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FRISKY COPYS PHANTOM COPY

You should have read this story months ago.
Two members of the Department of Public Safety team that guards Governor J. Fife Symington III used their state cars for private business. The officers regularly visited the apartment of a woman who had been a drug informant for them, sometimes while they were on duty. In fact, one of the officers had a relatively lengthy affair with the informant.

And both of the officers are still members of the governor's security team.
You should already have read about this situation, which is spelled out in DPS documents, because a Phoenix Gazette reporter wrote and shipped the story to his editors months ago. I heard about the Gazette story last year; I kept expecting it to appear in print.

When it didn't, I decided to go ahead and ask for the DPS records on the case. I expected it to be a routine process. I ask for some public records. I am a member of the public. I obtain the records.

But when I went to Sergeant Rick Knight, a DPS spokesman, I got a reaction that can best be classified as bizarre.

First, Sergeant Knight had to know why I wanted to see these particular reports. Obviously, I informed the sergeant, I believed they might be newsworthy.

Next, the sergeant demanded to know who had told me about the reports. Then, suddenly and seriously, he accused a Gazette reporter of putting me "up to this."

I may have led a sheltered life up to now, but I have not known many journalists from competing news organizations who pass their story ideas to one another, like so much candy. Besides, I am fairly new to town. I had heard shoptalk about the Gazette story, but I had never met or spoken with the reporter who wrote it. (I still haven't.)

Sergeant Knight, however, continued to cross-examine me about my request for documents that are, by law, a matter of public record. The sergeant behaved as if I were not playing the game the way it was played in these parts. He again suggested I was in league with this vicious Gazette reporter.

Several weeks later, I finally got copies of the reports I had requested. Let's amend that a bit: I got copies of what was left of the reports, after DPS lawyers had used a six-month supply of white-out to obliterate every word they thought I should not see.

As I questioned Sergeant Knight about the documents, his defensiveness gave me the feeling that I was reopening a can of worms that he believed had been hermetically sealed a long time ago.

Perhaps I was. The unprinted Gazette story has been something of an open secret in journalistic circles for months now. Although I had heard several interesting accounts about the Gazette's handling of the story, I did not know exactly why the newspaper had not printed it.

So I called Don Henninger, managing editor of the Gazette, who seemed startled Friday when I asked him what had happened to the story on the governor's frisky guards.

"As far as I know, it's still alive," he said.
He acknowledged that the story might have "gathered some dust" during its trip through the Gazette editing process. And, Henninger said, he did not know the exact status of the story, because he had never read it. Lower-level editors had handled that part. But the Gazette was still pursuing it, Henninger assured me.

"If you have information that there's been a cover-up, that's not the case," he said.

And I was happy to hear it. Because the story apparently was written last fall, I believe it must by now have been edited to near grammatical perfection. By now, I'll bet there's hardly a comma out of place. In fact, after six months of editing, I expect the story is so well-edited that the Gazette may find the space to print it before you read this column of mine.

In case the Gazette piece requires additional months of review before it can be published, though, let me explain what the DPS investigation of the governor's guards shows. At least, I will explain as much as I was able to piece together from the whitewashed reports the DPS gave me.

@rule:
@body:In the fall of 1991, two members of the governor's security detail became subjects of an internal investigation. The investigation began after a woman complained to Peoria police that she had received harassing phone calls. She believed that one of the two gubernatorial guards was responsible. The DPS could not determine who had made the calls; both officers denied involvement.

The DPS did find that the two officers had used their state vehicles to visit this female for "non-job related purposes." One of the DPS men also failed to properly document some evidence he had received from her. One officer got a four-day suspension for his misdeeds; the other got seven days of unpaid leave. Both remained on the elite detail that guards the governor.

 

DPS reports provide this background: The two officers met the woman in 1989, before they were on the "executive security" team. Back then, she was helping them conduct an undercover drug operation at Shepherd's West, a sports bar in Peoria.

At one point, the woman, a waitress at the bar, obtained some cocaine while the officers were not present and gave it to one of them. That cocaine was turned in as evidence, but the officer never wrote a report detailing how it was obtained, DPS documents say. That failure to report got him reprimanded for inefficiency.

It seems that no drug cases were ever made as a result of the woman's information. And the DPS officers said she had never been officially listed as an informant in DPS records. But the officers did visit with her fairly often, sometimes at her apartment.

Now, here's the part that the DPS white-out squad tried to make hard. Yes, one of these male DPS officers did have actual sex with this female informant.

There is no direct mention of such activity in the emasculated DPS reports I received. Those reports do say that in the summer of 1989, one of the officers went to the informant's residence "between 1600 and 1700 hours to tell her he was married."

A Peoria police report provides more detail. It says the informant had an eight-month affair with one of the officers--an affair that ended in 1990, before the officer went on the governor's security staff. An affair that ended with a "messy" confrontation between the officer's wife and the informant.

@rule:
@body:I have not named the gubernatorial guards involved in this matter, or the female informant, because DPS personnel have been suggesting that my sole motive is to embarrass the officers involved. At least, the reasons given to me for the deletions from the DPS reports all centered on that sort of privacy argument. So I will not name the officers, because I do not need to to make my points.

This executive-security probe raises questions that have nothing to do with the joys of sex. First, it raises questions about the judgment of two officers charged with providing for the governor's safety.

These officers used an informant in an informal, poorly documented manner. The informant, a bar waitress, said she received "a lot of money" in tips from one of the officers. She gave one of the officers cocaine; he never reported how he got it. One officer engaged in an affair with this unofficial informant, a move that, I think, a few law enforcement types might frown on. At various times in this process, the officers used state cars to drive to the woman's apartment; some of the meetings occurred on state time.

In an unrelated story printed last January, Knight, the DPS spokesman, was quoted as saying that, to protect the governor, "We choose usually our best officers." Whether the governor should consider these officers the best available is, I think, a fair question to ask.

The punishment meted out also can be questioned. In a short interview Sunday, the woman involved in this affair said she considered the suspensions "very minimal" punishment for the officers' behavior. She might be biased in this matter. But she also knows whether the sanctions were appropriate. She was there for the whole show.

There are accountability questions, too. A heavily censored section of the DPS reports suggests other department personnel knew of the affair before the officer involved in it undertook an oral board examination in 1991. That examination qualified him to become a guard for the governor. One could ask whether these other DPS officers should have informed the board about the affair--before the officer involved was elevated to the governor's security team.

(I put in a request Friday to speak with the DPS director. I did not get an immediate chance to ask him these questions.)

And finally, the affair of the governor's guards raises questions about the operation of the daily press in this city. I have been here just seven months. I hate to jump to judgment. I would have to be as naive as a Dickens waif, though, not to wonder at the Gazette's actions in regard to this story.

The Gazette and its sister publication, the Arizona Republic, have run many articles questioning the size and cost of the governor's security contingent, which now totals 13 officers. When the detail had a staff of 12, the cost of salaries alone was estimated to be $500,000 annually.

 

One would think Gazette editors could not wait to get their hands on another legitimate story about the security detail. Let's be clear here: From what I know, this story is not exactly the start of a new Watergate. The story is, however, the type of documented news about public life that most major daily newspapers consider their duty to report.

In fact, at good dailies, this type of news is reported on a routine basis, without any hand-wringing at all.

I would be happy to learn, with certainty, that the Gazette's delay in printing this story was entirely a result of bureaucratic mistake. I would be happy, but I must admit, having read the Phoenix dailies for a few months now, I would also be a bit surprised. It seems more likely that a mixture of sex, misuse of state property and the governor's security team made a story that was just too hot for Gazette management to handle, even after it had cooled off for several months.


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