ARIZONA'S OWN J. EDGAR HOOVER

RUBEN ORTEGA USED THE PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT TO PURSUE HIS PERSONAL AGENDA-AND HIS POLITICAL FOES

A year after the campaign, a grand jury was empaneled by then-attorney general Bob Corbin to probe the legality of the donations. Again there were subpoenas and investigators crawling over the two unions. Corbin later acknowledged that he launched the probe as a personal favor to Ortega. The grand jury found that no laws had been broken.

In 1983, Terry Goddard and a whole new slate of councilmembers were elected in the first races conducted under the single-member district system.

@rule:
@body:Shortly after Mayor Goddard took office, the city council appointed attorney Mike Sophy, who had run Goddard's campaign, to the Civil Service Board.

The five-member panel is the city's in-house court of last resort for disciplined employees. Although workers can appeal to the state Superior Court if they are unhappy with the Civil Service Board's findings, it is nonetheless one of the most powerful citizen boards in Phoenix.

In the new political climate of Phoenix, Sophy and other former board members say, the Civil Service Board would become one of Ortega's frequent battlegrounds, and its members among his targets. The private lives of members were investigated, and Ortega would not hesitate to publicly lash out at them.

Why would an unpaid group of citizen volunteers merit such attention from the chief? Because it was the only body in town that could expose Ortega's authoritarian rule of the police department, former members say.

Time and again, Sophy says, employees fired or disciplined by Ortega would come before the board with astounding stories.

During the 1980s, Ortega's ire at the board would increase, as it repeatedly reversed or reduced discipline that Ortega had meted out to officers.

"The biggest single problem was that there simply wasn't any substance to the charges as they were laid on us," Sophy says. "As time went on, we'd scratch our heads and wonder, 'What in the world is going on over at the police department?' One of the conclusions I know many of us had, simply from the way the cases looked, was that Ruben would act first and then think about it and try to justify it afterwards.

"He'd get angry at officer so-and-so and fire him, but then somebody had to try to create a plausible reason the chief had the right to do so. Those were big jobs because they couldn't very often do it."
One moment during his three years on the board, Sophy says, offered a chilling glimpse into the inner workings of Ortega's department.

"The police department had one of its own people under surveillance for a period of time," Sophy recalls. "The longer we heard the case, the more problematic it was why they had him under surveillance. I remember asking the head of internal operations 'Why did you have this officer under surveillance?' His answer to me was, 'Because we didn't know what he thought.' I found that terrifying."
Anna Ochoa Thorne, a local attorney, reached similar conclusions after serving on the board from 1987 to 1990. From 1985 to 1990, the board reinstated 17 of the 29 police officers Ortega fired.

In the three years Thorne was on the board, it handled 33 police disciplinary cases. In eight of them, the board threw out the discipline completely for lack of evidence, and in 12 others, it decided the discipline imposed by the chief was excessive and reduced it.

Current PLEA president Mike Petchel says the union tried to keep track of how much money Ortega was costing the city in judgments from successful lawsuits filed by people unfairly disciplined by the police chief.

"We stopped keeping track around 1986, when the figure was approaching $2 million," Petchel says. "Nobody seemed to care that it was costing so much."
Thorne was not surprised there were so many successful lawsuits.
"We'd hear testimony that cases emanated from personality conflicts," Thorne, now an immigration lawyer, recalls. "So and so had pissed the chief off, or was an ally of the chief's enemy or was the chief's enemy.

"Sometimes, we got the feeling there was a hit list. I hesitate to put it that strongly, but it started to appear that way."
The board's challenge to his authority brought out the barroom fighter in Ortega. He publicly attacked Sophy, Thorne and other board members for voting to reinstate officers he fired.

He castigated the panel for making him rehire officers he described as "dopers, liars and thieves." His protestations found a warm reception at the state's largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, which obligingly reported that a runaway Civil Service Board was crippling the chief's ability to manage his own department.

"Ruben became so incensed that the Civil Service Board was basically becoming fair that he goes out and mounts a media campaign," Pell says. "He goes down and meets with the [Republic] editorial board and the next thing you know they're coming out with big editorials and articles in the paper about how the district system has again proven that strong management styles don't work.

"Poor Ruben can't run the police department anymore because the Civil Service Board is throwing out all his cases."
But Ortega did more than just play political hardball.
According to Thorne and Jane McElfresh, who served on the board in the mid-1980s, Ortega's department investigated board members.

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