Tempe Police Allowed Shaquille O’Neal to Play Cop by Giving Him Secret Info on Software Used to Detect Kiddy Porn

Just after noon on December 15, 2009, a Tempe police detective sent a very specific e-mail about how to conduct a child pornography investigation to this private address: detectiveoneal32[at]ma.com.

Detective Burke Mattlin was writing from his work computer to a former colleague, Shaquille O'Neal — a.k.a. Shaq, The Big Cactus, Diesel, and, in his recent past, Tempe police Detective S.R. O'Neal.

Yes, it was the famed basketball player. O'Neal, a brand with one of the most recognizable names and faces on the planet — had worked closely with Mattlin in 2008 and into 2009 as a peace officer credentialed by AZPOST, Arizona's police-certification agency.

Jamie Peachey
O'Neal in 2003 with the Port of Los Angeles Police
Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images
O'Neal in 2003 with the Port of Los Angeles Police


Miami New Times staff writer Gus Garcia-Roberts collaborated on this story.

Specifically, O'Neal was assigned to the Tempe Police Department's new Internet Crimes Against Children unit as a volunteer detective. But AZPOST records show that Tempe PD officials informed the agency on March 16, 2009, that "Detective" O'Neal had left the department — "separation" was the official term used.

That was a few months before the Phoenix Suns traded O'Neal to Cleveland after finishing the disappointing 2008-09 season one game short of the playoffs.

Detective Mattlin's e-mail clearly was in response to an earlier communication (that never has seen the light of day) in which O'Neal apparently asked his former mentor how best to uncover "potential illegal images" (Mattlin's words) in an unspecified police investigation into child pornography in another jurisdiction.

Mattlin refers in this missive to "your agency" and explains the workings of sophisticated police-computer software designed to track down those who share kiddy porn over the Internet or who try to lure youngsters for sex by pretending in chat rooms to be much younger than they are.

The Tempe detective tells O'Neal to first identify two or three "illegal" images on a suspect's computer through the use of those new high-tech forensic tools.

Mattlin writes, "Then you've got the PC [probable cause] to get a subpoena from the Internet service provider for the subscriber information for whoever had that IP address when GnuWatch [the police software] connected to them."

The Tempe detective continues, "Once you get your subpoena back with the subscriber info, you can write up a warrant and hit the residence. Hope this helps. Get a hold of me if you have any questions."

Mattlin signs off cheerfully: "Good luck and happy hunting!"

Tempe police Sergeant Steve Carbajal says Mattlin believed O'Neal still was working as a fellow detective, possibly for the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office, where the superstar had expressed an interest in volunteering after the trade to Cleveland.

"One police detective basically sharing his knowledge with another," says Carbajal, an agency spokesman. "From what I understand, Mr. O'Neal never specifically told Detective Mattlin what agency he may have been with or what he may have been working on."

But Shaquille O'Neal was not working in an official capacity on December 15, 2009, for any police agency.

"Mr. O'Neal never has been a peace officer in the state of Ohio," says Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

That is critical because, under AZPOST regulations, officers who leave a department after "termination, resignation, retirement, or separation" have "no law enforcement authority" [AZPOST's italics] until another agency hires them.

Arizona's regulations also include this stern warning: "A person with inactive certification who takes action as a peace officer is committing the crime of impersonating a public servant."

This was, in effect, what O'Neal was doing — whether or not he was aware of the regulation — and Detective Mattlin was happy to accommodate him by sharing his investigative techniques via e-mail.

In December 2009, O'Neal was a private citizen who was fixated on an ex-employee whom he correctly suspected of providing damaging information concerning O'Neal's alleged extramarital dalliances to Shaq's estranged wife, Shaunie, and others.

The ex-associate, a Florida ex-con named Shawn Darling, has alleged in a lawsuit that O'Neal contacted Detective Mattlin as part of a scheme to try to frame Darling on a kiddy-porn rap because of the betrayal.

Proof of that specific scheme is lacking.

O'Neal declined through an emissary to comment for this story.

His attorneys have denied any wrongdoing by their client, and in the strongest terms.

"It is ludicrous to suggest that Mr. O'Neal would have jeopardized a pending criminal investigation [against Darling] by seeking to plant pornographic materials on Darling's computers," says O'Neal's attorney, Michael J. Kump, in a written statement.

The O'Neal camp claims that he contacted the Tempe PD innocently — just to gather some investigative techniques to pass along to Cuyahoga County sheriff's detectives.

That is one way of approaching what, at the very least, has become an embarrassment for both Shaquille O'Neal and the Tempe Police Department.

The Mattlin e-mail recently turned up in the public record when Darling — a 41-year-old computer consultant who has served prison time for committing white-collar crimes — attached it to his ongoing lawsuit against onetime employer O'Neal.

At the heart of the suit are thousands of potentially damaging e-mails that Darling pilfered from O'Neal's personal account from late 2008 until January 2010. (O'Neal's attorneys have not challenged the authenticity of the e-mails, and have sought unsuccessfully to get Darling prosecuted criminally.)

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