By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
This is what Pete Span believes.
Two United States marshals went to the home of his elderly father in search of a fugitive. Without a warrant, the officers ransacked the house and roughed up the 74-year-old man.
After leaving the father's home, the marshals went to the Span family's place of business. They got into an argument with Pete's brother and sister. Convinced the Spans were hiding a fugitive, the marshals assaulted the siblings and placed them under arrest. When the 72-year-old Span mother took photographs of the marshals strangling her children in choke holds, she too was mauled and arrested. In jail, Pete's mother collapsed and had to be rushed to a hospital emergency room. More than two years after the fight, the matriarch of the family still isn't back to normal. She no longer drives, she stares off into space, she believes the marshals will come back.
In poor health to begin with, Pete's father never recovered from the rousting. Two months to the day after the visit from the marshals, the old man died.
Next week, Pete's brother and sister, Jerry and Darlene Span, will be given mandatory sentences of up to three years in prison for resisting arrest and attacking federal officers.
The fugitive being sought by the U.S. marshals was Mickey Michael, age 63. One of the Span kids is called Mickey Michael, but he is only 39. The marshals had the wrong man.
Pete Span cannot believe what has happened to his family.
The mistake by the marshals has destroyed a family that most of you have met at one time or another.
For more than three decades, the ten Span kids have walked the aisles of sporting events selling Cokes and hot dogs. They have worked the parades, the state fairs, the festivals, wherever there was a crowd in need of a drink or something to eat. During the holidays, they sold so many evergreens that their land on Buckeye Road was nicknamed Christmas Tree Corner. The family also salvaged old buildings and then sold the doors, windows and blocks to construction crews looking to save a buck. Just about as soon as a Span kid could stand up straight, the parents put the child to work. They were a God-fearing, hard-toiling, salt-of-the-earth clan born and raised in Phoenix.
A couple of the kids established reputations beyond their industrious family. One daughter, Pumpkin, is a glamorous model with an overseas reputation. Pete Span grew up to distinguish himself at Arizona State University, where he graduated with honors in business at the same time that he was the Western Athletic Conference champion in the steeplechase. Later, Pete won the first three Fiesta Bowl Marathons and placed 25th in a Boston Marathon.
Pete underlines his family's roots in Arizona as if these terrible events could not befall people who have worked so hard for so long.
It is indeed unbelievable.
But then every episode in this case is unique. For one thing, almost all of the violence was photographed. Pete, his sister Bonnie and the mother Virginia all had cameras out during the assault. Another unusual aspect, considering the marshals' allegations, was that the government was initially prepared to walk away.
Long after the ordeal of booking, after Jerry and Darlene had spent five days in jail, after the bond hearing, the government offered what observers labeled a reasonable deal.
In return for a plea of no contest, one year's probation, and five days' jail time, in addition to the five already served, the government would close out the case.
In a letter dated July 28, 1989, defense attorney Murray Miller wrote the Spans: "I would be remiss in my duty as your counsel if I did not point out to you that in my judgment I would recommend accepting the present plea bargain offer rather than run the risk of a felony conviction. When you are dealing with juries, it is difficult to predict what their verdict might be."
The Spans felt this might be a great offer if you were guilty. But they were innocent and they could prove it. What's more, Jerry and Darlene had already spent five days in jail and now the government expected five more? Not on your life. Get your witnesses, we're going to trial.
So the Spans took on the federal government, and now Jerry and Darlene are looking at three years in a federal pen.
The government's case was built around the testimony of law enforcement officers.
Marshals Garry T. Grotewold and David A. Dains swore under oath that Jerry Span, unprovoked, punched Marshal Grotewold in the chest and then reached for the officer's pistol. As Grotewold attempted to arrest Span, the marshal's partner moved to join the struggle. Both officers said Darlene Span then attacked Marshal Dains, knocking his glasses off and clawing his face and permanently damaging his knee. During the melee, said Dains, the mother, Virginia Span, clubbed him over the head with her 35mm camera.
When the marshals attempted to seize the camera as evidence, the mother resisted, going so far as to strike a Phoenix police officer who'd just arrived upon the scene. Virginia Span was led off in handcuffs.