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

After his DUI and accident, after the misconduct investigation revealed he would have been legally drunk when he was scheduled for SWAT team duty, after it was revealed that he lied about Arriaga's traffic stop, after the city knew that he'd attacked a citizen without provocation, after the police department understood that he'd told four different versions of the same confrontation, Officer Warren Poole was promoted to teach recruits the finer points of law enforcement as an instructor at the Police Academy.

After 41 years as a union sheet metal worker, with 29 of those years devoted to teaching apprentices, Luciano Arriaga Sr. retired on February 1, 2002. Five days later, his son was confronted by Officer Poole in the alley.

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.

"What a mess one stupid person has created," said the retiree.

The father had already erected a chain-link fence around a small plot of dirt so that he could begin to build a retirement home for himself and his wife, Lydia.

"We planned this house from way back when," said the father. "I wanted to have a couple of German shepherds, a garden, a few pecan trees. An acre is not that much, but there was plenty of room for our home."

Their son's arrest killed those dreams.

They sold the land to raise money for lawyers and investigators. They also mortgaged the home they'd owned free and clear. They've spent well over $100,000 defending their boy.

The decision to spend every penny to make sure that their son had more than a public defender was hardly a choice. That's clear when you talk to the mother.

"I have never been without Louie," explained Lydia Arriaga of her family life before the arrest. "Both of my boys live at home. I would give my life for them. I don't want them out there in some apartment. Lots of stuff happens in apartments. I tell them, when they find the right girl, they can move out."

Creating a sheltering environment comes naturally to Lydia, a retiree who worked making floral arrangements. Their home radiates an attention to color, harmony and tranquility wherever the eye lands. Her entire life has pointed in the direction of middle-class respectability.

"My parents were very strict with me. No dates, no movies, I could not go downtown. Nothing," said Lydia, describing her childhood in Phoenix. "My husband's parents were the same way. All my life has been planned. I waited five years to have my first kid. I would not get pregnant until I had a home and a roof over my head."

It's not surprising, then, that a threat to one member of this tight-knit family is taken up by all. Once their son was arrested, every lawyer ever associated with this case learned that the parents were part of the defense team. This level of commitment was not without consequences.

The most benign impact happened inside the home, which was turned into a communications post. The parents have written and faxed all of Arizona's legislators, the state's congressional delegation, the governor and a host of minority leaders. The Arriagas have files stuffed with responses of polite nonchalance.

For the Arriagas, this was just more evidence of the dark and uncontrollable world they'd been dragged into. They suddenly noticed that the police were everywhere they looked.

The police showed up at their home to ask Louie's father about an accident involving a car registered to their address. Then Louie's girlfriend, who'd testified in the stop-sign ticket hearing, said that after the citation was thrown out, the police called where she worked repeatedly. After his first trial, Louie arrived home one night and found a motorcycle officer parked across the street who ticketed him for speeding. When Louie argued over the ticket, he was handcuffed in his front yard before being released.

After the Arriagas wiped out their savings and sold off their retirement plot, they refinanced their home last year to stave off the escalating legal bills. Even this simple transaction drew police attention.

A spokesman for Keys Mortgage confirms that Phoenix Police Detective Paul Hill called the mortgage office repeatedly demanding to see the Arriagas' signatures on the new papers, wanting to compare them to the elderly couple's driver's licenses.

"He scared the shit out of me," said the agent, who asked not to be identified. "The first thing you think of was there must be some sort of fraud. I called the Arriagas, and they called a lawyer. After that, I didn't hear from the police department anymore."

After his conviction for aggravated assault in the second trial, Luciano Arriaga Jr. entered prison, and his parents' lives shifted yet more deeply into the criminal justice system.

Over nearly a two-year period, they visited their son at the Buckley Lewis prison every weekend, twice on holiday weekends.

"I hated to go there," said his mother. "You'd meet in this big room, bigger than this entire house. I took $20 in quarters every visit for the vending machines. You had to have a clear purse that the guards could see through. I got mine at Wal-Mart."

She still has the plastic change carrier.

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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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