LGBT Advocates Cast a Pall on the Phoenix PD and the Valley's Gay Community
Chris Wilson sits quietly in a small, gray room. He's slouched forward, his forearms resting on his lap, his wrists handcuffed.
It's August 7, 2012, almost 9 p.m.
Wilson is tense, antsy.
A Phoenix police detective walks in, greets him, and explains that he has been accused of engaging in sexual contact with minors — two teens, one 17, the other 14.
The detective reads Wilson his rights, telling him he can remain silent or have an attorney present, and asks if he understands.
"Yes, I do," Wilson says.
"I know you didn't force these kids to do anything. I just wanna understand why it happened," the officer says to Wilson.
Wilson, 43 at the time, tells the interrogator a lot of flirting and sexual banter went on the afternoon in July when he picked up the two teenage boys from an apartment complex and took them to lunch at a Chili's in West Phoenix. Before driving them in his truck to the eatery, he says, the younger boy grabbed him and kept telling him he was "hot."
The detective says, "From what I understand now, it wasn't your intention . . . I think you were suckered into it by how he started stuff."
Wilson, dejected, says it doesn't matter: "Either way, it was my fault, man. It was all mutual. I should've known better. I was a fool."
Later, when he's asked whether he'd committed a crime, Wilson says: "I made a bad decision."
Chris Wilson knew all too well that his predicament appeared bleak. He'd been a cop for nearly two decades.
Before his interrogation began, when he was alone in the room, Wilson was caught on camera saying: "Fuck, I should've done it."
The investigator later wrote in his report, "It is unknown what this comment meant," intimating that Wilson may have been suicidal. "At the time Wilson was taken into custody, he was armed with a black handgun."
The Phoenix Police Department hired Wilson in August 1996. He worked his way up to detective, was assigned to the Community Relations Bureau, and served as a liaison to the gay community. He resigned shortly after his arrest.
Openly gay, Wilson was a prominent figure in a politically charged job and, according to coworkers, often bragged about his relationships with high-profile officials.
He worked out in the morning at a gym with then-Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot. He was close friends with Jim Bloom, chief of staff for Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek. And Sergeant Mark Schweikert, Wilson's supervisor, was wary of Wilson's personal relationship with then-Assistant Phoenix Police Chief Tracy Montgomery. Schweikert believed that Montgomery, also openly gay, protected Wilson, making him "untouchable."
But nobody could help Wilson as he sat in the interrogation room.
Wilson has been isolated in a cell since his arrest — the crimes he's accused of committing make him ineligible for bond. His former job and the nature of his charges make him a target for violence in jail.
His trial is scheduled for next month, but it probably will be delayed, as it has been before.
Wilson admitted to the older victim, in a phone conversation recorded by police, that his actions would contribute to negative perceptions about the police department and the gay community.
As a liaison to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens, Wilson attended various LGBT functions: dinners, galas, movie premières, parades, and fundraisers.
It was at one of these events that he met Caleb Laieski, a teenager who says he grew up in a West Valley home with a drug-addicted and alcoholic mother. He says he dropped out of high school to escape unrelenting bullying for being gay.
Laieski told police that bullies pulled down his pants in public almost every day. He said students veered their cars toward him as he walked to or from school.
Neither Laieski nor Wilson could tell police exactly when or where they first met — perhaps at a protest or an event at an art museum. But their professional relationship grew in 2012 when Laieski, at 17, was appointed to work in Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's office as a teen advocate for LGBT youth.
In turn, it was through Laieski's personal anti-bullying advocacy work that he met the young man who police say later became Wilson's second victim (who'll be called "Joey" in this story). And as investigators questioned the teens about their sexual encounters with the former detective, they learned that Laieski and Joey also had been sexual partners.
In Arizona, any sex act with a child younger than 15 is punished more severely.
Laieski was slapped with the same charges as Wilson — sexual conduct with a minor. But unlike Wilson, Laieski was released without bond as his case proceeds in Maricopa County Superior Court.
It's a point, Wilson's attorney says, that demonstrates the former cop has been treated unfairly.
"If [Laieski] can be out of custody when he faces more serious charges than Mr. Wilson [Laieski faces more counts], then Mr. Wilson is also entitled to be released," wrote Robert Campos in a November 2013 court document requesting a bond hearing for Wilson. "The law applies equally to all. Either both are non-bondable or both must be released."
Campos wrote in that same legal document that "authorities have refused to explain how this can occur."
Neither the County Attorney's Office, which is pursuing Wilson's case, nor the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the case against Laieski, responded to New Times' requests for comment.
Court records show that a plea deal is in the works for Laieski.
Many believe that Wilson violated not just the trust of the teenage boys who looked up to him but also that of the community he was appointed to represent.
The gay community was appalled when it heard the news about Wilson. Community activist Meg Sneed wrote in a 2012 column that appeared in Echo, a local LGBT magazine: "Wilson helped provide security for the [Equality] Walk, and just hours before his arrest, we had laughed and joked with him. When we heard the news, the walkers and I felt a deep sense of betrayal, shock, and sadness."
And ongoing legal wrangling and a $10 million claim filed by Joey's family further have cast a pall over the police department and the positive momentum gay-rights advocates had helped develop in the nation's sixth-largest city, including pressuring Governor Jan Brewer to veto Senate Bill 1062 earlier this year and a push to ask voters to make gay marriage legal in 2016.
"I'm sorry I got you into this," Wilson said in the same recorded phone conversation with Laieski. "It's gonna be bad all the way around. Um, for the gay community, the city, the department."
He asked Laieski to convince Joey's mother that he's not a bad guy.
"I know she must probably think I'm a pedophile. I know, technically, I guess I am," he said, later adding: "I'm not a sexual deviant. I'm not a pervert. I guess, in a way, I, I just don't know, man. Just let her know that."
On June 7, 2012, about a month before Wilson ended up naked in the shower with one of the teenage boys and on a bed with both, he described his sexual fantasies via Craigslist.
"I cud go 15/16 if it is legal," an individual wrote to Wilson.
"Mmmm, nice ages. Hell, I'd go younger, too," Wilson wrote, finishing his sentence with a smiley face.
It was one in a series of e-mails that Phoenix police downloaded from Wilson's iPhone.
The investigator wrote in his June 2013 report that "the majority" of the sexually charged e-mails refer to "young boys and girls."
"Mmmmmm, diaper play and WS are hot," Wilson wrote, according to the police report. "Love to role play dad son, his little boy in diapers. Got any pics man." WS probably refers to "water sports," sexual acts involving urine.
He asked in an e-mail if one individual had any "little boy underwear."
Wilson's e-mails also contain several comments about wanting to have sex with a "tight boy ass." He described in graphic detail what he would do, and he also wrote that "group sex is always hot as well."
Wilson apparently carried out at least part of his fantasy in early July 2012 in the bedroom of Laieski's apartment, according to PPD reports. Wilson and the teens performed oral sex on each other, and the police officer also had oral contact with their anal areas.
The messages included in the police reports date back to late 2011, and they're damning to the defense Wilson's attorney has raised with the court: that the two teenagers were the ones who seduced Wilson.
"The facts will come out that Defendant, Mr. Wilson, was the prey. The two young minors were not innocent but were active participants who may have planned out the events that led to Mr. Wilson's arrest," the ex-cop's attorney wrote last year in a court document.
Campos raises an interesting point about how the state can view Laieski both as a victim and a suspect.
The attorney supposes that Laieski "will have to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Even if he were to testify, his credibility is completely ruined by the fact that he faces 13 serious felony offenses."
Indeed, Wilson's other alleged victim, 14-year-old Joey, admitted to police that he felt guilty because he'd initiated the flirting and sexual banter and then "grabbed" Wilson before they went to lunch.
Yet Wilson told police after his arrest that he "should have known better."
When Joey reached out to Caleb Laieski for help with the bullying he says he faced, Joey was 13 years old and already had come out as gay at school and to his family.
The two, who'd met online, eventually met in person and developed a friendship.
Laieski, 16 at the time, helped Joey write letters to his school about the bullying. Given Laieski's unstable home life, Joey's parents invited Laieski to stay with them. He lived there on and off for about year, sharing a room with Joey. The family took Laieski on vacations.
And they accompanied the young activist to Washington, where he met with about 200 lawmakers in 22 days, lobbying them to support a federal anti-bullying law. Laieski also met and was photographed with President Barack Obama at the White House during an LGBT Pride reception.
The teenager's notoriety led to one-n-ten, an organization that works with gay youth, to recommend that Mayor Stanton create a position for Laieski in his office.
Laieski soon became the youngest staffer in Stanton's office, working on anti-bullying projects during his six-month stint. His presence seemed a perfect fit, since city First Lady Nicole Stanton had formed an anti-bullying organization to educate parents and teachers about bullying's tragic consequences. One-n-ten picked up the tab for Laieski's salary. Organization officials didn't respond to New Times' requests for details about how much the advocate was paid.
Citing pending litigation, city officials also didn't answer questions about Laieski's wages — or what his responsibilities and official duties were while on staff.
The teen was given a badge to City Hall, and during one of the outings with his younger friend, he took Joey on an unauthorized after-hours tour of the Mayor's Office.
Laieski had big ambitions.
When he was appointed to the position, he commented that while he was there, he would work "to see the dropout rate lower, intervention by school administrations steadily increase, and the suicide rate rapidly decline."
Likewise, Joey also started to speak out against bullying and was interviewed by local TV news reporters.
The boys' friendship soon became sexual.
Laieski moved into an apartment with roommates, and later, his father co-signed an apartment lease so Laieski could get his own place.
This didn't end the boys' relationship.
Joey's mother dropped off her son at the apartment for "weeks at a time." The unsupervised teens continued their sexual relations, even though Laieski sometimes resented that Joey's mother had "dumped" the younger boy at Laieski's place without considering his limited income and inability to support another person, Laieski told investigators.
He said Joey's mother was aware that they were having sex.
"His mom has wanted us to get together from day one," he said. "I mean, you put two gay guys in the same room that are slowly falling for each other, something's bound to happen."
She was "shocked as a mother" when she found out, Laieski said, yet she still encouraged their relationship.
In police interviews, the young man's mother told police that she thought they were just friends.
Wilson's attorney told the court that it's Joey's mother who should be "charged by the County Attorney's Office with child abuse" for putting both teens in the same bedroom. The lawyer claimed that she walked in on them once when they "were both naked."
Lincoln Combs, an attorney representing Joey's family, declined to comment on the ongoing cases but said his office is "still investigating the claims."
Police reports detail that during one of Joey's extended visits, Laieski received a text message from Wilson asking the boys if they were hungry and wanted to go out to lunch. Laieski agreed and told his friend to get ready.
During the outing, "[Joey] and [Wilson] started saying sexual jokes to each other . . . back and forth, back and forth," Laieski told investigators.
When they returned to Laieski's apartment, Laieski said, he was uncomfortable and didn't want anything sexual to happen between him and Wilson. He said he was trying to keep busy and ended up in the bathroom.
He said Wilson followed him in and commented that Laieski's armpit and back hair were gross. The then-police officer offered to shave him, Laieski said. Wilson later told detectives that he was showing the teen how to "manscape."
The shaving extended to Laieski's pubic area, he said, and Wilson commented at the time that it would be easier to accomplish if they were in the shower. Police reports show that they disrobed and stepped inside while Joey sat, fully clothed, on the toilet.
Laieski said his young friend peeked in the shower a couple of times but didn't join them.
When they finished showering, Wilson offered to perform oral sex on Joey, who hesitated but agreed, police documents state, based on interviews with the teens.
"So then that's happening," Laieski told investigators. "Then we went into my bedroom."
Laieski said it was "people playing with people," that Wilson used his mouth on his anal area, and that all three ended up ejaculating.
Joey's version of what the teens ended up calling the "big incident" (police interviewed the teens separately) was similar to Laieski's.
He explained that he "wasn't sure" what to do when Wilson invited him to join them in bed. He said Laieski was particular about whom he kissed and told Wilson "no" as the middle-aged cop tried to kiss him.
"Both of them said you don't have to do this, but, like, I felt pressured into doing it," Joey said. "I haven't considered it, like, as rape [because] I was, like, provoking it, so I felt like it's all my fault. It's, like, if I didn't provoke it, none of this would've happened."
Wilson told the boys not to talk about the incident and that if they did, his life would be ruined and he would lose his job, police reports state. He left quickly after they'd all crammed in the shower to clean up, but the officer returned a few days later under the guise of bringing a vacuum cleaner to Laieski.
That day, Wilson texted the teen several times about the vacuum, but Laieski ignored his messages. Then, he texted Laieski that he was in the garage area. Still, Laieski didn't respond.
Wilson, who knew the gate code to Laieski's complex, knocked on his apartment's front door moments later — without a vacuum.
When Wilson went inside, he and Joey started "making out" on the couch while, Laieski said, he kept "cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning" the apartment, asking Joey to help him.
"Somehow I got [Joey] alone in some room, and I was like, 'Uh-uh-uh, no, we're not doing this again,'" Laieski recalled to detectives. "So that's as far as it went."
Joey said of the incident that Wilson "invited himself over" and that they "didn't want him to come over. We knew what he came for. He wanted to, like, make out and stuff."
Joey said he asked Wilson to give him a massage, which he did over the younger boy's clothes. Then, Joey quoted Wilson as saying, "Let's cuddle," but Joey described the situation as "really awkward."
Wilson got tired, Joey said, and "ended up leaving like mad [because], like, he wanted . . . sex or something."
Joey told detectives that after Wilson left, Laieski told him: "Did you see me try to clean because I didn't want any of this to happen?"
Laieski also said of the situation, "[Joey and I] talked when he left, and we said, 'Okay, well, that was very interesting,' We both agreed that there was more of a motive behind it."
Caleb Laieski idolized Chris Wilson because he was a detective.
Wilson "groomed the 17-year-old boy by taking him to restaurants, buying him gifts, taking him on [police] ride-alongs," Patrick McGroder, the attorney representing Joey's family, wrote in a $10 million claim filed against the city of Phoenix.
Laieski reported during the investigation that he was torn because it involved two people he cared about. He since has moved to Arlington, Virginia, and gotten a job as a 911 dispatcher.
Because of Laieski's sexual relationship with his young friend, he's facing 13 charges of sexual conduct with a minor — serious felonies because the boy was under 15 years old.
Laieski's Arlington County boss says Laieski, now 19, was hired by the county as a dispatcher trainee in May 2013.
Laieski was indicted in August 2013, and his case, like Wilson's, is proceeding in Superior Court.
His supervisor in Arlington says Laieski was placed on administrative leave for three weeks when the county learned of the Arizona charges. He's since returned to work in an "administrative capacity," where he will remain pending the outcome of legal proceedings against him, the supervisor says.
Joey's family initially was reluctant to make him available for a forensic interview when police started a parallel investigation into Laieski's sexual activities with Joey.
His mother and her attorney said they were concerned that the boy would say something that would hurt their prospects of getting a settlement from the city related to the $10 million claim, based strictly on Wilson's alleged sexual acts with Joey.
In the family's claim, they contend that it was through Wilson's position as LGBT liaison and his job as a police detective that he gained access to the teens, along with their trust.
At one point, he and then-Assistant Police Chief Tracy Montgomery arranged a police ride-along for Laieski, even though underage individuals generally aren't allowed to observe police missions from a patrol car. After Laieski expressed fear about going, Wilson lent him a bulletproof vest to wear.
When police asked Laieski at what point his relationship with Wilson changed, he said it was while he worked in the Mayor's Office, when Wilson and then-Councilman Simplot bought him work clothes and suits.
"I was wearing the same three to four shirts . . . and people [were] recognizing it," Laieski said. "After that, it was kind of like, I mean, my chemistry with Chris had to change. It can't be professional anymore because now he's coming to make an impact in my life."
He said the impact was "huge" and "we just got closer."
Laieski shared with police that no one helped him when he was bullied repeatedly in school. He said incidents were reported to the Surprise Police Department, which didn't pursue his complaints because of a lack of evidence.
"Kids swerved [in their cars] and pretended to run me over because I was gay," he told investigators. "Um, my mom, she used to be on hard drugs and was never there to be a mom. Um, and I basically had to raise myself when I lived with her . . . And now she does alcohol and prescriptions, but at least she's not doing coke."
Laieski said he was close with his dad, but there is nothing in the reports about where the father resides or why Laieski didn't live with him at least some of the time.
On a few occasions, Wilson took Laieski to his home and "got touchy," the former Mayor's Office advocate said.
Once, they were watching a movie and sitting apart until Wilson moved closer to Laieski. Both ended up with their pants down, according to police reports.
Another time, after Wilson arranged for the teen to get on a state-funded health plan so he could go to the dentist, the then-officer had the teen spend the night because they were to visit the dentist the next day, Laieski told police, adding that they slept in the same bed.
Laieski told investigators that he felt uncomfortable with Wilson's sexual advances, largely because of their age difference.
It was the handful of such sexual encounters between Wilson and Laieski that led to the threesome at Laieski's apartment.
Joey's mother found out about the incident after confiscating her son's phone and searching his text messages. She found one stating that Joey had made out with an older man.
According to Laieski, Joey had accounts on a couple of gay hook-up websites, including Grindr, a mobile app that uses GPS to show locations of the nearest Grindr members. And the teen admitted to police that he'd engaged in other sexual acts before the incident with Wilson.
"He's texting people that he met off Grindr — um, older men, and there was one wanting to engage in a threesome . . . and [Joey] responded, saying, 'Don't worry, I made out with a 40-year-old man,'" Laieski told police.
When the teen's mom read this, she confronted her son, and he eventually told her what had transpired.
The mother "was horrified to find out that her son had been sexually molested" by Wilson, her attorney wrote in the claim against the city. She called the Avondale Police Department on August 4, 2012 to report the incident, and on August 7, she checked her son into a patient-care facility for "depression and suicide ideation."
The same day, an employee of the care center reported the incident to the PPD, which arranged a "confrontation call" with Wilson, in which he admitted to the sexual contact. As a search warrant was obtained for Wilson's home, he was placed under police surveillance.
Wilson probably knew that his arrest was imminent because Laieski had called him to let him know that Joey's mom was contemplating calling police.
Laieski said Wilson warned him that he, too, could get in trouble because of his relationship with Joey.
As the cops kept watch on Wilson's home, Jim Bloom showed up with some soup for his friend.
A few days later, Bloom told police that he'd gone to Wilson's house because Wilson was feeling ill.
Police said Bloom and Wilson "were planning on going to dinner, but Chris told him he was not feeling well."
It wasn't until a day after Wilson's arrest that Bloom learned of his friend's situation.
"I heard about it in the morning from Councilman Tom Simplot. He got a call, and he came over [and] told me about it," Bloom told police, adding that he and Simplot have been friends for about 25 years. "He simply told me Chris has been arrested for, I guess, sexual molestation. And then we just sat there and thought, 'Oh, my God, how can this be?' We were shocked."
Bloom said Wilson had mentioned Laieski only in the context of Laieski's being "in some serious need of clothes and help."
Bloom said he thought at the time that Wilson was acting with "normal" kindness.
In an interview with New Times, Simplot said Wilson was "a master at manipulation."
Wilson's name-dropping apparently had Phoenix police Sergeant Mark Schweikert, Wilson's direct police supervisor, believing that the detective was protected within the department.
In an August 2012 memo, Schweikert complained to his superiors that, among other things, Wilson was shielded from discipline by certain gay upper-echelon officials, namely Simplot and then-Assistant Chief Montgomery.
Police Chief Daniel Garcia shot down Schweikert's allegation about Simplot's meddling in police matters in a November 28 memo written to the City Manager's Office.
Intended to "address the question of Councilman Simplot's alleged involvement in influencing Sergeant Mark Schweikert's actions in the supervision of former Detective Chris Wilson," Garcia wrote that he had no information supporting the allegation.
Schweikert's claim that he suffered discrimination as a straight man because of Montgomery and others within the police hierarchy was dealt with in an internal investigation conducted by the city's Equal Opportunity Department.
According to the EOD, several witnesses told investigators that Wilson had a penchant for tossing around political connections in conversations with colleagues. He wasn't always respectful to his boss, they said.
For instance, Wilson "questioned Sergeant Schweikert's directives during multiple briefings in a manner the witnesses viewed as unprofessional," the EOD report states.
Schweikert said Wilson was disliked by certain gay leaders because he didn't respond to their concerns, adding that Wilson gave preferential treatment to segments of the gay community.
The internal investigation, however, concluded that Schweikert's fear of official retaliation was unfounded.
"The investigation failed to support Sergeant Schweikert's allegations regarding Commander Montgomery's unfair or discriminatory interference," according to the report. "He had no proof of his belief; he simply felt it was true."
It concluded that Schweikert's "failure to do his job as a supervisor was his own choice, and there was no evidence to substantiate his fear of Commander Montgomery."
Montgomery was demoted and moved to a bureau at Sky Harbor International Airport when new Police Chief Garcia assembled his executive team. The EOD report specifically noted that her "reassignment was not related to performance or [Schweikert's] complaint."
Interestingly, in one of his memos, Schweikert detailed noticeable changes in Wilson's behavior in the weeks before his arrest:
"I had observed that he had been distant at work, and he did not seem happy. I was concerned about Mr. Wilson, but I did not have enough to articulate a request for a Work Fitness Evaluation . . . I felt that he could lose his temper at any moment."
Police reports suggest that Laieski worried about what Wilson might do if Joey's mother reported the threesome to police.
"You don't wanna mess with him," Joey's mother quoted Laieski as saying. "He [Wilson] has got a lot guns . . . He's gonna come after us if you prosecute him. He'll just be in jail a couple of years, and he'll come after us. He has people in the police department that will go after you."
She said Laieski was "very scared at that time. Very scared."
Wilson doesn't look threatening as he sits in the interrogation room. And he doesn't deny that he found himself in bed "playing around" with two underage boys.
The room — where he's questioned by a polite detective who sounds sympathetic to Wilson's situation — is much like the cell that Wilson's been sitting in since 2012.
"I don't think you're a bad guy, Chris," says the detective, who's probably just playing "good cop" to keep Wilson talking. "This is just an unfortunate situation."
Arizona law requires that an adult convicted of "a dangerous crime against children in the first degree," which involves "sexual conduct with a minor" who's 12, 13, or 14 years old, face a minimum 13-year sentence in prison.
Wilson tells the detective several times that he had only oral contact with the two boys. He insists there was no penetration.
The detective wants to know why, then, did Wilson ask whether the teens had lube.
"I just can't masturbate dry," Wilson says. A few moments later, he raises his cuffed wrists to his face and wipes tears from his eyes.
While the detective excuses himself from the room, Wilson drops his face into his hands.
He takes a drink from a water bottle, stands, adjusts his white T-shirt over a pair of black-and-white, knee-length shorts, twists his body, and stretches his back.
"Fuck." The word escapes from his mouth as he exhales.
He stretches again, this time leaning back against the drab, gray wall.
He repeats, "Oh, fuck."
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