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

No one person set out to get Luciano Arriaga Jr. But when you read the thousands of pages in this case, you understand that the system doesn't need a conspiracy to wreak havoc.

It began with a grand jury that issued the original indictment. Detective Newberry's testimony shades Officer Poole's statement just enough to give an impression that's entirely wrong. He informs the grand jury that the cop car's flashing lights were activated before Arriaga turned into the alley, falsely suggesting that Arriaga ignored the flashing signal. The detective told the grand jury that Arriaga attempted to flee the scene.

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.

"The subject then turned around and tried to go further into the alley and into an open gate. At this point, Officer Poole grabbed this subject from behind and they went to the ground," Newberry testified.

In court, Poole would eventually acknowledge that Arriaga never fled.

"I was afraid he was going to run," testified Poole. "But at no time did Mr. Arriaga run from me."

In Arriaga's first trial, he was convicted of resisting arrest, but in a rather startling turn, the jury hung on the question of aggravated assault. The majority of jurors voted to acquit.

And so, prosecutors filed aggravated assault charges a second time. Arriaga was found guilty.

But in the second trial, prosecutors had played a dubious ace. They told the jury that Arriaga was a convicted felon. They neglected to explain that the felony, resisting arrest, stemmed from the same incident.

Arriaga went to prison and began serving the sentence of 10 years and six months. No time off for good behavior, no eligibility of parole.

Even the judge, Crane McClennen, seemed to think it was ridiculous. Following the conviction, McClennen wrote an unusual letter.

Judge McClennen ordered Arriaga to petition the Board of Executive Clemency for a commutation: "[The] sentence the law requires this Court to impose is clearly excessive. [The] Defendant did not rationally pause and contemplate the use of the dangerous instrument or contemplate the possible results of the serious physical injury he might inflict; instead he acted on the spur of the moment fearing for his own well being. [It] was just a struggle that got out of hand. [If] this Court had the discretion, this Court would have considered placing the defendant on probation."

The judge's letter was ignored. The commutation board rejected Arriaga's appeal to have his sentence reduced.

Arriaga stayed in jail.

The same County Attorney's Office that took Arriaga to court also charged Officer Warren Poole with DUI. But if the system went after Arriaga with a vengeance, the same cannot be said of its treatment of Poole.

On October 2, 2001, the Maricopa County Attorney filed two charges against Poole. But prosecutors opted not to file the "extreme DUI" count despite the 0.15 blood test and the accident. Like most first-time defendants, Poole faced a pair of simple Class 1 misdemeanors.

Four months later, on February 6, 2002, when Officer Poole attacked Arriaga, the policeman still had not gone to court. When he did face a judge fully one year after the DUI charges were filed, he caught an unprecedented break.

In his plea agreement, the second charge was dropped altogether, and Poole's wrist was slapped with a fine of slightly more than $400. His license was suspended for 30 days, and for the next 60 days after that he could only drive to work.

But here is the interesting part.

The law calls for, and the judge ordered, Officer Poole to serve 24 hours in jail. This is not a lightly regarded provision of the statute. The population of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Tent City is filled with men and women serving their 24 hours' jail time. When singer Diana Ross was arrested on DUI allegations in Tucson two months after charges were filed against Poole, she had to serve her 24 hours in an Arizona jail cell, despite high-priced legal efforts to avoid incarceration. She was forced to return to Arizona from New England to do her time. There are no exceptions to this statute.

Officer Poole, however, found an exception.

The justice of the peace hearing his case, former Lake Havasu City police chief Victor Wilkins, allowed Officer Poole to serve his 24 hours of jail time at home.

Luciano Arriaga maintained that Poole never should have been driving a squad car after the DUI and the accident. He argued from the start that Poole's driving record ought to have been admitted in his trials.

Judge McClennen disagreed, noting in chambers that the Phoenix Police Department had, after the Arriaga incident, apparently promoted Officer Poole: "There is no indication that that [the DUI] caused him to leave the [street patrol unit]. To the contrary, the indication was he left to go to a different position which was a highly competitive position."

Hell, he wasn't simply kicked upstairs, he was selected by the police department to be a leader of men.

You see, while Officer Poole was indeed transferred out of his beloved SWAT unit (the liability to the city with an officer who chose to be drunk when he was supposed to be on call as a sharpshooter was simply too great), he didn't remain in a patrol car for very long.

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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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