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 was no ordinary beat cop.

He was a sniper on the Phoenix Police Department's SWAT team. In a standoff, Officer Poole is the guy who must target and execute the suspect on command. No questions asked.

Men who carry a gun for a living, whether military or law enforcement, all recognize the elite units in their midst who are called upon to face down the most dramatic situations. Police departments turn to SWAT units in body armor equipped with overwhelming firepower to take out the worst criminals and the dangerously deranged.

Luciano Arriaga's passion for cars shaped his life.
Peter Scanlon
Luciano Arriaga's passion for cars shaped his life.
Arriaga awaits the outcome of his civil suit -- and his third trial.
Peter Scanlon
Arriaga awaits the outcome of his civil suit -- and his third trial.

It's clear from Officer Poole's personnel file that he relished the challenge. In the year before he stopped Luciano Arriaga, Poole helped serve 39 high-risk search warrants and confronted 19 separate incidents where suspects had barricaded themselves. He averaged slightly better than one highly wrought episode per week.

Think about that.

"The last year, like the past seven, have been very rewarding to me," Poole wrote on his final evaluation as a member of the SWAT team. "Working with the officers of the Special Assignments Unit has been the greatest experience of my career and my life. . . . Being able to work around these officers, often under arduous and life-threatening conditions, has been the highest honor. I am honored to have been part of the team."

The greatest experience of his life came to an end with the DUI. Roughly four months before he grabbed Luciano Arriaga, Poole was transferred out of the SWAT team and put in a squad car.

Now, you get a DUI, and the police department and the state of Arizona will see that you get 12 hours of counseling about the riskier aspects of drinking. Officer Poole would eventually get a certificate to prove he'd endured such lectures.

But where Officer Poole actually needed some guidance was ignored.

Every week Officer Poole had lined up real-life refugees from Grand Theft Auto in his telescopic sight. Then, overnight, he found himself watching traffic scofflaws -- that transition he figured out on his own. There was no decompression tank for Poole to sit in and adjust his equilibrium, no certificate of normalcy. One day he was a state-sanctioned killer, the next, he was checking parking meters.

Gives you chills when you think about it.

And that was hardly the end of the matter.

When he pulled into the alley behind Arriaga, Officer Poole was still facing a criminal trial on the DUI, suspension without pay for up to 40 hours, suspension of his driver's license for 90 days, a fine, and possible jail time.

The last thing he needed in the midst of these legal and professional problems was another blemish on his record.

It's impossible to say how much pressure Officer Poole felt to embellish what occurred in the alley with Arriaga, but the record is clear that he began lying long before he laid hands on the 31-year-old Mexican-American.

As Officer Poole explained to Detective Newberry, his mind was racing with suspicion before he said a single word to Luciano Arriaga Jr.: The suspect was driving away from the stop sign at a high rate of speed, he might have had drugs, or a gun. And surely he was getting ready to run.

But there's more to this than Poole's paranoia.

He radioed that the suspect was running behind a nearby Wells Fargo Bank.

The police department's dispatcher confirmed that this was the message transmitted by Officer Poole.

Another officer on patrol in the same neighborhood confirmed that Poole broadcast he was chasing a suspect.

"Yes, a few seconds later we heard someone on the radio [saying] that there was a foot pursuit in the area of First Avenue," Sergeant Sylvester Johnson testified during Arriaga's first trial.

There was no foot chase.

Officer Poole told Detective Newberry a version of the confrontation, which differed wildly from the version he transmitted over the police radio. The detective never heard word one about a foot chase behind a bank.

Poole offered a third version to another officer who arrived on the scene of the confrontation.

"Officer Warren Poole reported that when Arriaga exited his vehicle, he ignored repeated requests to cooperate by [not] producing proper identification and vehicle documentation. [It became] necessary to physically restrain him until the documentation was obtained and verified," wrote Patrolman James Corey in his report.

Poole admitted under oath that he never asked Arriaga for any paperwork.

Poole described to Sergeant Ronald Vasquez yet a fourth version of the brawl with Arriaga.

On the witness stand in the first trial, Arriaga's attorney asked Sergeant Vasquez to recall what Poole had said at the scene.

Question: "And he told you that Louie had -- I'm sorry, Mr. Arriaga -- had all of a sudden run into the body shop; is that correct?"

Answer: "Yes! He turned and ran into the body shop."

Officer Poole chased Arriaga, tackling him from behind, said Vasquez.

Every version of Arriaga's arrest involving a foot chase is a lie. But each lie is meant to justify what happened, just as "active aggression" (merely tensing up) is meant to justify a carotid artery choke hold.

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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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