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

The level of outrage that Arriaga and his parents feel over what happened with Officer Poole cannot be overstated.

After the first trial ended with a hung jury on the aggravated assault charge, prosecutors approached Arriaga's lawyer. They offered a plea agreement that stipulated no jail, simply probation, if he would plead guilty to a lesser charge and pay a fine. His lawyer at the time endorsed the settlement.

Arriaga absolutely refused to consider the deal.

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.

Both parents were also adamant.

"If a man is innocent, why should he plea bargain?" asked his father recently.

Arriaga endured two trials, appellate court, a commutation hearing, and traffic court, not to mention prison. His family paid for two private investigators and five lawyers -- more than $130,000, by their estimate. His parents' dreams of retirement were shattered.

All of that agony is on the line as the trial is scheduled to begin as this article hits the streets. If Arriaga loses again, he will go back to prison to finish his 10 years.

Prosecutors were getting ready to offer the Arriagas a third deal to avoid another costly trial when tragedy intervened offstage. Surely, prosecutors reasoned, the death of a police officer killed after a traffic stop would make it clear to the Arriagas that they would be tempting fate to insist on another trial.

This development came about last month when potential jurors and all of Arizona were reminded once again that an officer never knows who he's pulling over when he turns on those flashing lights.

Two methamphetamine dealers shot Officer David Uribe in the head and neck on May 10 after he approached their car. Thousands of mourners packed the church for the funeral service, which dominated the news. The funeral procession was estimated at 24 miles long.

Citizens throughout the state sat transfixed in front of their television sets as bagpipes played at the service. A flight of helicopters flew past in the slain officer's honor. Over the police radio, a dispatcher could be heard summoning Officer Uribe to his graveside.

"This is the last call for Officer David Uribe, Number 4276. . . . Goodnight, sir. You will be deeply missed."

Arriaga's lawyer will never find jurors who weren't touched by the haunting tribute to Officer Uribe. And it was in this volatile atmosphere that prosecutors suggested the way out for everybody.

And yet Arriaga still refused to consider the prosecution's last offer two weeks ago to plead guilty to a lesser charge and walk free on probation.

Arriaga's attorney, Chad Shell, thought it was a reasonable offer, but the family and the victim's sense of outrage trumped a safe choice.

"The city should have accepted responsibility for allowing a discredited police officer to patrol," said Arriaga recently. "I'm going to put up a Web site. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. I ain't signing nothing. They need to back off and leave me alone. I need to get paid. I ain't going away until I get paid. I need to get my money back."

Arriaga has filed a civil suit against the city and the police department seeking unspecified damages.

As you drive around the Valley of the Sun, you can't help but stumble across a song on the radio that celebrates cars and the freedom they represent.

Cars seduced Luciano Arriaga Jr. at a tender age. He particularly liked the kinds of rides that celebrated La Vida. As he closes in on 40 years old, cars are still at the center of his life. Freed from prison, he resumed towing custom low-rider cars to competitive shows.

Facing a 10-year prison sentence, he remains defiant. Is anyone in a Springsteen song more defiant?

His lawyers think he's crazy.

But really, what else could Luciano Arriaga do? Qué corazón.

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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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