Elias Johnson, former PCSO Spokesman, Accused of Meddling in SWAT Operation (With UPDATE)
Elias Johnson wasn't a sworn officer --- but he apparently played one while off duty.
Johnson was a mouthpiece for Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. New Times has learned details about the July incident that led to Johnson's resignation on Friday.
Sources tells us that Johnson, a former television reporter, apparently stumbled upon a surveillance operation conducted by the U.S. Marshal's Office in his Gilbert neighborhood.
See also: Sheriff Babeu's Spokesman, Elias Johnson, Under Investigation Over Allegations of "Serious Misconduct"
See also: Sheriff Babeu's Spokesman, Elias Johnson Resigns, Faces Allegations of Unauthorized Participation in a U.S. Marshals Bust
A search was under way for the arrest of former Phoenix Police Sergeant Justin Griffith, who was wanted in connection with a scheme involving the purchase of pain killers using blank prescription pads and allegedly taking a cut of the money after the pills were sold.
Johnson identified himself to the surveillance team as a member of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office -- which apparently left the impression that he was sworn law enforcement officer. He isn't. He's a civilian employee.
As Griffith showed up at his Gilbert home, and deputy marshals were about to make their move, they spotted a Fox 10 news truck on the scene.
Sources tell us that Johnson tipped off Fox 10 to the pending arrest, and indeed, in their July newscast, they say that their "cameras were the only ones rolling" as the former Phoenix cop is arrested.
But allegedly tipping off the media in the middle of SWAT operation isn't the only wrong move Johnson was said to have made that night. According to sources, Johnson wasn't truthful when he was asked whether he called the media.
Cop or not, lying is never the right approach.
We called U.S. Marshal David Gonzales, who confirmed that the incident happened, but referred any questions back to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
We're working on getting copies of the investigative reports.
According to PCSO documents, investigators sustained four allegations against Johnson.
1. Unauthorized use of a county vehicle, unauthorized transportation of an individuals while he was off duty. (Apparently Johnson had a neighbor in the county vehicle and was driving around with him. And, he also attached red and blue lights to his car, further giving the impression that he was an actual cop.)
2. Betraying confidence and releasing sensitive information without authorization by contacting the news media, while off duty, and alerting them to an ongoing fugitive arrest-warrant operation conducted in his neighborhood by the U.S. Marshal.
3. Was untruthful about the fact that he contacted the news media when asked by the U.S. Marshal's Office, his PCSO supervisor, and PCSO internal affairs. (Johnson claimed that Fox 10 called him.)
4. While off duty, without authorization or without even being asked, he participated in an outside agency fugitive arrest-warrant operation conducted by the U.S. Marshal's Office. HIs actions included the use of his PCSO vehicle and recording camera and donning a ballistics vest. He went onto private property and entered the private residence of the suspect fugitive with the team of law enforcement officers, all while filming the operation.