Behind BadPhoenixCops.com: The Blogger Who Took on the Phoenix PD and the Homicide Detective Who Might Be His Best Source
The ugliest donnybrook to hit the Phoenix Police Department in years started with one man's divorce.
That man, Jeff Pataky, wasn't a cop. He had nothing to do with cops, not at the time. He was just a software engineer-turned-blogger whose marriage had ended. But before all the issues in Pataky's divorce could be settled, he managed to create a slugfest that now threatens the stability of the Phoenix PD's homicide bureau.
It all began in 2007, after Pataky's soon-to-be-ex wife, Julie Cioppa, filed for an order of protection, claiming her ex-husband had abused her. After months of mudslinging from both sides, she managed to convince Phoenix police detectives that Pataky had violated the order. They arrested him.
As it turned out, the charge was bunk. Cioppa had apparently manufactured evidence, and the cops failed to do enough homework to realize it. The case fell apart on the very first day of trial.
And that's when Pataky started the Web site. Badphoenixcops.com doesn't just criticize the Phoenix PD brass — it excoriates them. The site promises "cover-ups and corruption," "dirty deeds and misgivings" — and, if its reporting can be believed, the site more than delivers. Think allegations of racism, adultery, a "massive cover-up" in the Baseline Killer case, and near-constant use of the term "assclowns" to describe high-ranking officers.
So when Phoenix police officers raided Pataky's home early on the morning of March 9, civil libertarians across the country cried foul.
The cops seized Pataky's laptop, his roommate's laptop, and his wireless modem. Then they busted into his safe and took his backup devices. Although Pataky was out of town, the cops handcuffed and detained his female roommate for three hours. Meanwhile, Pataky's sons — two elementary school students — had to be taken to school by uniformed officers, according to court records.
The raid quickly became a public relations nightmare for the Phoenix Police Department. Bloggers raised hell, videos defending Pataky sprung up on YouTube, and police brass were left scrambling to explain their actions.
Their "explanations" were cryptic, at best. The city's public information officers claimed that Pataky wasn't necessarily the target of the investigation, and that police weren't attempting to silence their most vocal critic.
All that may well be true. But the record suggests that even if they weren't trying to shut up Pataky, they were trying to shut down his best source — and that they'd come to believe that source was one of their own.
For the cops didn't just raid Jeff Pataky's home on March 9. They also raided the home of a 13-year veteran of the police force, Officer David Barnes.
The warrant sought Barnes' computer and other electronics. It also sought "any personal communication between Jeffrey Pataky and David Barnes."
Three months after the raids, the smoke has yet to clear.
Barnes' lawyer, Craig Mehrens, has requested that the court unseal the search warrants that allowed police into his home. But after police objected, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe agreed to keep the documents under wrap for four months, to give police time to continue their investigation without tipping their hand. We won't know until June 30 exactly what the cops seized, or why.
And many of the key people in this case refused interviews with New Times. Both Pataky and Barnes declined comment. So did the Phoenix Police Department and Barnes' attorney, Mehrens.
But after scouring hundreds of pages of public records, including e-mails from police commanders, internal memos, and court files, and talking to nearly a dozen Phoenix police officers, two important things become clear.
One, as much as he's infuriated Phoenix police officers, Jeff Pataky was almost certainly not the raid's ultimate target.
Two, the Phoenix PD is under serious pressure from within. Tension is roiling the homicide unit, the union that represents the department's rank and file is locked in a fierce battle with management, and a once-loyal band of brothers is now wracked with division.
Ultimately, this story isn't about a falsely accused man taking on the Phoenix PD. It's about a cop who decided to take on other cops — and the potential consequences for the city's homicide bureau and a host of high-profile murder cases.
Police investigators are convinced that David Barnes became disgruntled after he was transferred out of the city's homicide bureau. In his anger, they believe, Barnes began feeding information to Pataky — and they think he may have violated the law to do so.
Barnes' union representative, Dave Kothe, says that Barnes has denied being a source to the Web site — and, as Kothe points out, the blog indisputably is being fed by more than one police officer. But anecdotal evidence certainly points to Barnes' involvement. Soon after his transfer out of the homicide division, the detective's obsessions began to be reflected on the blog. The co-workers who Barnes had clashed with were dragged through the mud, accused of everything from adultery to racism. Meanwhile, the blog lauded Barnes as a whistleblowing hero.
It's clear that Barnes and Pataky have met. Unbelievably, records show that Barnes didn't just take a police report at Pataky's home — he also testified, twice, in the child-custody portion of Pataky's divorce case.
If the cops' theory is correct, Pataky isn't a First Amendment martyr so much as a pawn in Barnes' quest for revenge.
In the Internet age, anything goes, and the sort of dirty laundry that is typically never published in a newspaper is all over the Web. But if an angry cop begins to use the Internet to harass his ex-coworkers even while drawing a police department salary . . .
Suffice it to say, even in this brave new world, there are sure to be consequences.
The Pataky-Cioppa divorce was ugly from the beginning.
She claimed that he'd been abusive and filed for an order of protection. He claimed that she'd been faking a disability to milk Social Security — and posted a video on YouTube disparaging her claim. (It showed her riding a horse, which she couldn't do if she was truly disabled, he argued.) She claimed he was a bad father; he claimed that she stole some of his possessions and destroyed others.
But it wasn't until nearly a year after Cioppa filed for divorce, in the spring of 2007, that things really escalated. At that point, Cioppa claimed that Pataky violated the order of protection by phoning her repeatedly. After Cioppa produced phone records that supposedly showed 33 calls from Pataky's number, Phoenix police arrested him.
Pataky protested, saying that he never called her. But the county attorney had him indicted anyway on a charge of aggravated harassment. When Pataky refused to plead guilty, the case went to trial.
Only in the courtroom, in May 2008, did the truth come out: The records Cioppa produced didn't match the ones that Cox Communications produced under subpoena. In fact, the 33 harassing phone calls were missing.
Pataky, apparently, had been telling the truth all along.
Interestingly, court records suggest that the police may have asked for prosecution simply because Pataky had begun to harass them. Initially, a detective took a report from Cioppa but noted that there was "no evidence" that Pataky was violating the protective order. But then Pataky began to hound police about the report: calling the detective who took it, and then his superiors, arguing that he should be listed as an "investigative lead" rather than a "suspect." When they refused to change the report, Pataky vowed to file a complaint against the officers.
At that point, in June 2007, according to a lawsuit that Pataky recently filed against the city, a Phoenix detective left Pataky a voice mail message. After the message, the detective apparently failed to hang up — and, stupidly, didn't realize the phone was still recording. The detective told his colleagues that Pataky was "a dickweed" and that they needed to do something to get him "off their ass."
It doesn't take a paranoiac to assume the aggravated harassment charge was precisely that "something."
Pataky's lawyer, Kerrie Droban, asked city officials for an internal investigation, records show. But until that day in court, no one listened. Only then did the state realize its mistake. The judge dismissed the entire case with prejudice.
It was a stunning victory. But for Pataky, it was Pyrrhic. Court records show that Pataky lost his job in the month before trial. Add attorney fees for the divorce and for the criminal case, plus the fact that Julie Cioppa wasn't working, and it didn't take long for the family to reach financial ruin.
Indeed, Pataky had just $6.33 in his bank account by the summer of 2008, according to court records. Within the year, the family's home was lost to foreclosure; Pataky is now sufficiently behind on child support to trigger action from the Arizona Attorney General.
Pataky claims in court records that he hasn't been able to find another job, citing the terrible economy. He's used the extra time to start a new, unpaid venture.
It's a Web site. And it's directed at the Phoenix cops who refused to believe him.
One month before Pataky's aborted trial, records show, someone registered a Web site under the domain www.badphoenixcops.com. (The site also features a regularly updated blog, badphoenixcops.blogspot.com.)
Today, a request to the site for comment triggers an answer in the plural pronoun, as in, "We don't want to talk to the New Times." But when New Times first contacted the site, about six months ago, the responses came from Pataky himself.
In e-mails, he accepted full responsibility for starting the site. At that point, Pataky pointed New Times to records of his prosecution and explained that he started the site because he'd been wronged by the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
From the beginning, though, Pataky clearly had greater ambitions than exposing his own sad story.
"We learned early on the cops are human and cops are not always right — even though they want you to think so," the site explains. "They hate being told otherwise. We also learned that many of them go into law enforcement because they could not command any respect or authority any other way . . .
"Chief Jack Harris, the entire fourth floor, those boys in [the Professional Standards Bureau] and any other commander or assistant chief can consider us their personal watchdog."
But despite his harsh words about department brass, Pataky realized from the beginning that cops would be his best sources.
The earliest post on the blog, made around the time of Pataky's trial, asks cops to post their stories. "We intend to share all the ineptitude and lies within the Phoenix Police Department under Chief Jack Harris and his management team," the blog notes. "This is where you will able to post messages and read the posts of citizens and even fellow Phoenix PD."
It may have seemed presumptuous at the time. Most bloggers can only dream of attracting insiders willing to spill the beans.
The task might've seemed even more difficult given that the agency in question is the Phoenix PD. The department's public information officers are friendly, but for the most part, the average cop in this town is incredibly media-shy. Ask for comment, or even information on background, and most officers refuse to talk without clearance from a department spokesman.
Apparently, they have no problem talking anonymously. Within weeks of its launch, badphoenixcops.com was attracting comments from people with inside knowledge.
And just four months later, evidence strongly suggests, Pataky landed the ultimate insider.
David Barnes had dreamed of being a homicide detective.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force who joined the Phoenix PD in his late 20s, Barnes referred to homicide in one evaluation as a "career goal." He made it to the homicide squad by 2003, just seven years after joining the department.
By all accounts, Barnes was a singularly intense cop, a guy who approached every case with utmost seriousness and worked it hard.
He was, police sources tell New Times, both openly ambitious and an up-and-comer.
But if Barnes, now 41, rose quickly, his fall came with equal speed. Just five years after making it to homicide, he was unceremoniously transferred from the department.
His intense personality may have been part of the problem. Barnes could be abrasive in meetings and in written communication, as city records show. His deference to supervisors was considered to have reached Eddie Haskell-like proportions; he rubbed plenty of people the wrong way.
Barnes declined comment, as did his lawyer, Craig Mehrens. But in personnel files, internal memos from the police department, and interviews with officers who worked closely with him, the story of Barnes' fall from grace emerges.
The problems began soon after the young detective's greatest success: the Baseline Killer investigation. Barnes was assigned to vet all new tips as they came in during that arduous investigation.
He also served as case agent for one of the Baseline Killer's victims. Sophia Nuñez was one of the few victims who actually knew her alleged attacker. Barnes' fellow officers credit his careful examination of Nuñez's phone records in linking her to Mark Goudeau — the construction worker who'd ultimately be charged as the serial killer and rapist responsible for nine murders and 15 sexual assaults. (Though yet to be convicted for the majority of attacks, a jury convicted Goudeau of sexually assaulting two sisters. He's been sentenced to 438 years in prison.)
Barnes' sleuthing didn't just tie Nuñez's murder to the bigger Baseline Killer investigation; it also tightened the noose on Goudeau. Thanks in part to Barnes' work, the case against Goudeau wasn't just about DNA. It also included electronic records.
But during the Goudeau investigation, the problems that would end Barnes' career as a homicide detective had already begun to fester under the surface.
First, in the summer of 2005, there was an incident involving New Times reporter Paul Rubin. (Full disclosure: Rubin and I have worked together for more than four years, and I consider him a friend as well as colleague.)
Rubin was embedded with one of the homicide unit's four squads, observing its detectives for a yearlong series, "Murder City," published in 2006. A veteran reporter known for his good relationship with working cops, Rubin hit it off with most of the unit's detectives.
Barnes was not part of the unit in question. But his actions led to a near-breakdown in Rubin's reporting. Out of the blue, Rubin says, Barnes accused him of logging into a homicide division computer to access confidential records for an unspecified purpose. Barnes claimed to have witnessed the whole thing.
The allegation was remarkably specific and potentially damning. If Rubin had abused the cops' trust by sneaking into their files, he not only could lose his sources but face felony charges.
The department investigated. A computer analysis showed what Rubin had maintained all along: He never logged onto the computer in question. In fact, the computer was off during the time that Barnes alleged Rubin had used it.
Some detectives began to wonder about Barnes' veracity. When key information about the Baseline Killer investigation was leaked to a television reporter, more than a few detectives suspected Barnes was the culprit. The charge was never proved, but questions linger to this day.
And then there were Barnes' problems with Sergeant Mike Polombo.
Before becoming a supervisor in the homicide division, Polombo worked in the Phoenix PD's Professional Standards Bureau, which is akin to Internal Affairs in other police departments. With a job like that, a cop can make plenty of enemies.
For Polombo, though, it was women who would eventually cause him trouble. Namely, one woman: his ex-wife, Suzanne, a former police dispatcher.
Suzanne Polombo filed for divorce in November 2006, and — much like in the divorce of blogger Jeff Pataky — the situation quickly turned toxic. According to a letter Mike Polombo filed requesting an order of protection, his soon-to-be ex-wife made allegations about him to the Professional Standards Bureau, rifled through his personal files, and even threatened to go to the news media with details about the Baseline Killer investigation unless he agreed to her financial demands.
(Suzanne Polombo's then-attorney, Craig Mehrens, declined comment. And, yes, that is the same lawyer who now represents David Barnes.)
The order of protection was granted. It barred Suzanne Polombo from contacting her ex-husband or entering police headquarters. But, in September 2007, PD brass received an anonymous letter filled with scurrilous allegations against Mike Polombo: He was a racist, he'd stored public records in his garage, and he lied under oath during divorce proceedings.
Polombo became convinced that his ex-wife was behind the letter. But not just his ex; he was convinced that one of his colleagues was helping her.
One of the more specific allegations in the anonymous letter was that Mike Polombo had become romantically involved with a subordinate, Heather Armstrong — while he was still married to Suzanne.
There was, at minimum, reason to wonder: Armstrong and Polombo did, eventually, fall in love and marry. But they both maintain that the relationship didn't begin until after Armstrong was transferred from Polombo's supervision to another homicide squad — and after his divorce.
To Mike Polombo's mind, the letter was garbage, but it pointed to a big problem.
As he wrote in a letter to city brass, his ex-wife would have had no idea who was under his direct supervision. But, as a former dispatcher, Suzanne Polombo had plenty of friends in the police department. Polombo believed one of his fellow homicide detectives, Karen Vance — who just happened to be David Barnes' supervisor and friend — was feeding his ex information.
Even if that's true, the anonymous letter was enough to open a Professional Standards Bureau investigation into when, exactly, Armstrong and Polombo began dating. That investigation stalled when both Armstrong and Polombo denied kindling their romance until after Armstrong was transferred to another supervisor.
That's when David Barnes decided to get involved.
In April 2008, records show, Barnes came forward to Professional Standards investigators, along with a union representative. He claimed that, two years earlier, Heather Armstrong had admitted to him that she was involved with her boss, Polombo. Barnes told investigators that, at the time, he'd blown the whistle to his commander.
When confronted by investigators in 2008, however, the commander denied getting any such information. In fact, he said, he remembered talking to Barnes at the time and telling him to leave Armstrong alone. The questions Barnes kept asking Armstrong about her personal life were "going to the point of harassment," according to the investigator's report.
The commander "said he informed Detective Barnes that those types of conversations were inappropriate and did not belong at work," according to the report.
The investigation into the Polombo affair was closed as "unfounded." And Mike Polombo and Heather Armstrong were, eventually, married.
Barnes' allegations surely hurt his relations with his homicide colleagues, particularly those loyal to Sergeant Polombo. But it would take problems with Phoenix's crime lab to bring Barnes' work as a homicide detective to an untimely end.
By the time of the Baseline Killer investigation in 2006, the homicide bureau had grown thoroughly frustrated with the police department's crime lab. A public-records request yielded numerous instances of high-level officers complaining about the lab's slow pace and lack of organization during the past three years.
Indeed, according to an outside audit of the lab, performed at the PD's request, there was a backlog of 2,800 cases by September 2007. Even worse, it was growing by 68 cases per month.
That had serious repercussions on detectives' ability to get what they needed. In a typical homicide, they might ask the lab to test 20 pieces of evidence for saliva, semen, or other DNA evidence — only to be forced to sit down with lab personnel and their supervisors and figure out a way to reduce the number of items to be processed to, say, four. Nearly all the homicide detectives chafed at the restrictions, records show.
Barnes made his ire more public than most. In an e-mail to two supervisors in October 2007, he called out one lab worker in particular for "incompetence in dealing with homicide and death penalty cases."
"My victim is not friends with any of the Chiefs, Mayor, or city council members," Barnes wrote, implying that only people with connections got good treatment from the lab.
The e-mail was downright conspiratorial. Most detectives believed that problems with the lab stemmed from overwork. But Barnes took it a step further, writing that his request was canceled "for no reason and no explanation or consequence for tampering with evidence in a death penalty case."
Tampering with evidence? Those words struck his supervisors as extreme. But Barnes only grew more vehement as the days passed.
"I am contemplating a formal investigation as to why he is tampering with evidence in a death penalty case," Barnes wrote in an e-mail to his supervisor on October 11. He then copied no fewer than three people — including some lab workers. It was also around this time, the union's Kothe tells New Times, that Barnes first approached union officials with complaints about the lab. The union responded by issuing a public-records request for internal e-mails and other information critical of the lab.
Lab personnel were starting to get frustrated. In e-mails obtained by New Times through a public-records request, one called Barnes "a detective who can't get his facts straight in the first place." Another lab worker called Barnes "a piece of work."
The assistant chief who supervises the lab, Tracy Montgomery, had had enough. In an e-mail to Barnes' supervisors, she wrote, "[O]ur good friend Detective David Barnes of homicide is stirring the pot again. He is not happy with the time it is taking to get some DNA evidence back, so he writes in an e-mail to the county attorney that he is considering initiating a formal investigation on a lab employee . . .
"It is this exact behavior (going outside the department to bash the lab) that we have discussed with Dave time and time again."
Perhaps coincidentally, Barnes' relationships with his co-workers — particularly Mike Polombo and his then-fiancée, Heather Armstrong — were deteriorating rapidly. By March 2008, Barnes told his supervisor that he was convinced he was dealing with a "hostile work environment." He said he intended to talk to a representative at the police union and a lawyer.
The environment didn't improve. In May, Barnes asked his supervisor if they could sit down with Mike Polombo to "air out any misconceptions."
As it turns out, there wouldn't be time for that.
In a meeting with the lab to discuss one of his cases, on June 26, Barnes again found himself in strong disagreement with lab managers. He wanted 14 swabs tested for DNA; they wanted to test only four.
Barnes stormed out of the meeting — and then fired off a pointed e-mail to the deputy county attorney working the case.
The lab, he wrote, considered 14 swabs to be "too much work."
He added, pointedly, "I don't think 14 swabs are too much to ask for in a murder case."
Naturally, that set off hours of back-and-forth, especially when it turned out that Barnes had left the meeting too soon to get the full story. Turns out, after he left, lab managers and Barnes' supervisors had reached a compromise and planned to test seven swabs.
For Barnes' supervisors, his abrupt exit was the last straw. "I pointed out that all of our detectives are involved and passionate about their cases, but no one else acts in such a manner," one supervisor wrote.
On June 30, Barnes and his union representative sat down with homicide supervisors.
They explained that Barnes was under investigation for his "inappropriate actions" toward the lab. And, he was being transferred out of the homicide bureau — potentially for good.
Barnes' supervisor, Joe Knott, would later explain that he'd recommended the transfer, according to city records.
"[Y]ou've demonstrated [in] your conduct . . . that you cannot operate in this particular environment in terms of the dealing with the relationship with the lab and what we are trying to accomplish," Knott said. "We're spending a significant amount of time on your cases trying to mediate between the lab and what's going on."
That was time the understaffed homicide bureau simply didn't have. Barnes was officially transferred back to patrol in August 2008, records show, "for the good of the department."
But if his fellow homicide detectives wanted nothing to do with Barnes, there was another group only too happy to adopt him: the police union.
It didn't used to be this way.
That's what you hear, time and again, if you start asking about the relationship between Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris and the union that represents the department's rank and file, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). In fact, Harris was named chief in 2004 partly because he had such good relations with PLEA.
The union's president at that time, Roy "Jake" Jacobsen, tells New Times that thanks to a long-standing friendship with Harris, he was able to work out most union/management disputes over coffee.
Some officers snipe that Jacobsen was too close to management. He shrugs it off.
"I can handle accusations of being in bed with management as long as you look at what we accomplished by working together," he says.
Mark Spencer had no intention of doing that.
A longtime patrolman in the department's Neighborhood Enforcement Team, Spencer lacked the style of the smoothly charismatic Jacobsen. But he definitely had fire in his belly.
As a union trustee, Spencer made his name by firing off harsh commentaries for the PLEA newsletter. When Jacobsen rejected the commentaries as needlessly combative, Spencer took his case to the union's board of directors — and won override. The commentaries were published.
They drew a following. Spencer tapped into beat cops' resentment of Harris and his top officers, criticizing everything from the department's policy on illegal immigration (which was lenient) to its rule about officers wearing knit beanies (which was not — the hats were officially banned).
In June 2007, PLEA's members ousted Jacobsen and voted in Spencer as their new president.
Almost overnight, everything changed. Gone were Jacobsen's conciliatory coffees with Harris. The new union instead waged war on the police chief in its monthly newsletters, on J.D. Hayworth's conservative talk-radio show, and to any journalist who would listen. Spencer aimed to turn the union into a political force, much like the firefighters union.
Unlike in most unions, Spencer's big goal wasn't higher wages or more money for the department. (In fact, Spencer penned a letter to City Hall suggesting how the police department budget could be cut, mainly by eliminating supervisors.)
He wanted to get rid of Jack Harris.
When Harris was awarded a fifth honorary star for his uniform, Spencer went ballistic. "Wouldn't it be interesting if police rank was determined by who the troops want to follow instead of who the troops have to follow?" Spencer asked in the union newsletter. "A leader is one who serves. In spite of this, he gets a star, we get a scar."
"We're really frustrated with the path that he's taken," Spencer tells New Times. "His philosophy is that he's not going to let PLEA or the citizens tell him how to do investigations. Well, the people who pay the bills are worth listening to. To exclude the people who do the work and pay to get the work done, that's really causing a lot of frustration."
City Hall may chafe, but Spencer has gotten some results. Last February, after serious PLEA pressure, the mayor assembled a blue-ribbon panel to review when police officers were allowed to check immigration status.
The new policy developed by the panel gave officers more leeway to run checks through federal immigration officials. But the union, and Mark Spencer, believed it wasn't leeway enough. After they raised hell, the panel's work was scrapped and revised in just a few short weeks to allow officers to question anyone about their immigration status, any time.
The union, too, took up David Barnes' case with a vengeance. The union newsletter highlighted his transfer in July 2008. Management may have seen Barnes as a pain in the neck who kept erupting at his colleagues, but the union saw his actions as "whistleblowing."
"A note to the homicide detail," the column began. "If you are wondering why PLEA has been in and around your work site lately, let me give you some insight.
"Recently, a member of your detail was removed under threat of an investigation for serious charges. We asserted that this was a retaliatory act for whistleblowing about a problem many, if not all, of you experience routinely. We have encouraged the management to stop working against you and instead support you in your efforts."
Behind the scenes, the tone was less conciliatory.
On July 15, just two weeks after Barnes' transfer out of homicide, someone anonymously made an incendiary post on the badphoenixcops.com.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the subject was someone Barnes had clashed with repeatedly in the past: Mike Polombo.
Jeff Pataky had no connection to Polombo. Polombo never worked his case or had anything to do with his divorce.
But, perhaps not coincidentally, the allegations had to do with a topic of great interest to Dave Barnes: the internal investigation into Polombo's relationship with his former subordinate.
"both heather and mike polombo lied in the internal investigation. a witness verified the affair to be true and gave the names of several other witnesses to verify the affair," the tipster wrote. "the investigation was stopped and no other witnesses were ever interviewed, per open of the chiefs, believed to be jack harris, a good friend of polombo. ...
"sgt. Polomo [sic] is known through out the union (plea) and the department as a dirty cop who lies and covers investigations up for the 4th floor. he was jack harris' 'goto' guy."
For the next eight months, www.phoenixbadcops.com grew more and more obsessed with Mike and Heather Polombo.
In almost no time, it wasn't merely anonymous tipsters writing comments after blog posts. It was actual blog posts, ostensibly penned by Pataky and his mysterious helpers. There were allegations that Mike Polombo was a dirty cop and a racist who routinely dropped the N-word. There were, too, endless references to Heather Armstrong Polombo's supposed sexual proclivities, with graphic detail.
None of the allegations was backed up with evidence.
In a written statement to New Times, Detective Mike Polombo calls the authors of the posts "pathetic."
"Unfortunately, those responsible don't bother to let the truth or facts get in the way of a good story," he writes. "These people are obsessed, mentally ill cowards and perpetual liars who hide safely behind computer keyboards and a perceived cloak of anonymity, though their identity is known to everyone."
Indeed, by the end of 2008, Barnes and Pataky were barely bothering to hide their acquaintance. Court records show that Barnes twice testified in hearings related to Pataky's ongoing child-custody dispute, once in December 2008 and then again in March 2009.
The origins of that testimony? After getting shipped out of homicide, Barnes was put back on patrol. As a patrolman, Barnes wrote a police report in November 2008 claiming that Pataky's ex-wife had violated an order of protection. Supposedly, she'd sent Pataky two text messages from their older son's cell phone.
The texts had come in one and two months earlier. Yet the experienced detective took the matter very seriously. He actually separated Pataky's two pre-teen sons and questioned them, even as one sobbed and protested that he didn't want to get his mother arrested.
Under Barnes' questioning, one boy supposedly admitted that his mother had asked him to lie about their dad abusing him — and the other admitted that their mom had sent the text messages in question.
It's hardly normal for a patrol officer to take a report like that, much less spend so much time questioning young boys. And, indeed, the report is an odd one. Barnes claims that he was patrolling the parking lot at a Home Depot when Pataky flagged him down and begged for help — it's only then, Barnes wrote, that he agreed to go to Pataky's home to interview the boys.
Oddly, the report never mentions some important facts: that Pataky is a founder of an anti-police Web site. Or that, by November 2008, the Web site had repeatedly referred to David Barnes as a whistleblower who'd been wrongly driven from the homicide bureau.
If the two men acknowledged their familiarity with each other, the report doesn't mention it.
As Barnes testified in the Pataky child-custody case, the antics on badphoenixcops.com related to the homicide division, and the Polombos, grew increasingly childish.
Mike and Suzanne Polombo were depicted on numerous occasions as Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Someone stole the nameplate from Mike Polombo's office and photographed it in locations across the country. Someone photographed Heather Polombo's office cubicle and made pointed comments about its décor.
Police brass had to be growing frustrated — especially since the Web site was clearly getting help from the inside. How else could the blog have gotten that photograph of Heather Polombo's desk?
But it was an e-mail sent from "Heather Polombo" that may have opened the door to finally stop Pataky and his allies. In July 2008, an e-mail was sent to police officers across the city, urging them to check out the content at badphoenixcops.com.
The sender: email@example.com.
On March 9, police officers executed search warrants on both Pataky and Barnes, seeking computers, digital cameras, disk drives, and thumb drives.
For what crime? The scant paperwork that's been released to the public suggests that Barnes may have committed the crime of "taking the identity of another person." Pataky may have committed "computer tampering" or receiving stolen property, the warrant claims.
Sergeant Tommy Thompson declined comment on behalf of the department. Meanwhile, City Manager Frank Fairbanks tells New Times that he doesn't get involved in investigations. He says he neither tells the police department whom to investigate nor cautions it about whom not to investigate. But it's clear that the questions raised about the raid on such a vociferous critic reached his level.
"The gentleman has a right to write what he wants on his Web site," he says. "We have communicated to the police department that we are not going to lower ourselves below our standard of absolutely complying with the Constitution and the First Amendment. That idea has been discussed."
Then, Fairbanks adds this: "It's my understanding that the investigation is about something different than his conflict with the city."
If Jeff Pataky's Web site made him a big fish in the world of angry police officers, the raid on his house has made him a hero to a much larger audience. He's been written about in numerous national blogs. He's been on the radio.
He seems to be relishing his 15 minutes.
"They completely wiped me out," Pataky told one interviewer in an audio file posted on YouTube. "I don't have a photo of my kids. I can't do my taxes.
"You have corruption, cover-ups, indiscretions, sexual liaisons, murders, rapes performed by cops; they're all corrupt," Pataky continues in the YouTube audio file. "The racism in the homicide unit — you've got Mike Polombo, a well-known racist; he's been written up numerous times for calling an assistant chief [the n-word]."
For the record, Polombo categorically denies the allegation. Department records show he's never been written up for using a racial epithet. There's only the anonymous letter that arrived soon after his divorce — the one that was closed as "unfounded."
Clearly, if Phoenix police thought the raid would silence their critic, they were dead wrong. The blog continues unabated; so does Pataky.
And on June 30, whether the police department is ready for not, the search warrants for both Barnes and Pataky will be unsealed. At that point, it's likely to become clear whether the department has strong evidence that the two were collaborating to actually break a law — or whether the department simply used pretext to silence its critics.
Either way, it's almost certain that David Barnes' career with the Phoenix Police Department is over.
After the raid, the once-rising star in the homicide division was placed on leave. He's also let the city know that he intends to file two lawsuits.
In Barnes' first notice of claim, filed with the city in January, he says he was demoted after telling the County Attorney's Office about "mismanagement and abuse of authority within the Phoenix Crime Lab." (Never mind that his supposed whistleblowing to the county attorney amounted to an angry e-mail, sent after he stormed out of a meeting.)
The claim says that Barnes can't sleep, has nightmares about work, and suffers feelings of anger and resentment. It charges that his wife has suffered a "loss of consortium."
The claim asks for $1.5 million for Barnes and $1 million for his wife.
And Barnes has now hired a second lawyer, Jess Lorona, to file a notice of claim over the March raid on his house. Interestingly, Lorona is also representing Jeff Pataky in his notice of claim regarding the raid.
Meanwhile, the homicide work that Barnes once loved has suffered — and not only because of the tension that's roiled the bureau in the wake of his transfer and investigation.
Nope, badphoenixcops.com is now actively pushing the theory that police picked up the wrong guy in the Baseline Killer case. Strangely, the man they identify as the one who got away was actually cleared by Barnes during his vetting process. The suspect couldn't have committed the killings; as Barnes' police work showed, he was incarcerated at the time of some of the murders.
And then there's the Marjorie Orbin investigation. Barnes was the lead detective working on the high-profile case, in which a former showgirl allegedly shot and killed her wealthy husband, an art dealer.
But Barnes won't be testifying at Orbin's ongoing trial, at least not willingly. Court records reveal that he's refused to cooperate. Prosecutors aren't calling him; defense lawyers indicate they hope to call him as their witness.
Even then, the former rising star isn't telling all he knows. Ordered to testify at an evidentiary hearing on Monday, David Barnes pleaded the Fifth no fewer than 30 times.
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