Cop Chop

Political squabbling could end the careers of two veteran police officers

However, Soto will be disciplined for meeting alone with the informant -- officers are always supposed to take a second witness with them -- and because he allowed the informant to have control of a bale of marijuana for several weeks. The County Attorney's Office, in a finding dated October 1, said "it is not permissible to allow illegal narcotics to remain in unsupervised possession of non-law enforcement personnel."

Soto also will be disciplined for his failure to use the MADCAP system when he began a case involving the informant and the Nogales Auto Body shop. MADCAP is a computer system used by police agencies throughout the Valley to track and coordinate drug enforcement actions. The system is designed primarily for officer safety, to protect undercover cops and confidential informants if investigations overlap with other agencies, to prevent "cops pointing guns at cops."

Cope, who was involved with the body shop investigation only briefly, did follow procedure and entered some basic information in the MADCAP system.

Months later, in May, Chandler police learned from their own informant of a major drug operation at the same location and punched the address into MADCAP. Cope's entry popped up, but it was listed as inactive. Soto still had not put his case into MADCAP.

Cope, when contacted by Chandler, told Walters that Soto had been involved with the address months earlier. Chandler decided to go ahead with its own search warrant anyway. Chandler officers relied on their own informant and, the transcripts of the interviews with Soto and his source suggest, did not know until after the raid that Soto was still using that particular informant.

According to a Chandler police report, a Chandler undercover officer had arranged to buy 300 pounds of marijuana from dealers at the body shop.

On May 23, Chandler served a warrant on the property. But instead of the expected 300 pounds of marijuana and other contraband, the raid netted only 10 pounds of pot. Police suspected someone had tipped off the suspects before the bust.

One Chandler officer interviewed Soto's informant after the raid, and Walters called Soto to discuss the situation with him. The informant had told Soto about the impending deal for 300 pounds and Soto acknowledged he'd talked to his informant who was inside the body shop about 15 minutes before the Chandler search warrant team arrived. Soto told Walters he was sitting nearby and had been planning to follow the buyers after they left with the pot. There is nothing in the record to suggest he knew the buyers were undercover Chandler cops or that a raid was imminent.

On May 27, Romley, who had heard about the concerns over Soto and the informant, called in Cope and Walters, along with their supervisors. The officers related their concerns and thought that was the end of it.

But Romley insisted on a deeper review, one that included numerous follow-up interviews, and one that went beyond just the Chandler drug bust. A county attorney file released earlier this week includes hundreds of pages of transcripts of interviews and a few other documents. Soto was interviewed four times, Walters and Cope just once. Much of the material includes questions from county attorney interviewers about previous cases Cope has worked on. In interviews with the police officers, county attorney Commander Bill Heath suggests Cope was trying to set up Soto's informant to embarrass Romley.

According to a September 4 memo from Romley to Mark Faull, one of his special assistants, Walters told Romley during the May 27 meeting that at the time of the raid, he was unaware that Soto and the informant worked for the County Attorney's Office. But, Romley noted, Cope had told Walters before the raid about Soto and his involvement in a previous trafficking investigation at the body shop.

In a second interview on July 24, Walters told county attorney interviewers he did know about Soto and his use of the informant.

That's enough to warrant a "Brady Letter," Romley believes.

Kavanagh, Walters' attorney, says "Dale's deal is simply a misinterpretation of one little thing."

He says Walters did not know that Soto was working the informant at the body shop on the evening of the raid. Soto had never entered any information into the MADCAP system so Walters assumed the informant, who had been discarded by Phoenix police, was no longer working for Soto either. "It may be splitting hairs," says Kavanagh, "but it's important."

Walters has been officially "Brady Listed" by Romley. Kavanagh says the only way off the list is through a civil lawsuit that would seek to force Romley to remove Walters' name from the file.

Walters is still working drug cases pending the DPS findings and will refer any cases for prosecution through the Attorney General's Office, not the county prosecutor.

Romley's problem with Cope appears to stem from concerns the detective raised earlier in the year about the county attorney's policies for handling confidential informants. He worked with Soto in an earlier case involving the same confidential informant and questioned some of Soto's practices. The Phoenix Police Department had stopped using the informant several years ago, he told interviewers from the County Attorney's Office.

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