Capitol Cop-Out

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

The unknown author detailed specific violations by Swart, including allegations that the captain was targeting Hispanic males and conducting improper searches for drugs. The letter accused Swart of trying to intimidate other officers into not reporting his actions. And it suggested -- again -- that Nielson was aware of what was going on.

"Captain Swart profiles violators," the letter writer said. "When on his drug enforcement projects, he drives his unmarked vehicle looking for Hispanic males who are walking with their hands in a closed position. He will stop, rush them, and make them open their hands. When he does not find drugs in their hands, he searches them."

The four-page letter concludes, in part: "Laws are being ignored, citizens and officers rights are being violated and the captain's incompetence is demoralizing the Capitol Police department.

"This is a mockery of this branch of law enforcement in Arizona. Captain Swart has to be investigated and forced to stop his inadequate leadership."

This time, Hibbs asked the Department of Public Safety to get involved.

Over the next four months, DPS investigators interviewed more than two dozen people, including Swart, who maintained he was the victim of a witch hunt.

The letter writer was believed to be a patrol officer, and Swart was trying to find out who that person was. Some Capitol Police officers were made to write memos detailing conversations they had with other officers that suggested who might have authored the letter.

DPS investigators didn't care who wrote the complaint. They had bigger concerns. Detective John Gigous, the DPS investigator, had reviewed more than 20 arrests by Capitol Police officers that had been declined for prosecution between December 2000 and June 2001.

And, in talking to numerous officers, Gigous was hearing some disturbing comments.

"With the exception of Chief Nielson, everybody that I interviewed said to me [in] almost [the] exact words that they believe the arrests that you do, the stops that you make on the street are done illegally," Gigous told Swart, according to interview transcripts. "That there's no probable cause and that you're just basically harassing homeless people."

Swart gave little explanation as to why he stopped certain people and conducted searches. Swart himself, according to Gigous, had provided little documentation for county prosecutors to use in justifying charges being filed.

"You talk to these guys I've worked with, this is what they'll tell you, 'I've never seen a guy who can spot stuff quicker, faster and better than this guy, tell you right where it is and everything,'" Swart told Gigous last September.

Gigous was unconvinced.

"The main concern, and the concern with the allegations, is the fact that 18 people tell me that they feel you do illegal arrests. Several people tell me that they've witnessed you conducting illegal arrests and illegal search. I've had a total of three officers refuse to talk to me because they're afraid of you personally," the DPS detective said.

Available reports support Gigous' -- and others' -- concerns.

In late January 2001, for instance, Swart allegedly saw a man receive a "small off-white rock substance believed to be crack cocaine." The report said the man had dropped the substance to the ground by his foot when Swart approached. The report stated that Swart was on "routine patrol," but gave no details about how the captain had seen the exchange. The case was rejected by the county prosecutor.

Another felony drug arrest in mid-February was rejected for lack of documentation after Kelly Neal, a deputy county attorney, wrote: "It seems Captain Swart searched the suspect, but I don't have a report or supplement by him.

"If Captain Swart found the drugs, he needs to draft a report. [Officer Clayton] Jeppsen saying that Captain Swart searched a suspect and photos of drugs were taken simply can't sustain a felony prosecution."


Jay Swart was the last person interviewed by DPS. The agency closed its investigation and submitted its report to the Department of Administration in early October.

Hibbs immediately asked a senior state official to review the findings. But seven months later, no action has been taken.

Swart is still the department's second-in-command, although he no longer reports to Nielson. The chief retired in August 2001. Former lieutenant Andy Staubitz was promoted in February to chief.

Hibbs and Staubitz declined New Times' request for interviews.

The only person who did respond to the newspaper was William Bell, the Department of Administration's deputy director, but only in writing.

Bell wrote that the Capitol Police no longer encounter arrests that are questioned by the county or declined for prosecution.

But Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the county attorney, says the Capitol Police cases continue to have problems. "A lot of the cases they submit to us have . . . possession problems. Sometimes there are issues with regards to search and seizure."

What action, if any, that might be taken to correct those types of problems won't be known until the state closes its review of the DPS findings.

Regardless of the outcome, state legislators now say they, too, want to review the findings.

State Senator Joe Eddie Lopez, a Democrat who represents the downtown area, says he's gotten calls in the past about alleged mistreatment by Capitol Police. He says he thought the problems were taken care of after he called higher-ups in the police agency.

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1 comments
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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