Got'em

GITEM, the state's $12 million antigang task force, storms Casa Grande and shoots a smalltime scofflaw in the back

It's a balmy night in June 1995. Petty felon Thomas Glen Campbell slouches in the cab of a borrowed pickup truck north of Casa Grande. As he puffs on a cigarette, a helicopter drones low overhead.

He gets spooked. He has no driver's license, there's a warrant out for his arrest and he's buzzed on methamphetamine. So he tries to escape by driving down a washboard road. When a car gives chase, he knows it's a cop. He isn't about to get locked up again, so he jumps out of the truck and bolts into the desert. He's not far from home, and he knows the terrain well.

But Campbell is no match for the forces arrayed against him. The helicopter is equipped with infrared and night-vision technology, rendering the dark desert useless as a hiding place. It also carries a less exotic piece of equipment, a VCR that will record a two-mile, stop-and-go footrace with police.

The videotape of Campbell's foolish flight is eerie. Filmed through night-vision equipment, the cool desert shows up as a pale moonscape. The warm human bodies are rendered as blurred, dark shapes reminiscent of grainy home movies of Sasquatch.

Campbell pulls out his pocketknife and occasionally waves it in the direction of the cops, who, in turn, periodically try to neutralize him with pepper spray. He jumps fences and gullies as the lawmen struggle to keep up.

It's hardly a hair-parting chase scene favored in Hollywood. It's almost comical to see the men, time and again, slow to a trot, then to a chest-heaving trudge, before Campbell discovers another burst of stamina and continues his flight.

But the comedy ends abruptly, with Campbell on the ground, shot in the back, begging to be shot again. Above him stands a squad of men in black fatigue pants, combat boots and black tee shirts. The name of the unit is emblazoned across the men's chests: "GITEM."

Although probes by two different police agencies will conclude that the shooting was justified, no investigative report can dispel a stark impression created by the video--that Campbell was needlessly shot in the back.

The officers say they shot Campbell because he lunged at them with the knife. But the video clearly shows Campbell is walking away from officers--he appears to be at least ten feet in front of them--when state Department of Public Safety Officer Jo Dean Freese fired his .45.* Not surprisingly, Campbell is suing the police agencies involved.

Ironically, the video that appears to depict a senseless shooting is the very evidence that sent Campbell to prison for seven years. Because he brandished the knife, he had the choice of pleading guilty to aggravated assault on the officers or go to trial and risk a sentence of up to 105 years. He copped a plea.

Today, the 27-year-old Campbell sits in the state prison in Florence. With a slew of prior arrests and a documented fondness for methamphetamine, he is hardly a sympathetic character.

Yet his shooting by members of GITEM--a state antigang task force--raises questions about the wisdom of sending a swarm of shock troops into a rural community, about spending $12 million on a task force that gets little oversight, about the ability of one police agency to investigate another, about the targeting of people of color under the rubric of "zero tolerance."

Shooting Glen Campbell--who, incidentally, had no known gang affiliations--might have been the most unfortunate thing GITEM did in Casa Grande.

But it wasn't the only thing.

Governor J. Fife Symington III declared war in February 1994. Violent crime among the state's juveniles had reached all-time highs and, by some accounts, the number of gangs had doubled under Symington's watch. The phrase "drive-by shooting" had become prominent in the Arizona criminal vernacular.

Gangs had begun to infiltrate Indian reservations and small towns, which had long been considered safe from such urban ills. Many politicians, chief among them then-Phoenix mayor Thelda Williams, clamored for Symington to do something. With an election looming, it was a challenge he could ill afford to ignore.

He asked the Legislature for $7 million to fund an elite gang-fighting unit, the likes of which the state had never seen. The Gang Intelligence and Team Enforcement Mission, GITEM, would compile a database of all known gangs and gang members throughout the state.

Its officers, made up of volunteers from any of the roughly 80 police and sheriff's departments throughout Arizona, would complete a month of intensive training and serve yearlong stints before rotating back home, taking their newfound gang expertise with them. While with GITEM, they would drive unmarked cars, wear distinctive black uniforms and receive air support from Army National Guard helicopters.

The Legislature granted Symington's wish.
In an August 30, 1994, guest column in the Arizona Republic, Symington promised readers that GITEM's 80 officers were "about to launch the most fierce attack on street gangs and urban violence in the history of Arizona."

GITEM was a public relations coup. A May 13, 1994, Republic editorial proclaimed that "Arizona is in a war and the good guys intend to be the victors." The article decried skeptics such as Symington rival Terry Goddard, who had dismissed GITEM as political opportunism in an election year. The editorial echoed Symington's battle cry, stating that GITEM officers "will serve as shock troops to swoop down and make arrests."

Armed with this mandate, the men and women of GITEM began training for the coming battle in August 1994. They would offer their services to whomever requested them, working with local law enforcement officials across the state.

GITEM's high-profile sweeps in Phoenix got prominent media coverage. The task force struck a chord. GITEM was soon credited with driving gangs from some of Phoenix's toughest neighborhoods.

But GITEM was also supposed to quell gang crime in rural areas. One of the first to ask for help was Pinal County Sheriff Frank Reyes, who had seen violent crime in and around Casa Grande mount.

Like most of the towns clustered along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, Casa Grande is all but invisible to passing motorists. The city's main drag and primary link to the interstate is Florence Boulevard, a succession of strip malls, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. On Friday and Saturday nights, the street and surrounding parking lots teem with bored, posturing teenagers. Local police maintain an uneasy vigil.

With a population of 20,000, Casa Grande is a small city with big-city crime. According to the FBI, the city leads the state in per capita crime in all categories, from assaults to thefts to rape. It also has the state's highest high school dropout and teen-pregnancy rates. With such a litany of problems, it is not surprising that gangs have sprung up there.

Drive-by shootings occur with regularity; unless someone is hit, they are no longer front-page news in the Casa Grande Dispatch.

When the FBI statistics portrayed Casa Grande as the most crime-ridden community in a crime-ridden state, Bob Mitchell, the city's mayor, said the portrait was distorted. "I know I feel safer walking down the street here than I would in Phoenix," said Mitchell, who inhabits a subdivision a world away from the city's older core, where most of the crime occurs.

Dawn Yubeta is familiar with the names and faces behind the crime statistics. She lives in a working-class neighborhood where homes are the most likely to be burglarized. Her neighbors are most likely to crop up in the Dispatch's police blotter.

There have been nights when she and her family sprawled for cover as gunshots rang out near their modest yet tidy home.

But on Friday, October 7, 1994, it was a different sound that caught Yubeta's attention.

"It was a helicopter," she says. "It just kept flying over the neighborhood all night, shining its light around."

Dawn and her husband, Danny, climbed into their '81 Monte Carlo and went to see what was going on. She says they pulled onto the city's main drag, but did not get far.

"We saw cars getting pulled over, people getting busted everywhere," she says. "And then this cop car pulled in behind us. We were like, 'What'd we do?'"

GITEM was making its debut in Casa Grande. An officer informed the Yubetas that the lamp over their license plate had burned out and needed to be fixed, she says. Then he let them go.

"It was so absurd," she says.
Michael Vasquez, 18, was cruising Florence Boulevard in his 1964 Plymouth Fury. His brother Christian, 20, was in the passenger's seat.

The son of a Casa Grande cop whose parents divorced several years ago, Michael is tall, rail-thin and soft-spoken. Christian has since joined the Marines.

Michael Vasquez's voice rises when he describes his run-ins with GITEM that night: "We just kept getting pulled over. I mean, at first it was kind of like a game, but after a couple of times, I was like, 'What's up?'"

Vasquez, who knows people in gangs but denies any involvement himself, says the reasons for the stops ranged from petty to ridiculous. Twice, he says, he was pulled over for allegedly swerving. Two other times, he says, officers stopped him for faulty brake lights.

"As they were letting us go, I pushed the brake light, and it worked," he says. "So they said, 'Oh, it must have been a short in the car.'"

During one of the stops, GITEM officers filled out forms listing the brothers' skin, eye and hair color, and whether they bore any tattoos that would betray gang leanings. The questionnaires are part of a strategy of compiling a database of gang members throughout the state, explains Captain David Gonzales, GITEM's commander. Gonzales says the Vasquez brothers were not logged into the system as active gang members. Instead, the GITEM officers who questioned the brothers merely used the card as a guideline.

"It's a very helpful aid during field interviews," he says, adding that information is kept only on people who exhibit at least two signs of gang activity, which can range from the flashing of signs to the wearing of gang colors.

So far, Gonzales says, GITEM has recorded data on roughly 8,500 active gang members in Arizona. Names will be purged from the system after five years, provided the subjects have no run-ins with police, he says.

All told, a press release from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office said, more than 400 people throughout Casa Grande and the surrounding area were questioned during GITEM's first operation in Casa Grande.

Gabe Beechum was one of those people.
Beechum is a former NCAA track standout who returned to Casa Grande several years ago after graduating from Arizona State University. He had just gotten off work at the city's Parks Department, where he runs recreational programs for kids, when he stopped his car and got out to watch several GITEM officers make an arrest.

"I just stood there and watched, just to see what would happen," he says.
Beechum, who is black, says one of the officers marched over. "He came up and said, 'Why are you wearing sunglasses? Why are you wearing your hat on backwards?'" Beechum says. As soon as Beechum told the officer who he was and where he worked, the officer backed off, he says.

"It just gave me a strange feeling," Beechum says, choosing his words carefully. "It just didn't feel right, you know?"

After the operation, a group of angry parents met with Sheriff Reyes, GITEM's host that weekend. Prior to the sweep, Reyes had announced that the operation was to be "a public statement . . . that the levels of violence and criminal activity related to gang presence is no longer to be tolerated."

The parents told the sheriff the operation had made the entirely wrong kind of statement. "We felt they were singling out minorities," says Michael and Christian's mother, Dora Vasquez, who attended the meeting.

Reyes acknowledged that tactics employed by GITEM in Phoenix and Tucson could probably use some refinement in a smaller city. But the sheriff, who is Latino, denied that minorities were unfairly targeted.

Reyes explained that the 110 officers who took part had been told to stop any car with any violation as part of a "zero tolerance" strategy.

But records show the sweep netted almost zero white people. Except for one instance, all suspects booked into the Pinal County Jail on charges brought by officers involved in the October operation were Latino, African American or Indian, the vast majority of them young men.

Gonzales, who became GITEM's commander shortly after the operation in Casa Grande, is not surprised. Because 96 percent of Arizona's gang members are minorities, those questioned and ultimately arrested during a typical GITEM sweep most likely will not be white, Gonzales says.

"Unfortunately, that's just the way the numbers very often shake out," he says.

Gonzales says he has spoken to his share of angry parents since taking over GITEM. "A lot of the time, they're only getting their kids' version of what happened," he says. "Well, when we tell them where their kids were hanging out, or what we found them doing, they're usually a lot more understanding."

"To us, there is no such thing as a 'wanna-be,'" he adds. "If kids are dressing this way, it sends a signal that they might just take the next step."

Despite the sound and fury, GITEM's initial operation in Casa Grande was unimpressive. The Pinal County Sheriff's Office announced that the operation generated 78 adult bookings. But New Times' analysis of court documents indicates that of those 78, only 12 were nabbed by GITEM, even though its members made up a plurality of the force.

One veteran Pinal County prosecutor believes he knows why GITEM made so few arrests. "You've got all these guys coming in who don't know a thing about the area, and who've only got two days to learn it. The simple fact is, they get lost," says the prosecutor, who requested anonymity.

"They're relying on the local cops to show them where to go, but there's only so many of them [local cops] to go around."

A Casa Grande police officer says he made a point to stay out of GITEM's way. "All they do is slow us down," he says.

Records also reveal that several arrests attributed to GITEM were unrelated to the sweep. For example, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office said two felony warrants had been served by officers assigned to the task force. Records show that the only people booked into jail on felony warrants that weekend were a couple that had been charged with beating their foster daughter to death several months earlier. The warrants, served by Casa Grande police, undoubtedly would have been served even if GITEM had not been in town.

The Sheriff's Office also credited the antigang effort with making a felony narcotics bust. But the bust, which netted 330 pounds of marijuana, was actually made by a DPS officer patroling Interstate 10 as part of his routine duties.

The majority of the people booked into jail were held on outstanding warrants, mostly for failing to show up at traffic court. The rest are a mixed bag of low-end felonies and misdemeanors--and other than their skin color, their connection to gang activity is dubious. Three women were booked for allowing minors access to alcohol at a Casa Grande home; one man--the only nonminority booked during the October sweep--was arrested for kicking a Casa Grande cop who had responded to a domestic violence call; two people were arrested on drunken-driving charges; and seven men were hauled in for fighting at a party.

In almost every case, these offenders were released the next day after paying off fines or agreeing to appear before a justice of the peace.

But do hit-and-run enforcement tactics have any appreciable impact on gang crime? Sheriff Reyes, who lives in Casa Grande, says they do. "I think there's been a drop in the number of drive-by shootings, and I think the work we did with GITEM had a lot to do with that," says Reyes.

If Reyes believes that, though, he hasn't been reading his newspaper. The Dispatch's Monday police blotter frequently chronicles weekend gang gunplay. Last month, rival gangs exchanged more than 100 gunshots in an industrial area on Casa Grande's west side; miraculously, no one was hit.

Gonzales says he has not conducted a statistical review of the Casa Grande operation, and, in any case, the real value of a show of force is to send a message.

"Guns, booze and drugs--those are the three major areas of gang crime," he says. "If we stop a carload of kids for a traffic violation and find a gun, or if we break up a party where a bunch of kids are drinking, it sends the message that if you break the law, you will go to jail."

Thirty-seven adults were cited that weekend for liquor violations. Another 23 juveniles got citations, mostly for breaking curfew and underage drinking. Three were picked up for violating probation, the rest for disorderly conduct or vandalism. Officers also seized eight concealed weapons during the sweep, and cited 26 people for possessing minor amounts of drugs, or drug paraphernalia.

Since its inception, the task force claims to have taken 350 guns off Arizona streets. Its officers have written almost 7,000 traffic tickets and arrested more than 5,000 adults and 2,200 juveniles.

This has earned the task force its share of admirers. In Phoenix, GITEM and Phoenix police have launched three intensive sweeps through the Westwood neighborhood, an area bounded by 19th Avenue, I-17, and Camelback and Indian School roads. With more than 121 apartment complexes and 10,000 people, it is among the city's most densely populated areas.

Donna Neill, president of Westwood's neighborhood association, calls GITEM a "lifeline."

"My philosophy is if you don't like the police presence, there's probably a pretty darn good reason," Neill, a retiree, says.

Statewide, GITEM has "contacted" more than 18,000 people, many of them in the fashion of Michael and Christian Vasquez.

Their mother, Dora Vasquez, remains skeptical.
"I'm not trying to deny that there is a problem," says Vasquez, who, as director of a nonprofit group that helps troubled kids, is familiar with the dynamics of gangs in the area. "I just think it needs to be made clear that there have got to be other ways to deal with it.

"The main thing this operation succeeded in doing was making a whole lot of people angry at the police."

GITEM's work in Casa Grande has not been limited to weekend blitzes. GITEM has helped Casa Grande police out of several manpower pinches. Once, a squad of GITEM officers stood by to help police defuse tensions at the high school after a gang-related brawl. Another time, a GITEM detachment helped local cops clean out a drug-infested bar that had been operating without a liquor license.

Gonzales points out that his officers conduct ongoing operations with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, which has contributed three of its officers to GITEM.

During such a joint operation on Friday, June 2, 1995, Thomas Glen Campbell crossed GITEM's path.

Glen Campbell has a thick build and the kind of blunt features and heavy brow that leads at least one wise guy in Pinal County's criminal-justice system to liken him to a cave man. He wears his dark red hair in a thick braid down the center of his back.

Until he was transferred to a state prison system six months ago, Campbell could be found in the Pinal County Jail in Florence, where he was interviewed for this story.

More often than not, his terse answers follow long pauses that his attorney, Tom Larson, attribute in part to painkillers Campbell has taken since getting shot.

Campbell admits that running from the law while clutching a knife was a very stupid thing to do.

"I guess I screwed up," he says.
When asked whether he lunged at a GITEM officer, though, Campbell perks right up.

"You tell me something," he says. "How could I lunge at some cop and still get shot in the back?"

He lifts his orange jail-issue shirt to reveal a purplish scar near his left side. Next, he turns around to show a similar, healed-over scar about an inch to the right of his spine--the point where a .45-caliber slug tore into his back before passing through his abdomen and into the night.

That the bullet missed his spine and vital organs may be the closest Glen Campbell has ever come to good fortune.

Growing up in Casa Grande, his consuming passion consisted of greasing his knuckles on dirt bikes, which he would ride through the desert near his home.

"He'd be out in the garage working on some motorcycle all night long," says his mother, Patricia Valdez, who raised Glen and his brother single-handedly while eking out a living as a clerk for the state Department of Economic Security. "I'd say, 'When you comin' to bed?' He'd say, 'I'm almost finished.'"

He had his scrapes with the law, but he chose heavy-metal tee shirts over gang colors.

"Yeah, I remember Glen from when he was a kid," says Casa Grande detective Jesse Ybarra, who helped investigate the shooting. "He used to hang out with this kid named Paul McCartney. I remember catching them once, doing something stupid."

He shakes his head.
"Glen Campbell and Paul McCartney. Pretty weird, huh?"
Campbell's adult rap sheet dates to 1987, when he led Casa Grande police on a motorcycle chase. In 1993, while in the throes of a booze-and-methamphetamine binge, he tried to give a DPS officer the slip. The stunt landed him in jail for several months and cost him his driver's license.

Tom Larson admits his client is no choirboy. "It's not the Kennedys of this world who wind up in this situation," Larson says.

But he notes that when Campbell fled into the desert, none of the pursuing officers knew who they were chasing.

Campbell had left his girlfriend's house around 10:30 p.m. and was driving to the trailer park north of town where he lived with his mother. As he turned off the highway, he saw something that made his stomach turn.

"There was cops, everywhere," he says, practically shuddering at the recollection. "I didn't want nothing to do with them."

Campbell cut off his headlights and eased the truck into the desert, where he figured he could wait for the heat to let up. He parked on a dirt road, but, after a few minutes, the helicopter droned low overhead.

Inside the copter, pilot William Sapp and his co-pilot scanned the desert with night-vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment. Sapp noticed the pickup and relayed its location to officers on the ground, several of whom dropped what they were doing to investigate the "suspicious" vehicle.

Campbell heard the throb of the helicopter, started the truck and drove off.
"Then I seen a car, and I knew it was a cop--it's just flying through the desert," he remembers glumly.

Sapp watched from above as Campbell leaped out of the truck and ran into a wash, where he curled up beneath a large mesquite bush, hoping to escape detection.

It was a vain effort. Against the cool of the desert floor, Campbell stuck out.

Guided by Sapp, three officers on foot closed in on their quarry. When Campbell heard them in the brush nearby, he emerged from his hiding place and jumped a barbed-wire fence.

According to police reports, he shouted for the officers to stay away as he waved a pocketknife with a 3.5-inch blade over his shoulder. He said he wouldn't go back to jail.

Sapp switched on his aircraft's bright landing light, which he kept focused on Campbell.

After Campbell had run for about a mile, Sapp activated the VCR to record the infrared images.

On at least three occasions, officers got close enough to empty practically their entire cans of pepper spray into Campbell's face. One officer even grabbed Campbell by the shoulder. Even though Campbell easily could have made use of his pocketknife, he never did.

Then again, he didn't need to. Because of an uncooperative breeze, the noxious, choking spray kept wafting back into the officers' faces, forcing them to retreat time and again. After almost two miles, though, it appears the lawmen had had enough.

On the video, three officers--Jo Dean Freese, Scott Armstrong and Wes Ellington--are seen lining up shoulder to shoulder behind Campbell with their weapons drawn and leveled at his back. During questioning after the shooting, they guessed they were ten to 15 feet away.

Campbell continued to walk away, occasionally looking over his shoulder, waving the knife.

"Stop, right where you're at," Freese reportedly told Campbell as he blinked through pepper spray and gasped for breath. "You turn around and point that knife at me one more time, I'm going to shoot you."

When Campbell began to turn his torso, Freese shot him in the back with his .45.

Campbell moaned and clutched his side where the bullet exited. He took a few more steps and collapsed on his face. The three officers quickly rolled him over and handcuffed him as other cops who had been straggling along caught up and began to mill around.

While waiting for an emergency helicopter to land and whisk him to a Phoenix emergency room, where toxicology reports would later reveal "abnormal" amounts of methamphetamine in his blood, the wounded Campbell begged to be shot again.

Casa Grande police were called in to conduct a criminal investigation. Freese told investigators he went and sat down "to take a few deep breaths" after pulling the trigger.

Joel Jerale, a Chandler police officer on loan to GITEM, remembered things differently. Freese "seemed to be, uh, pretty much beside himself . . . ," Jerale told investigators.

Kevin Jex, a DPS officer assigned to GITEM, remembered seeing Freese kneel down, as if to pray. "He seemed to be crying . . ." Jex told Casa Grande police.

Under Arizona law, officers may use deadly force only after all other measures at their disposal--verbal commands, pepper spray, batons--have failed. And unless officers believe a suspect poses a serious threat and must be captured immediately, the law prohibits them from firing warning shots, or at fleeing felons.

Larson, Campbell's attorney, says Jo Dean Freese shot a fleeing felon, and he says the video proves it.

"All I can say is, thank God we've got that video," he says. "You watch that thing and you know, you know that this was a bad shooting.

"It kinda makes you wonder how many Glen Campbells there are out there."
In the few seconds before Freese fires, Campbell can be seen twisting his trunk around and extending his pocketknife at his pursuers before facing forward again and continuing to stride away.

The flash of Freese's weapon appears just as Campbell has turned almost halfway around for a second time, his right arm extended outward, the knife in his hand.

"You can see that the direction of [Campbell's] feet never changes," Larson says. "If he's lunging . . . wouldn't he at least have to stop walking to turn around?"

A report prepared by DPS Officer J.T. Johnson, who conducted an internal investigation into the shooting, says much the same thing: "Prior to being struck by the bullet, the suspect continued to walk, turning his body slightly to the left."

Yet Johnson concluded that the shooting was justified because Freese "feared for his safety and the safety of the other officers and reacted accordingly."

Johnson based his conclusion on interviews conducted in his presence by Casa Grande police detectives William Lebbs and Jesse Ybarra.

In cases involving the use of deadly force, DPS policy--and the policies of most police departments--dictates that an outside agency conducts the investigation. According to the common wisdom, the result is an investigation free of internal bias.

Policy, as spelled out in DPS' own manual, also requires that officers involved in shootings be immediately separated and removed to neutral locations.

However, none of the DPS reports obtained by New Times indicates whether Freese or any of the other officers involved were separated.

On the contrary, in his report for DPS, Johnson notes that when he arrived at the DPS substation in Casa Grande around 12:30 a.m--nearly two hours after the shooting--he saw "numerous DPS and GITEM officers in and around the office."

And it wasn't until an hour later that Casa Grande detectives Lebbs and Ybarra were called to begin their investigation.

Larson believes the importance of those three hours cannot be overstated, because they gave everyone a chance to discuss his experiences, Larson says. He notes that, in criminal cases, one of the first things police do is separate suspects to prevent them from corroborating stories.

In Lebbs' own report, he notes that two of his superiors, a Casa Grande lieutenant and a sergeant, briefed him on what had happened when he arrived at the DPS substation. Lebbs wrote: "One of the officers of the GITEM squad had shot a suspect after the suspect had threatened him and other officers with a knife. I was then assigned to investigate the incident."

A statement like that leads Larson to infer that Lebbs had reached critical conclusions before his probe even began. Indeed, Lebbs' ensuing line of leading, softball questioning would seem more at home on Larry King Live than in a police interrogation room:

Lebbs: "Did you feel he was gonna turn around and come at you with the knife?"

Freese: "Yes, I did . . ."
Lebbs: "Okay. You felt he was gonna come at you with the knife?"
Freese: "I felt that he was gonna come at me or the other officers."

Of Scott Armstrong, who was next to Freese when the shot was fired, Lebbs asked: "Okay. Now, when he turned around at you, did you feel threatened at that time?"

Armstrong: "Oh, yeah."
Armstrong told Lebbs that his finger was on the trigger of his weapon all along, and that he was so scared he would have fired if Freese hadn't.

However, in a separate interview later that night, Armstrong told DPS' Johnson he hadn't shot because "the only target I had was the suspect's back."

Campbell's attorney wonders just how threatened Freese, Armstrong or the other four officers involved in the pursuit really felt.

"There's six of them, okay?" Larson says. "They've all got bulletproof vests on. They've all got batons. They've all got cans of pepper spray, and there's a helicopter circling above.

"Are we really supposed to believe they felt threatened by a guy running around out there with a pocketknife?"

Larson may soon put those questions to a jury. Last month, he filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against DPS and Pinal County, claiming Campbell's civil rights were violated on the night of the shooting.

"The fact is, these were just cops who messed up, and then were less than truthful about it," he says. "I'm not so sure that what they did was really so unusual, aside from the fact that we can watch it on TV."

Pat Dickson, who defended Campbell in the criminal case, calls the GITEM members "John Wayne wanna-bes who watched way too many cop shows when they were growing up."

Dickson says he gave a copy of the video to the judge and asked him to dismiss the case on the grounds of "outrageous police misconduct." His motion was rejected.

Dickson says that in order to convict Campbell on up to three counts of aggravated assault, prosecutors needed only to prove that he was armed with a knife during the chase.

"Basically, if everything had gone wrong in court, we would have been looking at a possible sentence of 105 years," Dickson says in explaining why Campbell agreed to plead guilty to one count for a much softer sentence.

Greg Bizzozero, the prosecutor assigned to the case, says Campbell should have gone to trial if he felt wronged.

When asked about the possibility that Campbell might have been a crime victim, Bizzozero says the matter was resolved to his satisfaction by the Casa Grande investigation, which cleared Officer Freese of any wrongdoing.

DPS let Freese return to work within a week of the shooting.
Besides, Bizzozero says, Campbell wasn't really shot in the back. "Our feeling was that he was shot more in the side," he says.

GITEM chief Gonzales, echoing the official line of the Pinal County Attorney's Office, says the shooting was justified and that the investigation into it was valid.

He refused to discuss the case further because of the lawsuit, he says. Likewise, he adds, all of the officers involved in the shooting have been told not to discuss it with the media.

In the meantime, GITEM marches on. Even though the sweeps are its most visible task, the focus has shifted to include education and intelligence gathering, Gonzales says.

"Before, the approach to gangs was very parochial," Gonzales says. "Once a gang had passed out of their area, police would say, 'Well, that's it for us. Let the other guys deal with them.'

". . . but you're never going to make a dent in the problem like that. These gangs are highly mobile, and we need to be, too."

State Representative Paul Newman, a Bisbee Democrat who sits on a committee that oversees audits of state agencies, says that if Gonzales' claims are accurate, the $12 million the Legislature has handed to GITEM so far might have been money well spent. However, he has yet to see an accounting of GITEM's work.

"That might be something we need to take a closer look at," he says. "Frankly, I have no idea what they've been doing out there."

Neither does the state Auditor General's Office. When asked about GITEM, Kim Hildebrand, who is in charge of conducting performance audits, tells New Times, "We've never done any kind of work on them. I don't even know who they are.

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