MORE

Law and Disorder

In nine days, 51 creepy phone calls and death threats were made to Leon and Jeanette Woodward. U S West Communications determined that 43 of those calls originated within state police headquarters or from the home of Department of Public Safety Officer Van Jackson.

Subsequent events raise the possibility that the campaign of terror also included covert surveillance and illegal wiretapping.

On April 25, a shaken Leon Woodward dialed the Phoenix Police Department looking for protection. Patrolman Rick Wenrick was dispatched to the Woodward residence.

The couple told the Phoenix cop that twice that evening a man had called and threatened their lives.

"You're a dead man and your wife will die, too . . . ," recounts Wenrick's report, obtained under Arizona's public records law.

While the police officer was inside the Woodward home, more ominous calls occurred. Beginning what was to become a pattern of "silent" harassment, the phone rang; after Woodward picked up the receiver, the mysterious caller refused to speak.

Officer Wenrick listened in on a separate phone extension.
After finishing his interview and listening in on the two calls, Phoenix policeman Wenrick left the Woodward residence and proceeded to 16th Drive and Griswold, where he intended to write up his report.

Before he could finish the paperwork, Wenrick received a message in his squad car to meet a DPS unit at 19th Avenue and Northern.

When he arrived, Officer Wenrick found an old acquaintance, DPS Officer Van Jackson, in an unmarked car.

Jackson asked for and received a copy of Officer Wenrick's report.
Wenrick said Jackson told him that Leon Woodward was under surveillance by DPS, was the target of a DPS investigation, and "that they want to get him good."

These events of April 25 raise serious questions.
How did Van Jackson know that a Phoenix cop had been summoned to the Woodward residence?

If Van Jackson was parked across the street from the Woodward home, keeping Leon under surveillance, he would have seen the Phoenix police car arrive. But then he could not have been at DPS headquarters and made the two phone calls that Officer Wenrick overheard.

Who at DPS headquarters made those two phone calls?
Though it seems remote, it's possible Van Jackson picked up Woodward's call for help from a police scanner.

But Sheila Johns, a DPS employee who shared an office with Van Jackson, said the officer did not have a scanner at work. If DPS had tapped the Woodwards' phone, the state police would have picked up Leon's call summoning a Phoenix patrolman.

But in the follow-up investigation by Phoenix Police Detective Rick Hargus, the phone company said there had been no legal tap on the Woodward residence.

Was there an illegal wiretap on the Woodward phone?
If there was an illegal bug or covert surveillance, then this entire Woodward episode is much more involved than DPS has let on.

At this point, all the state police will acknowledge is that Leon and Jeanette Woodward were the victims of intimidating phone calls and death threats. And yet when Detective Hargus conducted his investigation, it wasn't long before a DPS worker gave a statement that suggested more was involved.

Sheila Johns, whose desk was next to Van Jackson's, stumbled across an index card that should have aroused suspicion.

"I had heard about the charges and decided to look up the statute," said Johns. "So on his [Van Jackson's] desk was a Title 13 and I picked it up. Inside the book was a five by seven lined white card and in Van's handwriting was Leon's home phone number and address and the words `tap' and `trace.'"

Van Jackson's office mate wasn't the only person who uncovered suspicious details.

Two weeks ago, David Rabern of International Counterintelligence Service examined the Woodward residence for evidence of surveillance.

Rabern discovered that the Woodwards' outside phone box had been "tampered with" in a pattern consistent with an illegal wiretap.

"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," said Rabern in an interview discussing his findings.

Explaining that someone could have put a tap on Woodwards' phone box, he added that an unknown party could also have attached a device known as a tone generator.

"Then they could identify the same wires a block or so down the street and tap in there."

If, in fact, this spook work was going on, is it possible that Van Jackson could have executed all of it by himself?

Is it conceivable that one man waged this entire covert war and that no one else at DPS was ever aware of what Van Jackson was up to?

 

A close reading of the Phoenix Police Department's investigation provides some answers and triggers even more questions.

Others at DPS admitted to Detective Hargus that they were aware of Van Jackson's actions or had it in for Woodward.

Colonel James Chilcoat, assistant director of DPS, is the man who personally signed and approved Van Jackson's overtime slip for the evening of April 27 when 12 harassing calls were phoned into the Woodward home.

Detective Hargus said he asked Colonel Chilcoat what the commanding officer's understanding was of Van Jackson's activities during the overtime period.

According to Detective Hargus, Colonel Chilcoat was "very vague."
Colonel Chilcoat was more precise about Leon Woodward. In the police report he is quoted as admitting that he had a grudge against Woodward during the Mecham impeachment process. The colonel's attitude was reflected in the men who worked under him.

DPS Officer Don Barcello confessed that he maintained records on Woodward.
"I keep a history of Leon, he's a kook," Barcello told Detective Hargus.
Barcello was also aware that his colleague was harassing Woodward, according to the police report.

Q: Has anyone told you about calling Leon?
A: Van told me he made some calls.
Q: Did he say to whom?
A: Leon.
Q: Where did this occur?

A: I'm not sure. It could have been in my building or it could have been in his office.

Q: When did this occur?
A: About a week and a half or two weeks ago.
Q: Then about the 26th or 27th of April?
A: That's about right.
Q: Was it before this [investigation]) all came about?
A: At least a week before this broke.
Q: He did say he was making calls to Leon?
A: Yes.
Q: Did he say why?

A: Never. Really the conversation was only in passing and I really didn't want to hear about it or know about it.

Except, of course, that he did know about it. He knew all about it, yet he failed to stop it or to report it.

And when Van Jackson was allowed to resign from DPS, Barcello was overheard at the state capitol threatening to get even with Leon Woodward.

County Attorney Richard Romley has charged Van Jackson with two misdemeanors. Given that Woodward filed a complaint and that Detective Hargus provided a slam-dunk investigation, the county attorney had to do something. But it is also obvious that Romley did the least possible.

What is it about Leon Woodward that makes it okay in the county attorney's eyes for the state police to conduct a campaign of terror against the man and his wife?

The answer is obvious: Woodward's political beliefs make him a victim.
Leon Woodward is one of ex-governor Evan Mecham's most vocal supporters. When DPS director Ralph Milstead helped depose Mecham, it was Woodward who led the protest against the state police. The intimidation of Woodward is only the latest episode in a yearlong campaign against Mecham's supporters by DPS. The harassment reached frightening dimensions during the impeachment hearings, when DPS instigated the arrests of two Mecham witnesses. When these arrests were brought to the attention of Governor Rose Mofford, Mecham's successor and rival, she simply had DPS make a report on the matter. This cozy arrangement allowed DPS to clear itself of any wrongdoing. Nothing was done then and nothing is being done now.

In the rush to get rid of Evan Mecham, Arizona has looked the other way as the ex-governor's supporters are trampled.

It is clear the authorities want this matter to disappear and anyone who asks is told that Van Jackson acted alone without anyone else's knowledge. After all, it was only a matter of a few phone calls.

Yet we all know there is much more to this story.
We know that DPS Officer Don Barcello was aware of the ugly behavior of Van Jackson, yet he allowed it to continue.

We know that Van Jackson, before he became the target of the investigation, spoke freely to a fellow police officer and said Leon Woodward was under DPS surveillance and that the state police wanted to nail him but good.

We know that when Van Jackson was confronted by the evidence, according to Detective Hargus' report, the state police officer asked to go off the record, pleading, "But you don't know how it is between us and him [Woodward]."

We know that Van Jackson has refused to explain how he became aware that a Phoenix cop had been called to the Woodward residence on the night of April 25.

 

We know that Van Jackson's actions raise questions about covert surveillance and wiretapping.

We know that these questions necessarily involve other officers at DPS and a much more sinister chain of events than the state police are admitting.

The key to unraveling the DPS nightmare is to make Van Jackson talk. But County Attorney Romley isn't interested.

Woodward said he was informed last week that the prosecutor has offered Van Jackson a deal to drop the first misdemeanor count and accept a plea of no contest on the second. Van Jackson would walk away from this deal with a small fine. If allowed to stand, this settlement will amount to a whitewash.

At press time, the hearing on the plea agreement was postponed.
The county attorney has refused comment, so we do not know what explanation for this incredible plea agreement will eventually be offered.

We do know that after Van Jackson's resignation, a second wave of harassing phone calls was directed at the Woodwards.

In the face of the dainty wrist-slapping by the County Attorney's Office, it is apparent no one has gotten the message that it is illegal and reprehensible for the state police of Arizona to carry on as if they were under the command of General Manuel Noriega.


Sponsor Content