Who Sprung Alleged Shooter?

Judge, prosecutors, pretrial-services officers point fingers in the troubling release of a shooting suspect

On April 25, Glendale police arrested Dennis Earl Bryley on charges of shooting a security guard during a burglary last July.

The arrest came months after police had booked another man, Eli Balkcom, on attempted-murder charges in that case ("Bad Blood," May 2).

Now, authorities are scrambling to explain why and how Bryley--already on intensive probation after a February felony conviction--was released on his own recognizance (OR) hours after detectives arrested him.

Bryley's unexpected freedom was short-lived: A probation officer rearrested the 18-year-old Peoria man on April 30 after he allegedly admitted that he'd recently used cocaine. Bryley faces a May 13 arraignment on charges of aggravated assault in the security-guard-shooting case.

The specter of a convicted felon--now linked by police to the near-fatal shooting of an unarmed guard--being kicked back on the street has astonished many in the criminal-justice system, if not the judge who released Bryley.

"I don't know why it boggles anyone's mind," says Walter Jackson, the pro tem Phoenix City Court judge who ordered Bryley's release at an April 25 hearing. "I don't have the power of God to determine everything about every person. The county attorney has a duty to articulate the interests of the people, and the county attorney wasn't in court. Neither were the police officers, the victims or any other parties. I can only go by what's in front of me."

What was in front of Judge Jackson is called a Form 4. It summarizes the arresting officer's version of a crime, notes the bail amount suggested by a pretrial-services officer, and contains other relevant information.

Glendale police Detective Tom Clayton summarized Bryley's alleged crime: "Suspect was with several other subjects attempting to steal a vehicle. When the subjects were confronted by security guards, the suspect shot a security guard, causing serious injuries."

A pretrial-services officer who screened Bryley before his court appearance recommended the highest possible bail, noting that Bryley was "already on Intensive Probation, [and] has threatened other co-defendants."

But Judge Jackson checked "No" in a box that asks if the pretrial guidelines were followed. He explained why in a handwritten sentence: "Probation officer wants [Bryley] released."

Jackson says he doesn't recall where he got this information. But Gael Parks, court liaison for the Adult Probation Office, says it didn't come from her office.

"The officer in this case [Beverly Geske] swears and will say so under oath that she never said anything about wanting this guy released," Parks says. "It's not consistent with anything she does. She had nothing really nice to say about this young man, and she was fairly shocked when Mr. Bryley was released OR--because of the serious nature of the charges and because he hadn't been doing very well on probation. Judge Jackson was simply way off base in this one."

It isn't unusual, by the way, that initial appearance hearings are conducted without prosecutors, police and victims present. Bryley's initial appearance was no exception.

But Maricopa County court records are replete with details of Bryley's criminal history.

Bryley's juvenile record included six convictions, and allegations of choking his mother, threatening to shoot his stepfather and teaming with other youngsters to assault a schoolmate.

Bryley's first brush with adult court came in April 1995, after a Glendale man reported that someone had stolen a handgun and stereo from his car. Police found the gun at a friend's home, after Bryley allegedly had pointed it at someone.

Prosecutors last September accused Bryley of aggravated assault, burglary and theft. A court-appointed psychologist recommended Bryley's transfer to adult court. "Dennis [has] exhibited a persistent pattern of conduct-disordered behavior," Stan Cabanski wrote, warning the court of the "acting-out potential and the danger he presents to the community."

(Cabanski wrote this one month after Bryley allegedly shot the security guard in the back. But Bryley's role in that misdeed wouldn't come to light for another seven months.)

But the September assault charges against Bryley didn't stick--police couldn't locate his alleged victim. Instead, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of theft.

"The defendant has been offered a generous plea agreement," prosecutor Patricia Hicks wrote in January. "Clearly, the defendant needs swift, strong intervention to assist him in changing his negative behavior."

A judge sentenced Bryley to three years' intensive probation--the equivalent of house arrest--and 30 days in jail, to be served this September.

But Bryley spent most of March and part of April behind bars after the probation office accused him of repeatedly failing to "abide by directives."

In the days before his April 25 arrest, Bryley had been living at a home for wayward probationers on East Garfield Street in Phoenix. That's where Glendale police arrested him, escorted him to the county jail and filled out the paperwork that preceded his initial court appearance.

"If a police officer, a victim, a prosecutor, anyone had come forward," says Judge Jackson, "things likely would have been different. But, you ask, where does the buck stop? I'd say it stops by law with the parties I've just mentioned, not with the judge. Where was everybody?"

Like everyone else involved in this case, Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, doesn't pull his punches.

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