Brown Out

Voluntarily or not, controversial police officer is off the force

Franklin Brown, whose controversial account of being ambushed and shot on Lower Buckeye Road in July 2000 once won him honors as one of America's "Top Cops," is no longer with the Phoenix Police Department.

Phoenix Police Sergeant Randy Force confirms that the department considers Brown to have resigned because "no one could contact him for more than a week and, under city personnel rules, we considered that a voluntary job abandonment, a resignation.

"This is not a termination. He could not be contacted at home, on his assigned pager, or anywhere else."

The 30-year-old Brown had been on administrative leave since last October, as Phoenix police investigators continued to assess whether he faked the ambush and shot himself ("A Shot in the Dark," Paul Rubin, March 21). Force says Brown was told last week of the department's conclusion about his employment status.

Brown's "resignation" leaves unanswered the central question that two lengthy Phoenix police investigations — one by homicide investigators and the other by internal affairs — have tried to resolve: Did he fake the ambush?

The highly publicized incident still is the stuff of spirited debate within the department: Some of Brown's peers remain adamant that there was no motivation for Brown to have orchestrated a phony shoot-out — during which he sustained minor bullet wounds to his left hand and chest.

"The results of the investigation will be released soon," Force says. "There still are lots of questions. But we have no active leads to pursue at this time on the Lower Buckeye incident, and so it's still listed as an open case, an aggravated assault on a police officer. If someone calls us down the road and says, 'I have information about the case' — either that Franklin told someone what really happened, or that it happened like he said it did — we'll check it out."

Speaking from his home in Beaumont, California, Brown reiterated on Monday afternoon that he's always been telling the truth about the ambush.

"With my getting ambushed and shot, I think it was just a random thing," he tells New Times, "but what the Phoenix Police Department has done to me has been premeditated, malicious and political. I didn't resign, and now they're saying they didn't fire me — they had nothing to fire me on. They allowed rumors to build into monsters with my fellow officers, about what a bad cop I was, a big liar, you name it.

"Why would the department go so far out to do this to me? My only answer is the machine can't admit that they were wrong."

Almost two years ago, Brown said a stranger flagged down his police cruiser in the wee hours of July 5, 2000, on an isolated stretch of road between 91st and 99th avenues. The stranger knocked him to the ground, and shot him with a handgun as two accomplices armed with automatic weapons looked on, Brown reported.

Brown told investigators — and, later, the media — that he'd repelled the trio during a fierce gun battle that lasted about a half-hour. But fellow officers couldn't find any sign of the alleged perpetrators when they arrived to help shortly before dawn that morning. That quietly raised suspicions among some in the department, especially because of the alleged duration of the gunfight, and because of Brown's relatively minor injuries.

But the television show America's Most Wanted later aired an episode on the incident, depicting Brown as a hero. The events also led to the officer's selection as a "Top Cop" by the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) — an enormous honor given for "actions above and beyond the call of duty." The association considered more than 250 nominations before deciding on the 10 winners.

Despite that, Brown filed a federal lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department and a precinct commander last July 5 — on the first anniversary of the alleged ambush — claiming the department was retaliating against him because of negative public statements he'd made to reporters about departmental policies after the shoot-out. Brown alleged the retaliation took the form of transferring him to a meaningless desk job, and by placing him in a "false light" among colleagues.

The Phoenix Police Department has denied the allegations, and the case is still pending.

NAPO rescinded Brown's "Top Cops" award last October, just a few weeks before he was to fly to Washington, D.C., to accept it. Also last October, department brass placed Brown on administrative leave because of duty-related stress, and circulated a memo that advised precinct commanders and front-office personnel not to allow the officer into any police facilities.

Brown says he'd only rarely heard from the department since then, and relocated to his native California months ago, to be closer to his three young children (he and his wife are separated). A few weeks ago, however, he says a supervisor summoned him to review the findings of the investigations into the alleged ambush, and about apparent discrepancies in his December 1996 application for employment with Phoenix.

"It was really hard for me to read their BS, which is what it is," Brown says. "It speaks of inconsistencies in my story, and of possible omissions, but it's completely smoke and mirrors. They want the public to think I made this up, but I didn't.

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