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

"He'd be dressed in orange tee shirt, orange trousers, tennis shoes," remembered his father. "In the winter, he had an orange jacket." As if it wasn't difficult enough seeing their son in prison garb, the Arriagas soon found themselves targeted once again.

On Memorial Day weekend last year, contraband dogs at the prison honed in upon the father. This happened twice, and the warden banned Louie's dad.

Today, a year later, the father is still outraged.

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.

"I worked at Palo Verde nuclear plant," said the senior Arriaga. "I took drug tests all the time. I passed FBI screening. I've never done drugs in my life, and I never will. I am willing to take tests 24/7."

After he'd served just short of two years in prison, Luciano Arriaga Jr. was notified by the appellate court that he'd won a new trial. He was released from custody on October 29, 2004, the 43rd wedding anniversary of his mom and dad.

The memory of receiving the news that Louie was coming home made both parents smile.

Louie did not become a sheet metal worker like his dad, and his parents could see why. Cars . . . even as a toddler, it was all about cars.

"He had a bunch of Matchbox cars all lined up in the sand," said his mother. "He couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old. I'll bet he had 50 of them. He needs to take a bath, so his dad goes out [to bring him inside]. You could hear this little kid screaming. He wanted to be with his cars. And he was so strong-willed."

A passion for cars and a will of steel merged with another instinct, a refusal to back down. These elements shaped Arriaga's character. These were the things Officer Poole couldn't know. Not gang affiliation, or guns or drugs.

His parents recall proudly that after joining a boxing club as a youngster, Luciano Jr. learned to stand up to neighborhood bullies.

He was in that fateful alley on a Sunday morning because he had an errand at a local body shop. Growing up in Maryvale, he had fallen in love with low-riders.

"If you wanted a hot chick, you had to have a hot ride," Arriaga explained recently.

In the early '80s, when he attended Maryvale High School, the campus was open, and, at lunch, kids fled school and cruised the neighborhood.

"The Spirit Car Club was the biggest in Phoenix at the time. You had clubs that only had '77 to '79 Cadillacs, Lincoln Mark Vs or Pontiac Bonnevilles. The Monte Image was all Monte Carlos," Arriaga recalled.

Friends taught him how to install hydraulic lifts so that cars could hop. For years, Arriaga supported himself doing custom installations for guys who were on the car-show circuit or who simply wanted to strut their street style.

His customers and his friends caught the eye of the police.

"They singled us out as gangsters, guys with guns, drugs or beer."

As a kid, Arriaga was arrested twice for aggravated assault. This rap sheet would've been devastating if it had been admitted in court, but the judge denied its entry into evidence because of his youthful age at the time of the arrests and because the charges were dropped.

But the previous incidents are revealing. In one report, the police said Arriaga was drag racing on Central Avenue in 1986 and tried to run down a police officer. Arriaga admitted in the recent interview that he shouldn't have been drag racing. But he denied ever trying to hit a cop. He said an officer who'd pulled another kid over had stepped out into the street and hit Arriaga's car with his flashlight as it raced past, injuring his hand. Arriaga pleaded to a misdemeanor when the agg assault charge was dropped.

In a second arrest, in 1992, the police report noted that Arriaga violently refused to allow an officer to frisk him. The police were looking for guys spray-painting on the west side. The report noted that, as a cop attempted to frisk Arriaga, he "knocked his hand away." Twice.

Not only did Arriaga deny this in a recent interview, but a witness to the incident said the police clearly jumped Luciano.

"I was outside watering my yard," said Luke Church. "I saw the whole thing. The cops pulled up in a car and started questioning this kid. It just seemed they jumped on him. I didn't see him act aggressive. They were talking for a few minutes, and then the police just were on him, shoving him."

Did Arriaga slap the officer's hand away?

"No," said Church. "I didn't see him motion toward them or strike them."

Church, who didn't know Arriaga at the time, said he's since moved into a new neighborhood. At the time of the arrest, he recalls, Maryvale was the center of intense police scrutiny because of gang activity.

"You saw cops all the time, which wasn't a bad thing," recalled Church. But, he added, they could be very aggressive.

You get a kid who's charged with aggravated assault for slapping an officer's hand -- and falsely charged, at that -- and you will have a kid with an attitude.

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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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