Thrust and Parry

When a Tempe cop was accused of a brutal sexual assault on an ASU student, the City of Tempe responded with an assault on the state's public-records law

Yellowhair was on his stomach, still bound hand and foot, when Ferrin stepped into the back of the van.

He says Ferrin began beating him with his nightstick. Yellowhair says he screamed, and in response, Ferrin maced him.

Ferrin pulled him out of the van then, and threw him to the ground. Yellowhair started yelling for help. He believes while he was outside the van, Ferrin tried to get him to drink something, which he spit out.

Yellowhair says Ferrin used the nightstick to choke him. Then, he says, the choking stopped and he felt a tugging at his waist as his pants were pulled down.

Yellowhair says he felt a sudden, sharp pain as something--he believes it was the nightstick--was shoved into his anal cavity. He began screaming, "Stop, please pull it out, please."

After a short time--Yellowhair cannot recall how long--the stick was removed, and then shoved back in again.

Yellowhair says he may have passed out, because the next thing he remembered was arriving at the hospital. He says that as he was being removed from the van, someone whispered into his ear, "Shut up."

At the hospital, Yellowhair says he began screaming, "That's the guy," when he saw Ferrin. "Then I was trying to get people's attention. . . . I was saying he's the one, he's the one, but no one believed me, no one listened to me."

near his eye was stitched up, Yellowhair was sent to jail, where he was bailed out at noon by his dad. He didn't say anything about the assault, he says, because he was still disoriented and still "trying to piece things together."

But the next day, when he began bleeding from his rectum, he went to the hospital. Yellowhair went to Tempe St. Luke's, where he'd been treated before for his cut. But he saw police officers there and left. He went to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Hospital where he was diagnosed with an anal fissure--a tear in his anal tissue about 1 centimeter to 1.5 centimeters long, according to his hospital charts. (However, the doctor noted that constipation can cause anal fissures.)

Ferrin's account, given as a part of a polygraph test provided to the Glendale police, differs greatly: He says he had an uneventful, short drive to the hospital, with no stops.

At the hospital, Yellowhair was belligerent and violent, Ferrin and police reports say, requiring several people to hold him down while his head wound was sewn up.

Ferrin had no explanation for how Yellowhair received the anal fissure. "It could have been bad sex the night before, before the cops showed up, who knows?" he said.

Ferrin insists he never beat Yellowhair, never maced him, never sodomized him with his nightstick.

"Every word that's come out of his mouth is a lie," Ferrin told the polygraph operator.

Tempe police sent officers to interview Yellowhair at Scottsdale Healthcare. But Ferrin says he didn't know there were charges against him until six weeks later.

The criminal case against Yellowhair has been resolved through a plea bargain. He pleaded guilty to assault, according to his attorney, Christopher Hildebrand.

Hildebrand says he is still investigating the incident, and won't comment on when he and his client will file a lawsuit.

But that's not the only scrutiny Ferrin has faced. Since June, when the story of the incident broke in the Mesa Tribune, the paper has been trying to get a copy of Ferrin's personnel file. And that attempt brought the City of Tempe out in force.

When the City of Tempe told Doug Bennett he couldn't see Ferrin's files, he wasn't surprised. It wasn't the first time Tempe had turned down a public-records request from the Tribune reporter.

Bennett had covered other allegations against city employees. One story involved accusations of violence by a Tempe jail guard. In another, a city employee allegedly viewed pornography on his city-owned computer while on duty. Bennett asked for the employees' personnel records and was turned down both times.

"I don't know why Tempe's so secretive about this stuff," Bennett says. "In places where I've worked, you ask for the personnel file, and they throw it open in 10 minutes."

Arizona state law requires public agencies--broadly defined as an entity that receives public money--to hand over its records unless a record is specifically exempted under the law. Any citizen is supposed to be able to walk into any government agency and look over its correspondence, ledgers or other records, no questions asked.

But in practice, agencies often refuse to turn over records. And the public-records statute is difficult to enforce. If an agency simply says, "No," the person making the request has no option other than to take the agency to court.

What made Tempe's refusal even more frustrating was the fact that the Phoenix and Mesa police departments routinely release the kind of details the Trib wanted.

Sergeant Mike Torres, public information officer for the Phoenix Police Department, can empathize with not wanting to give embarrassing information to the media. But he gives it out anyway, because that's what the law requires.

"There's times I wish we didn't have to release [disciplinary records], but we believe under state law that they're public documents," he says. "The public has a right to know that supervisors are taking care of business."

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