Cop Out

Did Phoenix police drive an incomprehensibly drunken man to his death?

Randy Force, the department's public information officer, says it is the officers' discretion what to do in such situations. In hindsight maybe it wasn't in McGhee's best interest to drop him on the street far from his neighborhood, but Force believes "the officers were trying to do a good thing." An internal investigation absolved the officers of any wrongdoing.

Force's claim that the officers meant well, and could not have anticipated the end result, is complicated by the fact that McGhee was so drunk that night it's surprising he was even conscious.

A toxicology report put McGhee's blood alcohol content at .50, five times the legal limit for driving a vehicle, and an astounding level even for a heavy drinker.

Jack McGhee (right) with his surviving triplet (left) and one of his seven sisters.
Jack McGhee (right) with his surviving triplet (left) and one of his seven sisters.

According to a nurse practitioner at LARC, people brought into the facility against their will typically have a BAC of .20 to .30, and still function. Above that it's rare. A non-alcoholic is considered legally dead at .40. An alcoholic would likely be passed out at this level of intoxication. A .50 BAC is not a functional level of intoxication -- even for an alcoholic.

Yet in their reports, the two officers claim they did not realize McGhee was so drunk. Officer Ayres says McGhee's composure was such that "if he was wearing clean clothes and shaven and all that, I wouldn't have known the guy was drunk."

According to the internal investigation, Vaneet Sapra, a clerk at the 7-Eleven, saw that McGhee's eyes were bloodshot, his speech heavy, and that he did not walk properly. Daniel Taylor, a security guard who works at 5300 East Washington, says he saw the police drop McGhee off about 10:30 that night. "When he went across the road, he was stumbling pretty good, so it looked like he needed assistance," Taylor says. "He'd move an inch or two this way, correct himself and then walk a couple of steps, move an inch or two this way, correct himself."

Common sense would seem to dictate that leaving a man who could barely walk in the middle of nowhere, on a six-lane road, in a part of town he doesn't know, might not serve his best interests.

When Jack McGhee's mother died, she made her oldest daughter, Irma Jones, promise to look after him. He wasn't like her other children. Jones calls it "artistic," means "autistic," and isn't quite sure if that's the name for what made Jack different. She says McGhee's mind just didn't work in the same way as other folks'. He was like a child.

Jones pulls out a framed, black-and-white photo of her mother. Her mother's jaw is set with the determination of a woman who raised 13 children alone. "When I go to bed at night and when I wake up, Jack is always on my mind," Jones says. "I can't bear to look at my mother's picture because her eyes seem to be saying, 'You ain't doing nothing.'"

Jack was a triplet, and the second of the trio to be killed by a car. A drunken driver hit the other, Oscar, when he was 8. Jones says the surviving triplet is now scared to leave the house.

Jones and Patricia Blueford did their best to look after McGhee. But he was never able to keep a steady job. "He just loved being with alcohol," Jones says. "He didn't bother nobody, he just loved to drink."

When her brother didn't show up for several days, Blueford assumed he was in jail. She called the police looking for him, and found out he was dead. Jones says McGhee's body was almost taken to potter's field, the cemetery for indigents.

"He may have looked like a bum and acted like a bum, but he had family and we loved him," Jones says. "He was our baby brother. The police act like he was garbage."

When the sisters heard McGhee was killed at 53rd Street and Washington, they didn't understand how he got there. They say they have not been able to get a satisfactory answer from the police. "The way Lipko talked to us was like he's supposed to be dead," Jones says. "Like he's just one more nigger out of the way."

The sisters hope the lawsuit will illuminate the events that led to their brother's death, but Jones remains skeptical about whether she'll ever know the truth.

"Jack died alone in the dark, and whatever happened to him went to the grave with him."

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