Life Interrupted

Derrick Allen was ruined thanks to a shoddy investigation. It's time he be given his life back.

You're wearing nothing but shorts and a shirt when police arrive at your door. The police cuff you in front of your children. You are hauled off to jail on 10 felony charges. You're told you'll spend a decade in prison.

In jail, you are forced to stand nude while police photograph you.

You are fired from your job. Your family wonders if you're a monster. Your car is repossessed. You must borrow money from friends as potential employers laugh at the idea of hiring you. You touch your fiancée and she recoils. You can't afford medical treatment for your son with sickle cell anemia. Neighbors won't allow their children to play with your children.

Corrections officer Derrick Allen
Emily Piraino
Corrections officer Derrick Allen

And all you can do is pray that the truth someday comes out.

Instead, the state attorney general sends a press release to every media outlet in town that says:

"Authorities say the correctional officer, Derrick Allen (DOB 6/10/70), allegedly smuggled marijuana into the Perryville Prison Facility on two occasions between February and August of 2001 and had repeated sexual contact with (an) inmate in 2000 and 2001."

Seven months later, the truth finally appears to have come out. Department of Corrections officer Derrick Allen had his life ruined because of scurrilous lies by a single inmate.

Particularly maddening to Allen: He was also the victim of what appears to be a remarkably shoddy and slanted investigation by the Department of Corrections, an investigation led by DOC investigator Darrell Smith. Had Smith led a solid investigation, the truth would have been clear the moment inmate Kimberly Thomas, a convicted armed robber well known by inmates and guards for her lies, opened her mouth.

"I know how a person feels when they finally decide to commit suicide," Allen told me. "I was destroyed by false allegations that any decent investigator would have immediately known were ridiculous."

The state personnel board recently recommended Allen be rehired immediately with all back pay. DOC officials have complied and have offered Allen a job, but they have offered him a position at a different prison facility another 30 minutes from his home.

Allen wants the same job from which he was wrongly terminated.

Also, a Superior Court judge, in effect, dropped the charges against Allen. The judge instructed the state Attorney General's Office that it must bring better evidence before a state grand jury if it wants charges brought again against Derrick Allen.

Here is the problem. While DOC officials have agreed to give Allen a job, and all evidence shows he is not guilty of the charges against him, DOC officials and attorney general prosecutors say they are continuing their investigation of Allen.

Which is typical for Arizona's state agencies. They will fish for years to save face. Which means they will continue to harass an innocent man by continuing an investigation that clearly has no merit.

Perhaps, as some imply, the investigation is nothing more than a little union busting. Allen is a member of the state's police and corrections officer union.

"They definitely have a slant against the unions," says Chuck Foy, president of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs. "They have proven they will do just about anything to send a message to us."

But the investigation of officer Allen, he says, was, as retaliations go, unusually pathetic.

"This investigation was the most egregious abuse of authority I've seen in my 30 years of law enforcement," says Foy. "If I had written a report like that, I would be laughed out of my sergeant's office."

Foy is calling for DOC's current leadership to be removed. He cites two other cases in Yuma and Perryville in which DOC employees had their careers destroyed by investigations that were later proven to be profoundly flawed.

"They are investigations used as retaliation," he says.

For his part, the investigator, Darrell Smith, says he believes his investigation of officer Allen was "a very solid criminal investigation." He told me he believes inmate Kimberly Thomas "is still a competent victim."

"This is still an ongoing criminal investigation," says Smith, who has been a criminal investigator for 30 years. "I believe it will be taken back to the grand jury."

Smith and DOC investigators had better find more solid evidence than they have now.

Here's how Derrick Allen lost his livelihood and was pushed to the brink of suicide.

Allen, 32, took a job as a corrections officer at the Perryville prison in 2000.

Early last year, inmate Kimberly Thomas apparently began to become attracted to the young corrections officers who occasionally worked her cell block.

Allen says Thomas propositioned him. He told her "I don't play that game," and he figured that was the end of it, he says.

Thomas apparently was angered by more than just her unrequited advances. According to a letter she wrote to a fellow inmate, it appears she was also afraid officer Allen might bust her for smoking pot in prison after a fellow inmate snitched on her to corrections officers.

In a letter obtained by New Times, she wrote to a friend: "Fuck Chene and Allen. We'll burn her for snitching, and Allen -- before they hit our rooms."

(This letter, according to sources, is now the basis of a heated argument between state prosecutors and DOC officials. According to those sources, the DOC investigator, Smith, is claiming he turned the note over to prosecutors before they sought grand jury indictments against Allen. Prosecutors, sources claim, are saying they didn't receive the damning evidence against their case until after they succeeded in getting indictments against Allen.)

By spring of last year, officer Allen says he started hearing rumors that Thomas was claiming she was having sex with him.

Soon, her stories were growing more provocative. She got the ear of prison investigators.

Thomas claimed to investigators that she had sex with Allen numerous times. She claimed she had become pregnant by him and that he had forced her to take "two little blue pills" to abort the pregnancy.

She also claimed Allen had twice brought marijuana to her.

It's not uncommon for female inmates to make allegations against corrections officers. Thomas' claims were unusual only in that they were so easy to disprove.

For example, when the investigator interviewed inmate Thomas on November 7 of last year, she claimed she told officer Allen in late September that she was pregnant. She claimed the guard gave her the two pills then.

That's odd. Because in a letter she wrote to her aunt in early July of that year, she also claims she had been pregnant with officer Allen's child. In that letter, she wrote that she had received pills that "he brought me that cause you to miscarry. I have no choice but to take them."

She wrote that letter on July 8. But she told investigators she was pregnant in September, more than two months later.

Hello?

Interestingly, prior to the investigation, a deputy warden had questioned the prisoner about the letter. The deputy warden testified that inmate Thomas denied writing the letter, denied having been pregnant and denied having sex with guard Derrick Allen.

Also, in her July letter to her aunt, Thomas wrote that both she and Allen were asked by DOC investigators to take a lie-detector test.

That claim, too, is a clear fabrication. DOC investigators did not ask for lie-detector tests until late October of last year, three months after her letter.

Corrections officer Allen passed a polygraph examination June 10, 2002.

He has also passed all drug tests.

According to fellow inmates, prisoner Thomas, on the other hand, often smoked marijuana in prison.

DOC investigators, prison guard Allen says, also failed to interview key prison staff and inmates who would have known of Thomas' patterns of lying.

Beyond Thomas' accusations, investigators and prosecutors seemed to be hanging their case on two bits of information given by Thomas:

Thomas said Allen had been circumcised and had scarring on his left leg.

Thomas does have scarring. But the scarring is on his right leg. And his scarring was a well-known fact among fellow corrections officers. Officer Allen said in testimony that he had told other guards about his scars. So Thomas could have easily learned of the scarring through a third party.

And as the state personnel board investigator recently noted in a report on Allen's case, "an individual who would make these sort of [false statements] would not be deterred from making an educated guess with respect to whether a man of [officer] Allen's age is circumcised."

Indeed, a quick Internet search will tell you that the vast majority of men in North America are circumcised.

Regarding the scarring on Allen's leg, the personnel board investigator wrote: "Inmate Thomas placed the scarring on the wrong leg. While it is possible for some persons to be confused in this regard, it is reasonable to assume that a proper investigation and competent questioning of Thomas would have cleared up the error."

Furthermore, he wrote, "On numerous occasions she made statements which were illogical, inconsistent and clearly false.

"The question of whether inmate Kimberly Thomas is dishonest is not open to debate. The statements which she made to investigators and other staff members were so inconsistent as to preclude any doubt as to her lack of veracity."

It gets worse. As Allen's attorney, Christopher Rapp, pointed out to me, "90 percent of the allegations were dated to times it was absolutely impossible for Derrick Allen to have been where he was accused of being."

"It was like the investigators had no idea how a prison is run," he says. "It's as poor an investigation as I've ever seen."

Also, investigators never found medical evidence proving Thomas had ever been pregnant, he pointed out.

And according to Planned Parenthood officials I interviewed, neither emergency contraceptive pills, "day-after pills," nor abortion pills could be effective in the situation or dosage described by Thomas.

DOC officials turned over their investigation to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Rapp says, but prosecutors there declined to seek an indictment on the sketchy evidence.

So DOC officials went shopping. And they found a buyer for their weak case -- the state Attorney General's Office.

State attorney general prosecutors did seek, and successfully obtain, a grand jury indictment in the case.

Rapp says he believes state prosecutors may have been told by DOC investigators that there was more evidence than there actually was. He, too, wonders if state prosecutors ever received evidence, such as Thomas' letter to fellow inmates, that would have quickly exonerated Allen.

"I think it's safe to say [attorney general prosecutors] were misled by the [DOC] investigator," Rapp says.

On April 17 of this year, Derrick Allen was hauled off shoeless to the Madison Street Jail. Allen says the DOC investigator, Smith, came along with police officers when they came to make the arrest. Allen says Smith was "laughing at me."

Allen was placed in protective custody. Alone in his cell, he dropped to his knees and prayed.

Five minutes later, he says, his warden showed up and told him he "needed to confess immediately." The warden then ordered him "to sign papers and quit right now."

After he was released on bail, Allen's life continued to fall apart. His fiancée, who also works in the prison system, initially made him sleep on the couch and "didn't want to be touched."

Friends began to abandon him.

"I got so many nasty looks," he says. "I found out I don't have too many real friends."

He applied for a security job at Sky Harbor Airport, only to be turned down because of the hovering indictments. Other potential employers ignored him.

He lost his car. Without health insurance, he had to tap what little savings he had to pay for the transfusions his sick son needs each month. He has been borrowing money from more than two dozen friends and family members to try to stay afloat and give his child the medical treatments he needs to stay alive.

Although it was Thomas' lies that sparked the investigation, Allen says most of his anger falls on investigators.

"Inmates are going to lie to try to get at officers," he says. "That's just part of the job.

"But the way the department went after me with no evidence, it makes me extremely angry. I just believe the investigator [Smith] should be sought after and punished."

That may happen. Darrell Smith is now under investigation by the Arizona Police Standards and Training Board for alleged misconduct in this case. Smith would lose his board certification if charges against him are sustained.

Smith says he is confident the Standards and Training Board investigation will find him innocent of any wrongdoing.

Beyond that, Foy and other police and corrections officers are correct in calling for an investigation of the Department of Corrections criminal investigations unit.

Most important, for Allen's sake, the attorney general needs to publicly announce the full exoneration of Derrick Allen. And if state prosecutors were indeed misinformed, they need to pursue charges against DOC officials involved in any deception.

"I just need the attorney general to swipe my record clean so I can get on with my life. I just think I deserve to have my name cleared."

Yes, he deserves to have it said again:

Derrick Allen is an innocent man.

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