Capitol Cop-Out

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

The hearing officer did find fault with the Capitol Police officers, however.

"The Capitol Police are a small department that is slipshod," the hearing officer concluded. "Their investigations and reports were substandard. The way they treated people was criminal."

Still, the police agency itself as well as the Department of Administration made no changes in the way it handled arrests.

Senator Joe Eddie Lopez
Bob Wilcox
Senator Joe Eddie Lopez

Zettler eventually left the county prosecutor's office, and the Capitol Police cases were assigned to other deputy attorneys. Zettler, who is now in private practice in the Valley, declined to discuss the department, or the problems he encountered.

But the Department of Administration continued to hear grumblings about the Capitol Police. And in December 1997, the state began its own full-fledged investigation into the police department.

Elliott Hibbs, director of the Department of Administration, began receiving complaints from officers themselves. He had met several times with officers, both in public meetings and in private.

The Capitol Police officers said they were being treated unfairly by Swart. Two officers who went to Hibbs privately said the department's chief, Theo Nielson, was ignoring their complaints.

Hibbs hired James Humphrey III, a former Phoenix police officer turned private investigator, to look into the complaints.

Turnover within the Capitol Police department was increasing, and state officials now believed many employees were leaving because they could not work with Swart.

State records show 27 people left the department between 1996 and 1997.

Swart, a former department-store accountant, had joined the department in 1986 as a patrol officer and worked his way up. As captain, he was the second-highest-ranking person on staff next to Nielson.

But many employees felt Swart had too much power. They complained that Nielson had relinquished control and was allowing Swart to run the department. Officers said that favoritism was common, and anyone who spoke out was retaliated against. Many questioned Swart's arrest techniques, which seemed questionable at best, particularly on busts where the captain claimed to be able to see drug transactions occurring from a considerable distance away.

Swart didn't like to document his arrests, the officers said. He routinely called in other officers to write reports, which accounted for the lack of information received by the County Attorney's Office.

And, up until the time Humphrey began his investigation, it wasn't uncommon for Swart to go on daily patrols, leaving the department unsupervised for hours at a time while he searched for criminals.

Word of Humphrey's inquiry spread quickly through the Capitol Police department.

Numerous people asked Humphrey not to reveal their names and, in his final report to Hibbs, Humphrey said several concerns could not be fully investigated because of fear of retaliation by some of those he interviewed.

For three months, the private investigator collected information. He talked to more than three dozen people, including current and former Capitol Police officers and county attorney employees.

Many believed that Swart was making improper arrests, according to Humphrey's findings. They said Swart had Nielson's support and that the chief knew about many of the problems.

The harshest comments came from deputy county attorney Zettler and Miles Nelson, who was Zettler's supervisor through 1997.

Nelson, according to Humphrey, called the Capitol Police "by far the worst police department in Maricopa County for making bad arrests and for having the poorest documentation to back their arrests."

Zettler told Humphrey that he blamed Swart, whom he said "in particular makes illegal arrests and expects the county attorney to prosecute them."

Humphrey, however, was unable to quantify or specifically document inappropriate arrests. "It would take an audit of the reports and further interviews to get to the truth of the matter here," Humphrey wrote in his findings.

Documenting the number of questionable arrests is difficult.

The County Attorney's Office, according to a spokesman, does not consistently track bad arrests by individual police agencies.

And statistics given to New Times by the Department of Administration are inconsistent and don't match arrest reports compiled by the county. The state later could not explain how the numbers were compiled or why they seem flawed.

Humphrey declined to talk to New Times because he is still under contract with the state as a private investigator.

But Humphrey also told Hibbs he found it troubling that Nielson, as chief, was not aware of key issues regarding the department. Humphrey said it appeared favoritism had been involved in the hiring and promoting of officers. And he said that many employees had left the department because they believed they had been mistreated by Swart.

Again, Hibbs and the Department of Administration did little, if anything, to correct the situation at the Capitol Police department.

By summer 2000, the Capitol Police department had hired a number of new employees to replace the officers who had left. Many of those new officers were ill-suited for the job, Swart later told a Department of Public Safety investigator.

Swart said he and Nielson had agreed to take a "second chance or third chance or fourth chance" on applicants who had been unsuccessful at other departments.

As the department's captain, Swart was responsible for setting an example through his police work.

But concerns continued to surround Swart. The new allegations came in the form of two anonymous letters, received by Hibbs' office, in August 2000 and May 2001. Copies of the May letter were also sent to Valley media, including New Times.

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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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