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Officer Fiendly

Several months ago, after writing a column about a black motorist who claimed he had been harassed by two Scottsdale police officers, I received a letter from the Scottsdale Police Department.

The document was offered as "an open letter to your readers." In the interest of furthering relations between police and citizens, I'm happy to oblige by publicizing it.

Signed by Police Chief Michael J. Heidingsfield, the letter declares that there are "at least 12 fundamental questions that need to be asked and answered. These questions should be applicable to each and every American Police Agency."

Some of the questions:
* "Has your police department been willing to examine the entirety of its inner workings by comparing the local way of doing business with the most progressive national standards of the law enforcement industry?"

* "Does your local police agency have a simple, easily understood statement of values that are known throughout the organization and embody the fundamental notions of ethical behavior and principled decision-making?"

* "Has your police department been rigorous in its efforts to diversify the organization in order to mirror the community at large and instill broad confidence in the policing services being delivered?"

* "Has your police department embraced the concepts of community policing that imply openness, citizen partnership and joint responsibility for public safety and is the department recognized for its success?"

* "Does the leadership of your local police agency consistently and passionately carry the message to the community and its police officers that disparate treatment, heavy handedness and racism are absolutely intolerable?"

* "Is the maintenance of dignity and respect a theme that is recurrent throughout the police department's organizational culture?"

* "Does your impression and assessment of your community's police officers include characterizations such as compassionate, skilled, proud and willing to serve, fair, committed to the principles of good public safety, available and open?

"When you as a citizen can answer 'yes' to these questions, then that is a dramatic statement about a community's relationship with its police department--one that speaks of properly placed confidence, mutual respect, vigilance and reassurance."

Stirring stuff. And the Scottsdale Police Department, it appears, is more than able. "The Scottsdale Police Department is gratified to say in our estimation that on our report card the answer to each of those twelve questions is yes--And our hope is that that assessment means as much to you as it does to us--We are proud to be a nationally accredited police agency with a 94% approval rating from the community. Thank you for allowing us to serve."

Well, hooray for the Scottsdale Police Department, even if it does have trouble writing grammatical sentences.

Meanwhile, back here on planet Earth, people are unconvinced. Among them is the U.S. Department of Justice, which has asked the FBI to investigate allegations of brutality by the Scottsdale PD.

Equally unconvinced is anyone who reads the daily newspapers. A recent trial in Maricopa County Superior Court included testimony that the Scottsdale PD maintains habits that are markedly racist--a charge the department denied when I wrote about that black motorist months ago. The jury awarded a former Latino Scottsdale cop $100,000.

Those of you who fret about racism may be relieved to know that Scottsdale police are equal-opportunity bullies--it's not just black or brown people they pick on.

Ask Shawn Casey, who is white, and John Power, who is of mixed race.
On March 12 of last year, Casey and Power were in the Scottsdale apartment they shared at a complex called Sycamore Creek. They had four guests, including Casey's sister and her 7-year-old daughter. They had just had dinner in a restaurant. According to Casey and Power, the child was asleep, so the music they had been playing was at a low volume.

Around 11 p.m., a man knocked on the door of the apartment. He was Robert Rucker, an off-duty Scottsdale police officer who was also the night monitor at Sycamore Creek. He said he had received a complaint about the music coming from the apartment. Rucker was wearing sweats and didn't have any identification. Casey told him he didn't think the noise level was high. Rucker threatened to call the police if Casey didn't close his patio door. Casey told him to go ahead and call the cops.

Rucker did.
The two on-duty cops who showed up were Erik Rasmussen and Paul Thompson. One of Casey's and Power's guests answered the door. The cops asked for his identification. Casey told him not to show it to them, saying, "I'm the resident here. I'll talk to them."

What happened next has left such a mark on Casey that he finds it hard to sit still when he talks about it. "Rasmussen yelled, 'You wanna bet?' and rushed at me. I just stood there, shocked. He wrestled me to the floor of my living room. Next thing I knew, both cops were carrying me outside, one holding my arms behind my back, the other grabbing my legs. They threw me face-first into the concrete. My face was bleeding."

 

He yelled, "You're hurting me! You can't do this! Why are you doing this? I have rights!"

As he cuffed Casey's hands behind his back, Casey claims Rasmussen told him, "You have no fucking rights." Then, he says, Rasmussen picked him up and slammed him into the ground again, and rubbed his bloody face in the dirt.

Casey's sister pleaded with the cops. "Look how skinny he is. He isn't a tough guy."

Casey says she was told, "Shut the fuck up."
As all this was unfolding, John Power called 911. I have a tape of the call, which is bizarre and frightening to listen to. To a background of shouted obscenities--seemingly from the cops--and screams from Casey, a hysterical Power tells the operator that his friend is being assaulted by the police. "Do you need more police there?" she asks him. When Power explains that it's the police they need protection from, the operator suggests that he "just do what the policeman says."

"I need help--they're beating up a family," Power tells her.
"Well, that's what you're going to get, sir," she answers. "Just obey the police officers."

Thompson threatened the guests with pepper spray to back them out of the doorway of the apartment, where they had gathered to watch the police action. He grabbed Power and wrestled him against a stucco pillar near the sidewalk. He kicked Power's feet from under him, and threw him onto his chest. In the process of doing so, he kicked Casey's sister in the head.

Other cops arrived. "There was a semicircle of cops standing around watching," Casey says. They calmed Rasmussen, and he left the scene. Then they searched the apartment without a warrant.

"I couldn't believe it," says Casey. "I'm thinking, 'I've never in my life committed a crime, I don't do drugs, I'm a college graduate, I've always worked hard and paid my taxes.' So what the hell went so desperately wrong?"

As he was dragged to a police car, he claims the cops taunted him and twisted his arms and fingers. "I was never read my Miranda rights." He says the cops were talking and laughing as he sat in the back of the car.

Casey spent the night in jail. "I continuously requested medical attention. They laughed at me. One of them said I should have thought of that before. I wasn't booked, fingerprinted. Nor was my picture taken. Not until 10 the next morning did I find out what I was being charged with when I was arraigned by a judge. I was charged with disobeying an officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct."

Power wasn't faring much better. Thompson had arrested him and taken him to a police car. He recalls, "He asked me if I was Hispanic. I said no, I was half-Irish and half-Japanese. He said, 'It's the same thing.' I got upset and I asked him how long he had been a police officer. He said 14 years. I asked him if he realized that what he'd just done was illegal. I told him I'd have his badge. We were driving to the police station, and he pulled the car into a residential alley, parked and sat there for about five minutes, breathing hard, like he was very upset. I thought I was dead. If they'd come into our home and beat us up, what else would they do? I've never been so afraid in my life. So I just sat there and didn't say anything else. I was so relieved when he pulled out of that alley and took me to the police station." Power was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer.

Shawn Casey's brother, Patrick, was also arrested on the same charges.
In their police reports, Rasmussen and Thompson claimed that their victims were abusive, and that the officers had acted in self-defense. Casey and Power say this is nonsense. All the charges were dropped when the cops failed to show up for the trial.

Before the criminal trial, however, the cops did show up as witnesses at an eviction hearing. The judge found in favor of Casey and Power, anyway.

An equally shocking factor in what happened to Casey and Power is that the cops clearly had the wrong apartment.

One of their neighbors, Jeff Kuhenbeaker, says that he had a "loud argument" with his girlfriend that evening, and that he believes this was the cause of the original noise complaint. He was one of 17 neighbors who signed a statement declaring that there was no noise disturbance from the Casey/Power apartment prior to the arrival of the cops.

 

Patrick Casey filed a claim against the city and received an out-of-court settlement of $4,500. Shawn Casey and John Power have refused offers of a settlement, and instead are pursuing a lawsuit against the Scottsdale Police Department.

"We don't just want money," says Casey. "We want those cops off the street so they can't do this to anybody else."

Sergeant Chris Bingham, of Scottsdale PD's bureau of Internal Affairs, wrote to Richard Guerrero, attorney for Casey and Power, to say that "after a full staff review of the facts presented in this incident, one of the allegations is sustained." He didn't say which allegation had been sustained, or what discipline the cops faced because of it. Guerrero now knows that the allegation that was sustained was that the officers "illegally and improperly entered the apartment." What about the internal investigation into the allegations of brutality? "Apparently they didn't find that they'd done anything wrong," says Guerrero.

While the Scottsdale PD is swift at providing the media with its self-congratulatory newsletters, it's less enthusiastic about providing access to records of its own misadventures. Sergeant Mike Anderson, the Scottsdale PD's PR flack, did hand over a list of formal claims made against the department over the past two years. But he was less forthcoming when I asked for the internal investigative report on the Casey/Power incident. I'm still waiting to see this public record.

Casey and Power now live in Phoenix. Guerrero advised them to get out of Scottsdale. "I thought it would be in their best interests," he says. "I was fearful of retaliation and harassment."

The U.S. Department of Justice's office of civil rights wrote to Casey last month, saying it had asked the FBI to investigate the incident. Casey says an FBI agent has conducted an investigation and planned to forward it to Justice Department officials. The agent did not respond to my calls.

If the Scottsdale police officials require any further public relations services from New Times, they only have to let us know. But I have a feeling that this will be enough for them.

--Graham

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com


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