, those with legal clouds over their heads and others who had been or would be indicted. Mecham's adviser on education defended the position that it was a right of schoolchildren to believe the Earth was flat. Arizona became a national disgrace.

And now Mecham is back.
In April, Mecham held a press conference to announce that he was running once again for the governor's office. Cheering as loud as anyone at that kickoff celebration was Leon Woodward. And as the Republican primary continues to stack up with candidates, Mecham's chances continue to improve.

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