Capitol Cop-Out

The Capitol Police is one of the state's smallest law enforcement agencies, and some say one of its worst

It was just the latest in a yearlong string of bad arrests that Zettler had been asked to review. The county, concerned with a growing number of questionable incidents by Capitol Police officers, had named Zettler the "Capitol Police specialist" in June 1996.

It wasn't an easy job, despite the small department's relatively minor responsibilities.

The Capitol Police rarely venture beyond their state-mandated territory, patrolling between Seventh and 20th avenues, from Van Buren south to Harrison Street.

Representative Russell Pearce
Representative Russell Pearce
Palmer Saylor

Capitol Police officers, who, like other police officers, must be certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, essentially guard buildings and property, providing security outside and around state offices. While Capitol Police are responsible for protecting state lawmakers, officials and any visitors to the Capitol grounds, major incidents are handled by the Department of Public Safety, whose officers also patrol the area.

According to memos written by Zettler, the concerns raised by the county prosecutor's office did little to change the way the department went about its job.

Officers continued to provide little or no evidence that crimes were being committed. If they arrested someone on a drug offense, the report often did not include a lab analysis which would have identified the substance as illegal.

Trespassing cases were numerous, despite Zettler's repeated refusal to spend taxpayer dollars prosecuting homeless people picked up by Capitol Police officers for simply loitering on public property.

Some erroneous arrests were more blatant than others, such as a November 1996 incident in which Capitol Police officers booked a young man for trespassing, aggravated assault and resisting arrest.

According to Zettler, who summarized the incident in a memo to his bosses, the man was having an argument with his girlfriend. But the officers decided it was more serious and intervened.

"Fuck you," the young man is reported to have said, "you ain't got no reason to talk to me."

The officers pepper-sprayed the man and beat him. Then they took him to jail, but didn't submit his arrest paperwork to the county for several days.

By law, anyone arrested for a crime -- felony or misdemeanor -- must appear in court within 24 hours.

Capitol Police arrest documents show that many suspects who could not make bail sat in jail for as long as 10 days before their arrest information reached the County Attorney's Office.

And, in numerous cases documented by Zettler, people had been arrested for violations that did not warrant prosecution. Many were homeless people who were released only after the county refused to file charges.

"I am sorry, but I am having a real problem with [Capitol Police] conduct and the way they seem to harass anyone they don't like," Zettler said in a November 1996 memo to his supervisor, Miles Nelson. "It is my belief that it is the police conduct that causes the actions of the suspects and the grounds for the arrest are bogus."

Zettler documented his refusal to prosecute on each questionable arrest. His missives often included sarcastic retorts to the officers themselves, the memos show.

That was the case with a homeless man identified as "Donaldson," who was arrested standing outside a building at 11 a.m. where a "No Trespassing" sign was posted. Capitol Police officers said Donaldson also possessed drug paraphernalia, but no lab report was included with his arrest to show that a substance found on a pipe was an illegal drug. Donaldson sat in jail for five days before the paperwork was received by the county.

"While you may have a zero tolerance policy," Zettler replied to the request to press charges, "you cannot arrest someone for trespassing on a sidewalk at 11:00 in the morning."

In August 1996, Zettler immediately dismissed a burglary case against an unidentified man.

"Once you find out who John Doe is, I might consider filing this case," he wrote. "I don't know what you expect us to do with a case that we don't know who the suspect is???"

In three narcotics cases filed in the same week, none included lab reports, and all the suspects were released after spending days in jail on drug possession charges that could not be proved.

"The procedure to obtain rush lab reports from the DPS lab has been reviewed with Captain Swart several times," Zettler noted.

In Robert Louis Walker's trespassing case, Zettler sent memos to his supervisor and to Swart expressing his frustration.

"I have discussed this with your department before, and I thought we had the problem solved," Zettler told Swart. "You cannot trespass on a public sidewalk no matter how close to a 'No Trespassing' sign it is."

His memo to Nelson essentially ended with a plea for help.

"What should we do?" he asked. "One suspect spent 5 days in jail!!!!!"

In early 1997, the Capitol Police took issue with the county attorney's consistent refusal to file charges.

Swart and his chief, Theo Nielson, wrote two complaint letters to County Attorney Rick Romley, accusing Zettler of using inappropriate language and demeaning comments in his memos.

A county Merit Board hearing officer who later reviewed the complaint letters, along with a stack of Capitol Police arrests and Zettler's accompanying memos, ruled that Zettler had done nothing wrong in pointing out procedure problems, regardless of his tone.

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Mike D
Mike D

Did anyone else notice that the report refers to "the rights of the citizens". That is hard to believe, the part where the Newtimes actually printed anything with those words in it! This bleeding heart rag is only good for lining the bird-cage with!

Grow a brain readers, and do some research for yourselves instead of depending on the likes of 'Lemons' to to get your 'righteous indignation' going.

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