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

What do we know? We know that Louie Arriaga's ticket for rolling through a stop sign was thrown out of court after the judge determined that the officer lied about what he saw.

We know that Officer Poole imagined Arriaga fleeing the scene of the crime when, in fact, there was no crime; Arriaga was driving under the speed limit, obeyed all stop signs and stopped when confronted.

Luciano Arriaga Jr.
Peter Scanlon
Luciano Arriaga Jr.
This is the stop sign that triggered a 10-year sentence.
Peter Scanlon
This is the stop sign that triggered a 10-year sentence.

We know the officer never turned on his siren, according to his own testimony, and that the patrol car's flashing lights weren't activated until after Arriaga had turned into the alley and was unable to see them.

Based upon absolutely no evidence and no behavior by Arriaga, Poole worried that he might have an armed drug abuser on his hands. This apprehension was compounded by the unfounded assumption that Arriaga intended to run.

Poole violated the Phoenix Police Department's own guidelines for traffic citations. He did not ask for a driver's license, car registration or proof of insurance. He did not inform the driver of any traffic violation. In his own words, he simply reached out and grabbed Arriaga and then blamed the victim for "tensing up."

Poole forced Arriaga to the ground.

In court, Poole testified that Arriaga kept yelling throughout the violent struggle: "The two statements I remember during this entire confrontation is [sic], 'Why are you doing this?' and 'What do you want me to do?'"

Poole put Arriaga into a choke hold.

This also violated departmental rules. The escalation of force guidelines used by the police dictate a series of responses before an officer can resort to the deadly carotid artery grip.

Beyond all of the things that Poole imagined about Arriaga's running away, beyond the unprovoked use of deadly force, there are the policeman's contradictory statements to fellow cops.

He gives at least four entirely different accounts over the police radio, to officers arriving on the scene and to the detective investigating the incident.

Poole's widely varying accounts go beyond lying and beg the question: Why did prosecutors take this case to court? Why did Arriaga get sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison?

At first glance, there is a deceptively apparent reason that Luciano Arriaga Jr. went to prison.

As Arriaga and Officer Poole struggled on the ground, the suspect reached out with one hand and grabbed a two-by-four lying nearby. In an awkward motion, Arriaga -- belly in the dirt with the much larger cop on his back -- swung the board blindly over his head in a backward arc.

Poole said the blow "clumped" him. The wound took six stitches to close.

For law enforcement, this is an open-and-shut case of aggravated assault on a police officer. It was open and shut when it happened, and nothing has changed.

Except nothing about this case is open and shut.

Ask law enforcement about all of Poole's paranoid images of Arriaga's flight, his imagined concerns about guns and drugs, the cascade of wildly different stories told to fellow police officers.

Ask and law enforcement has a ready answer.

According to an expert witness for the prosecution, a fellow police officer, everything Poole imagined, every cock-and-bull story he concocted, all of it was simply "the fog of war."

And surely there is some truth in that cliché. But the facts here don't show some mild variation that's easily explained by the stress of combat. You have an innocent citizen who was attacked without cause, according to the officer's own words.

The "fog of war" is not something limited to police officers, either.

Arriaga said he felt himself passing out from the choke hold, and that's when he reached for the two-by-four in desperation.

"I thought I was dying," Arriaga said in a recent interview.

One of Arriaga's best friends was killed by the police in the very same carotid artery choke hold.

Like Arriaga, Eddie Mallet was a kid who liked to rebuild cars. And like Arriaga, Mallet was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When officers stopped Mallet, a double amputee who'd done nothing wrong, the confrontation ended in a choke hold, and Mallet died. Arriaga spoke at the funeral and carried the casket in 1994.

The death rocked Phoenix, created a huge media outpouring, and ended with the largest civil judgment against the city in its history.

Arriaga had every reason to believe he was next. He almost was. After being clubbed, Poole reached for his gun and testified that he intended to shoot Arriaga in the back of the head.

You would think someone in the prosecutor's office would've examined the facts in this case and walked away.

But you would be wrong.

The county attorney told Arriaga's lawyer before the first trial that unless his client would admit guilt, and do three years in prison as part of a plea agreement, the office would prosecute him for resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer and go for the full 10 years in prison.

Which's exactly what the County Attorney's Office did when Arriaga refused to do jail time.

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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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