Thunder Road

Luciano Arriaga Jr. was born defiant. Falsely arrested by a nerve-frayed cop, he'd sooner take a chance on resuming his 10-year prison sentence than accept a plea bargain

Officer Poole told Detective Newberry that he didn't activate his flashing lights until after the suspect turned into an alley. Although Arriaga was driving under the speed limit and obeying the stop signs, in Poole's mind, the events were ramping up.

"At that point, I was becoming concerned that it might be a bail-out situation," recalled Poole.

Actually, Arriaga exited his vehicle and proceeded calmly toward a body shop. And why not? Because he'd entered the alley before the squad car's lights were activated, he had no idea that there was a problem.

When Luciano Arriaga Jr. stopped to visit this body shop, a police officer was on his tail.
Peter Scanlon
When Luciano Arriaga Jr. stopped to visit this body shop, a police officer was on his tail.
Luciano Arriaga Jr. points to the spot where he and the police officer struggled.
Peter Scanlon
Luciano Arriaga Jr. points to the spot where he and the police officer struggled.

"He [was] beginning to walk away, and it was my impression that as soon as he got to the residence . . . I am thinking a foot pursuit."

Officer Poole never explained why he had this fantasy of Arriaga taking off. Nor was he asked why he believed this.

In any case, Poole's mind was racing through the criminal possibilities. He thought weapons and narcotics.

"He begins to walk away, and I confront him," said Officer Poole. "He turns around and kind of squares off on me. He is facing me. I said I need to talk to you."

Far from fleeing, Luciano Arriaga Jr. stopped and faced the policeman.

Instead of calming down, Officer Poole becomes more alarmed.

"You could tell by just looking at his body that he was not going to be cooperative. You could tell looking at somebody if they are going to be compliant, and, to me, his body, he had this look like he was going to run or fight."

The policeman confronted a man guilty of nothing. But that wasn't the way Officer Poole imagined it.

"[Arriaga] was thinking. He was looking at me, and he was thinking. He couldn't figure out what he was going to do. In my mind, I was thinking he has that look in his eyes that says, 'Can I run here fast enough or is this guy going to catch me?'"

Without any warning, Officer Poole attacked Arriaga.

"I then just reached out and grabbed him, and he tensed up and it is an active aggression."

Officer Poole's claim that it was "an active aggression" when Arriaga tensed is odd syntax even for the stilted argot of police-speak. But the phrase is no accident. Under police guidelines, "active aggression" is justification for putting a suspect into the deadly carotid artery choke hold. If Officer Poole was shaken by the confrontation, he still had the presence of mind to alibi strangling Arriaga.

The policeman didn't ask for Arriaga's driver's license. He didn't ask for registration. He didn't ask for proof of insurance. He didn't tell Arriaga that he'd run a stop sign. He didn't tell him he was under arrest.

Officer Poole simply imagined a crime and attacked an innocent man. Why?

Arriaga's father has a straightforward explanation.

He saw a Mexican. And the first thing he thought of was guns or drugs or both, says Luciano Arriaga Sr., a retired construction worker.

In fact, that's precisely what Officer Poole told Detective Newberry.

"I am concerned, number one, it's a weapon," said Poole. "Or he may have had narcotics. I don't know what it was."

Arriaga had neither weapons nor drugs in his possession, nor was he a member of any gang.

"We believe that this was a clear case of racial profiling and a hate crime," says Arriaga's father.

The Phoenix office of the NAACP agreed and fired off a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation.

Absent more facts, however, it's unlikely that this allegation will ever amount to anything. But the record is clear on one point: When Officer Poole turned into that alley on February 6, 2002, he was under unusual stress. He had been the recent target of an internal investigation. He awaited a trial, confinement in jail, and near certain administrative and criminal penalties.

On June 15, 2001, months before he ever met Luciano Arriaga Jr., an off-duty Warren Poole headed to an Arizona Diamondbacks game in downtown Phoenix.

At some point that afternoon, Poole changed his mind and went instead to a strip club, Bourbon Street Circus, at 2900 East Thomas Road. Over the next couple of hours, he downed about eight beers. When he got into his car and drove east, he encountered rush-hour traffic. After a quick stop at a Jack in the Box, he decided to sit out the gridlock at the Rework Lounge at 5200 East McDowell Road, where he had another four beers. He topped off the evening with a second strip joint, the Diamond Club on Scottsdale Road, where he continued to drink.

About 9:30 p.m., Officer Poole, drunk, headed out to his car. He drove onto Interstate 10 and slammed into a highway median. He was taken to Maricopa County Hospital, where he was treated for a laceration of his left knee, abrasions to his head, and a concussion. In the hospital, a mandatory blood test showed an alcohol level of 0.15 percent.

Legally, Officer Poole didn't just drive drunk and have an accident. His blood alcohol level classified his offense as an "extreme DUI." More alarming, investigators determined that because he was scheduled to report for duty shortly after the accident, he would still have been drunk when he showed up for work.

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My Voice Nation Help

anyone who lives here in phoenix can honestly agree that the justice system and/or police department rarely can be considered fair and just. and once you try to challenge them against a wrongful coviction your everyday lives suddenly gets severly scutinized and investigated. sure there are bad guys out there but if your innocent should'nt you be innocent even if the guilty wrong doer is a policeman?

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