DPS Reign of Terror
With his own words, in newly revealed documents, Department of Public Safety Officer Van Jackson makes it very plain that he was not alone in the reign of terror directed at Leon and Jeanette Woodward.
The summary of DPS' internal investigation was obtained Friday after a formal request by this newspaper's attorney under Arizona's Freedom of Information statutes. The report, stamped "Confidential," contains three startling revelations:
Van Jackson told superiors that he believed a second officer participated in the campaign of intimidation.
Van Jackson confessed to much more than simply phoning the Woodwards.
Van Jackson admitted to DPS investigators that he was parked outside the Woodward residence on the critical evening of April 25. That was the night a Phoenix city cop arrived to write up the Woodwards' complaint of death threats.
But if Van Jackson was physically present at the Woodward home keeping the couple under surveillance on the evening of April 25, who made the two harassing phone calls to the Woodward residence that were overheard by the Phoenix patrolman after he arrived?
The authorities--DPS and the County Attorney--have taken the position that Van Jackson acted alone.
Until now, the only available documents were those associated with the investigation by the Phoenix police. The file of DPS' internal probe adds enlightening perspective to this unfolding scandal. From April 25 to May 3, more than fifty harassing calls, including death threats, were made to the Woodward residence. The Phoenix police, with the cooperation of the phone company, traced 43 of the calls to DPS headquarters.
When the state police were confronted with the facts of the Phoenix Police Department's investigation, they launched an internal probe of their own.
The "confidential" report of DPS clearly demonstrates that Van Jackson did much more than simply use the phone to terrorize the Woodwards.
Van Jackson began his vendetta on April 25 by requesting data from DPS' intelligence division on Leon Woodward. Photos of Woodward were supplied by Officer Tom Davis, who'd been informed the suspect was a security threat.
On the same day, Van Jackson contacted Arizona authorities to obtain a copy of Woodward's driver's license and traffic record.
Later that afternoon, Van Jackson asked for a background check on Leon Woodward to be run on the Phoenix Police Department's computer.
This chilling compilation of raw intelligence data assembled at state police headquarters was not part of a profile of some dangerous criminal. Rather, this black bag of information was part of a manila folder being kept on an outspoken political activist, a staunch supporter of deposed governor Evan Mecham and a vocal critic of DPS.
On the morning of April 25, Leon Woodward called state police headquarters to complain about DPS Officer Don Barcello.
Woodward's call was taken by a colleague of Barcello's, Officer Van Jackson.
That same day, Van Jackson began putting together his file on Woodward.
That same day, the Woodwards called the Phoenix police about the anonymous death threats they'd received.
The same day that began with Woodward's complaint to DPS against Officer Barcello ended with Officer Van Jackson's surveillance of the Woodward home.
And while Van Jackson was parked out front of the Woodward residence, someone else phoned in two more harassing calls.
Van Jackson flip-flops about who else might have called Woodward.
Van Jackson does say the idea was kicked around.
Twice, in two separate interviews with officers from DPS' Internal Affairs Unit, Van Jackson said other members of the state police force discussed phoning Woodward.
The "confidential" report on DPS' investigation states that during the May 5 interview, "Officer Jackson indicated that other people joked about calling Leon Woodward but that he did not ask anyone to call him nor does he have any knowledge that anyone other than himself did in fact call Mr. Woodward."
Rather than pursue who else was "joking" about harassing Leon Woodward, DPS officers moved to cover their butts. On May 8, the state police investigators hooked Van Jackson up to a polygraph machine. The actual charts from that exam have not been produced, but we do know from the summary that DPS did not ask who the "other people" were who discussed tormenting Leon Woodward. Instead, Van Jackson was asked:
"Do you know for sure who else is making harassing phone calls to Leon Woodward's residence?"
"No," was the reply.
But three hours later, on May 8, Van Jackson for a second time suggested that he did not act alone, and this time he fingered Officer Don Barcello.
"Officer Jackson indicated that some time back he told Officer Barcello that Leon Woodward is really annoying and he needs a taste of his own medicine," reads the report of DPS Sergeant Paul J. Capehart of the Internal Affairs Unit.
"Officer Jackson states that Officer Barcello replied that he had Leon Woodward's home telephone number and he was going to give it to a friend and have the friend make some calls to him.
"Officer Jackson believes that the conversation with Officer Barcello occurred before April 25, 1989."
Incredibly, Barcello does not deny saying this to Van Jackson, though he attempts to put a light-hearted spin upon the conversation.
"Officer Barcello recalls he may have joked around about calling Woodward, but he never made any calls to Leon Woodward."
What Barcello told his superiors at DPS is somewhat at odds with what he told Phoenix Police Detective Rick Hargus.
When confronted by Hargus, Barcello admits that he was aware that Van Jackson was calling Leon Woodward, but for the life of him, Barcello can't imagine what his pal was up to.
" . . . Really, the conversation was only in passing," Barcello told the Phoenix police, "and I really didn't want to hear about it or know about it."
This astounding explanation of Barcello's comes from a state police officer who admits that he, like Van Jackson, also keeps a file on Leon.
"I keep a history of Leon; he's a kook," said Barcello to Detective Hargus.
And yet Barcello doesn't know anything about the Van Jackson-Leon Woodward fracas. Until he's pushed a little by DPS. And then he still doesn't know anything. Except on the kidding-around level.
The DPS investigation conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit is rife with these sorts of contradictions.
Van Jackson would only admit to the Phoenix detective the making of one phone call.
With his own superiors at DPS, however, Jackson confesses to making numerous calls to the Woodward residence. But he denies ever making any death threats.
Jackson repeatedly denies that anyone else made calls to the Woodwards, then on two different occasions insists that others at DPS said they'd call Leon, too.
Jackson denies keeping the Woodwards under surveillance, then admits he was parked out front of their home when the Phoenix police were summoned.
In fact, the internal investigation conducted by DPS is filled with the sorts of denials followed by sheepish admissions that you'd expect to find when dealing with adolescents.
Except that these weren't delinquent teen-agers.
These were state police officers whose responsibilities were intelligence and security within Arizona's government. Their victim was a private citizen and his family.
And no one is getting to the bottom of this mess.
The DPS report spends almost as much time proving that Leon Woodward is an outspoken gadfly and pest as it does investigating rogue cops.
The "confidential" sixteen-page document's final words are: "People other than DPS officers assigned to the capital had similar opinions (negative) of Leon Woodward as reflected in the Neighborhood Improvement and Housing Department meeting minutes."
That is the conclusion.
As if being obnoxious somehow puts into perspective a masked coward with a badge and a gun ringing you up at two in the morning and threatening your life.
Since County Attorney Rick Romley has charged Van Jackson--and only Van Jackson--with two petty misdemeanors, is it any wonder that a second wave of threatening phone calls was launched against the Woodwards after this officer's resignation from
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.