By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
"I could not tell you," he said, "that there's going to be a dedicated squad of five people that'll be going after white supremacy or hate-group stuff, those types of things."
That's disappointing news to Bill Straus, regional director of then Arizona ADL, who says he recently met with Phoenix PD higher-ups, such as Assistant Chief Joe Yahner, to argue that the squad should remain.
"They told me the work would be done by someone else," explained Straus of the meeting. "But the fact is, we've got a squad that's put it all together . . . If it's not broke, don't fix it. That's my opinion."
Straus is not the squad's only supporter. Former MOB commander and Mesa Police Chief Milstead is another. In fact, Milstead's so keen on the work of the CCS that he wants to create a unit like it in the Mesa PD to investigate the same sorts of crimes.
"They're very highly skilled guys," Milstead said. "They work tirelessly on these cases.
"Not only is it a necessity for any major city to have a squad that deals with [such offenders]," he continued, "but as large as the Phoenix Police Department is, it seems there would be some way to save [the Career Criminal Squad], looking at all of the things that [it's] doing."
There's no doubt that the squad eats up overtime. Hunting down such criminals can require hours of undercover surveillance.
But the CCS has a sponsor, of sorts, in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is currently partnering with the squad on scores of cases. According to ATF spokesman Tom Mangan, the ATF is helping pay for CCS overtime, as well as offering money to do gun buys, and giving other crucial support.
"We want to target the worst of the worst," said Mangan of ATF's involvement, explaining that many of the criminals CCS chases end up purchasing firearms, thus falling into the ATF's purview.
"These aren't traffic offenses," explained Mangan. "These [criminals] are the people who are going to crawl into your bedroom window in the middle of the night."
Add to this support the fact that the Phoenix City Council recently passed a 2-cent sales tax on food, ostensibly to protect positions like these in the CCS. Phoenix cops have also taken a 3.2 percent pay cut as a concession to the city's budget woes.
If disbanding the CCS seems inexplicable, Commander Miller at least offered up the possibility of a reversal.
"Between now and April 5, when this new budget comes on line, anything can happen," he acknowledged. "We've got three weeks to see if something shakes out."
A trip to Goodyear's Perryville Prison can be a deceiving experience. On any given Sunday, family members visit moms, sisters, and daughters warehoused at Perryville. The female convicts in their orange jumpsuits seem happy for the respite from serving their time, short-lived though it may be.
Even Courtney Bisbee, who is doing 11 years on bogus child-molestation charges detailed in my October 2008 New Times cover story "Nursing Injustice," seems pleasant and untroubled at times, even though she's still fighting to clear her name.
In 2006, Bisbee, then a school nurse, was convicted in a bench trial of touching 13-year-old Jon Valles inappropriately. The case of he said/she said was heard by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville.
Granville believed Bisbee's accuser. But Jon's brother Nik Valles — a key prosecution witness — has since recanted his testimony, saying his mother put Jon up to lie on the stand.
Still, despite a petition for post-conviction relief, which documented many of the problems of the case and introduced new evidence arguing for Bisbee's innocence, Granville refused to reverse his finding of guilt. Bisbee's challenging his ruling before the Court of Appeals, asking for a new hearing, possibly a new trial.
The appeals court probably will rule on Bisbee's challenge later this year. Meanwhile, Bisbee waits and fights in court to have a relationship with her daughter, Taylor Lee, who lives with her father and has had no contact with her imprisoned mother or her maternal grandparents for more than four years now.
If Taylor Lee ever sees her mother again, Bisbee will look different. Not only will she be older, there may well be a 2½-inch scar running from her scalp to her left eyebrow.
The gash, which is on the mend, went all the way to her skull, severing muscle and causing nerve damage. Bisbee suffered it March 1, as she was putting away equipment from an aerobics class she teaches at Perryville.
Another inmate, whom Bisbee had not dealt with before, called her from behind. Bisbee turned and was immediately punched in the face. Bisbee's assailant then grabbed her and flung her off her feet and into a metal door, opening up a gaping head wound. Bisbee was treated with 11 stitches at a hospital.
Two weeks later, when I visited her at Perryville, Bisbee's eye was still bruised and swollen, and the head wound was shockingly thick.
"They were big stitches, not the little kind," Bisbee said, pulling back a lock of hair to show me. Bisbee explained that the doctors wanted room for the wound to drain.