A Grandmother Asks for Us All: Who Will Stop DPS?
Sally Tavilla is 71 and still honors her Boston roots when she says words like farm or park. She is a lady who relishes her family.
"I brought up five beautiful children," Sally says, "and they're a credit to this country."
She and her daughter Jeanette were talking on the phone the morning of August 3 when the noise just became too loud.
"I asked her to turn down her television," said Tavilla. "My daughter told me she didn't have the TV on. Then I asked her if she heard the voices. They were men's voices. I didn't hear everything that was said but I did hear one man say the word `vandalism.'"
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
TicketsTue., Aug. 29, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sun
TicketsFri., Sep. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Seattle Sounders 2
TicketsSat., Sep. 2, 7:30pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Atlanta Dream
TicketsSun., Sep. 3, 1:00pm
As the mother and daughter listened in astonishment, the two men became aware that something was wrong.
"The one man said to the other, and I can't remember word for word what was said, mister, but it was something to the effect, `I'm not too concerned. This system I have, no one can break through this system. It's very good.'"
Sally Tavilla did not know that her daughter already lived in fear of her phone.
From April 25 through May 3, Tavilla's daughter Jeanette and son-in-law Leon Woodward were subjected to a reign of terror by telephone.
In that short space, 51 phone calls--death threats as well as anonymous callers who refused to speak--came at all hours of the day and night.
Phoenix Police Detective Rick Hargus conducted an investigation that traced 43 of the calls to state police headquarters or to the private residence of DPS Officer Van Jackson.
Although Jackson resigned on May 12, the harassment did not stop.
A second wave of intimidating calls began on June 10.
A month later the Woodwards also began to suspect that, somehow, their phone might be wired.
On July 31, Leon Woodward was talking with state Senator Jerry Gillespie when their conversation was interrupted.
"I don't remember what was said because I was so surprised," said Senator Gillespie. "We were talking along and sometimes you'd hear a real quick cut-in, some static and then voices. It was unlike anything I've ever heard before."
Three days later, after Sally and Jeanette heard the conversation of the two men on the Woodward phone, Leon knew he had to do something.
In desperation, Leon Woodward summoned an electronics specialist who has worked for Fortune 500 companies, police departments and banking institutions, and has testified on wiretaps as an expert witness in trials.
In August, David Rabern of International Counterintelligence Service told Woodward that his phone box had been "tampered with" in a pattern consistent with eavesdropping.
"There were scratches on the outside, wires were pulled out as if something had been attached to them with some device or someone had been testing it trying to find which pair of wires was the talk pair."
Speaking of her son-in-law, Sally Tavilla cannot make sense of what has happened.
"I know Leon is active in politics and very outspoken when he thinks he is right, but still, I was stunned," said Tavilla. "I talk on the phone to my daughter often. We talk about my grandchild. I have nothing to hide, sir, but you wonder what else is happening. I have a beautiful grandchild and daughter. I don't want anybody to harm them.
"You wonder what is happening to this beautiful country of ours."
According to surveillance expert Rabern, the overheard conversations on the Woodward line were "cross-talk."
"If someone was fooling around with their phones," said Rabern, "that could happen, sure."
Ms. Tavilla, who has been ill recently, reacted with the discouragement of the elderly to the events in her family's life.
"I'm glad I'm on the way out and not on the way in. I was one of those people who thought every year would find America a better country. I never thought this sort of thing would happen in this country. Who is going to fix it?"
I called County Attorney Richard Romley to ask him, in one grandmother's eloquent words, if he is the one who is going to fix it.
Mr. Romley is not returning phone calls on the Woodward case or answering grandmothers' questions these days.
These questions, however, will not go away. These questions began a year ago last spring when DPS ran amuck during the impeachment of former Governor Evan Mecham.
The first count in the impeachment charged Mecham with obstructing justice. The governor was accused of ordering DPS director Colonel Ralph Milstead not to investigate the allegation that Mecham aide Lee Watkins had threatened another government worker's life. The state's chief witness against the governor was Ralph Milstead himself.
Two women, Terri Fields and Christina Johnston, stepped forward to repudiate Colonel Milstead. Both were arrested.
State employee Terri Fields testified on March 10 that the woman who first heard the Watkins threat, Peggy Griffith, was given to exaggeration.
On March 11, the state police arrested Terri Fields. Her crime was that she had missed a court-ordered Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Stunned observers could not recall the last time the state police had arrested anyone on such a charge.
DPS spokesman Sergeant Allan Schmidt said that a state police officer recognized Terri Fields when she testified and realized that Fields had an outstanding warrant.
This incredible explanation was not borne out by the police reports.
Although DPS claimed they were just doing their job, the state police initially attempted to hide their role in Fields' arrest by involving the Mesa Police Department.
A DPS officer, posing as a reporter from this newspaper, called Terri Fields in a ruse designed to lure her to an interview at the Mesa Holiday Inn.
Once Fields was en route, the DPS intended that the Mesa police should pull her over on a routine traffic stop. This would give the cops an excuse to run a computer check and "discover" the outstanding misdemeanor warrant justifying Fields' arrest.
"He [DPS Officer Randy Oden] told me that Ms. Fields also had a suspended driver's license. I did not question Officer Oden as to why he needed to speak with Ms. Fields. He did, at this time, mention that Ms. Fields was also one of the witnesses that had testified in the Mecham impeachment hearings . . . ," reads Mesa police Sergeant Les Portee's departmental report. " . . . He said she might be driven to the Holiday Inn by her mother and questioned whether we could arrest her. I told Officer Oden that as a passenger in the vehicle, Ms. Fields was not compelled to produce any identification."
The plan by DPS to arrest Fields through subterfuge fell apart when the young woman said she wasn't interested in meeting "the press" for an interview. Frustrated, DPS stormed over to her mother's house and arrested Fields on the spot.
Sergeant Schmidt has a glib explanation for why a DPS officer would pose as a reporter from this paper.
"We tried to put her in a sterile environment and not arrest her in front of her family and friends," he said. "We always do that. You never want to arrest a person in an enclosed space like a house, and you always want them away from people like family who would react emotionally and might try to interfere."
In other words, when DPS went out of the way to arrest a young woman for missing an AA meeting, they braced themselves for a possibly violent confrontation with this single mother who worked in state government.
Polished alibis, however, do not hide the pattern of harassment directed by the state police against Mecham's supporters.
In the case of Mecham witness Christina Johnston, DPS could not claim that she simply was recognized on the witness stand by an ever-vigilant officer. The state police attempted to arrest Christina Johnston before she could testify.
On March 2, DPS Officer Jerry Dodd, assigned to the Intelligence Division, contacted Detective R. S. Ploeg with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Once again, DPS attempted to get another law enforcement agency to do its bidding. This time the target was a woman who claimed she was the former lover of DPS director Milstead and had intimate knowledge of abuses within the state police.
Detective Ploeg found the DPS request so unusual that he filed a report with his superior, Sergeant W. F. Nibouar: " . . . Officer Dodd asked me if I would do him a favor. I inquired as to what the favor was, and he asked that if he could locate the woman named in the warrant, would I go out and arrest her. I asked Officer Dodd, `Since when does DPS Intelligence go out and work misdemeanor warrants?' I also made the comment, `If you guys don't have anything to do over there, we have approximately 25,000 warrants on file you can play with.' At this time there was no further mention of the warrant or individual."
Actually, the guys at DPS had lots to do. For instance, it was during this time frame that DPS Officer Don Barcello was warning state capitol employees not to allow sign-carrying protester Leon Woodward into the public cafeteria or onto the parking lot. Barcello even threatened to arrest Woodward. It was also during this time period that David Woolf, executive director of the Maricopa County Republican party heard DPS Officer Van Jackson swear and promise Woodward, "We're going to get you."
In fact, DPS was so busy during the impeachment--Colonel Milstead testified against Evan Mecham and his state police troopers terrorized the governor's supporters--that concerned legislators asked Rose Mofford to investigate the reports of abuse.
Mofford, who succeeded the deposed Mecham, dished the assignment off to her chief of staff, Andy Hurwitz.
At one point, Hurwitz had been Colonel Milstead's personal attorney. This seeming conflict did not prevent Hurwitz from accepting the task. His solution was to ask DPS to prepare a report on the matter.
Not surprisingly, the state police cleared themselves of any wrongdoing.
One year later, in April 1989, Evan Mecham announced that he once again would run for the governor's chair. Attending the press conference was Leon Woodward.
That very same month, the death threats from DPS headquarters began at Leon Woodward's house.
County Attorney Richard Romley apparently does not see any pattern in all of this.
In the hysteria to impeach Evan Mecham, Arizona stood by as DPS ran roughshod over people's rights. Apologists rationalized the arrests of witnesses by the state police, pointing out, after all, that Johnston and Fields did have outstanding misdemeanor warrants, no matter how frivolous.
Any pretext of legality, let alone morality, was blown sky-high when Phoenix Police Detective Rick Hargus put together his investigation.
As former DPS director Ralph Milstead looks on from the safety of his new position on Governor Mofford's staff, County Attorney Richard Romley must decide how to proceed. One of his deputies has offered Van Jackson a plea agreement that will allow the former officer to remain quiet about what he knows. It is a whitewash, plain and simple. County Attorney Richard Romley must decide how he will answer Grandmother Tavilla, who asks for all of us, "Who will fix this?
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.