Two weeks ago in this space, I reported a display of brutality by two Scottsdale police officers who entered a home and assaulted two residents.
It would be reassuring to think this was an isolated incident, but the opposite seems to be true. Since the story appeared, several people have come forward with similar stories to tell.
Steve Faulkner is one of them. Whittni Grubaugh, his girlfriend, is another. They're both 23, and have been together for about 18 months. It's hard to imagine either of them presenting a threat. Faulkner is five-foot-seven and weighs around 145 pounds. Grubaugh is even smaller, so slightly built that a shove would knock her down. They exude an air of punkish preppiness.
But, for the past year, Faulkner lived with the threat of incarceration. And a Scottsdale cop has threatened to sue him for injuries he says Faulkner caused him.
On September 14, 1996, Grubaugh's 16-year-old brother had a party at her house, which she owns. She is his legal guardian.
"She gave him permission to have--not a huge party, but a get-together," says Faulkner. But word of the party got around, and a horde of uninvited guests showed up.
"I was at a football game. Afterwards, a friend and I went to Whittni's house," Faulkner says. "There's this huge party going on outside the house, in the backyard. I would guess there was more than a hundred people there. As soon as we got there, my friend decided that he wanted to go back home. He was my roommate at the time. Whittni and I drove him back home and picked up another of my roommates. Then we went back to the party."
By that time, the party was breaking up. The word was out that the police were coming. "There'd been a fight between two kids," says Grubaugh. "Everyone freaked out on the fight, and they all ran. So there was maybe 25 kids at the most there. We said, 'The cops're called. You'd better leave.'"
The police reports say there were about 100 people there at the time.
Grubaugh was in the backyard picking up beer bottles when the cops arrived. Officer Jeffrey Belford came into the yard. He shone his flashlight on Grubaugh's face and said, "Get over here now."
"I started walking towards him," says Grubaugh. "And I asked him to please stop shining the flashlight directly in my eyes. I said it in a nice tone. He raised it so it hit my eyes even more. I covered my eyes. He started screaming, 'Why aren't you answering the front door?' I said, 'I'm back here, I didn't know you were at my front door.' He screamed, 'You'd better open your fucking front door, we're gonna kick it in.'"
She says she asked him to be civil. He responded with a mocking nya-nya-nya sound.
Grubaugh laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. She'd probably have been less inclined to laugh if she'd known that, while she was there in the backyard, other cops actually were kicking her front door. She went into the house and opened the front door. Belford had walked around to the front of the house and was standing there when the door opened. In classic Keystone Kops style, the other cops had run around to the back, kicking in a gate to gain entry.
How many cops were there? "They say there were three," Grubaugh says, shaking her head. "But I swear there were at least six."
The cops who'd circled the house came back to the front, and Grubaugh went out to talk with them all. She says Belford got in her face again, swearing at her and threatening to take her to jail. "I don't know why they didn't just talk to me, just be civil," she says.
From inside the house, Faulkner saw what was going on. He decided to go out and try to calm things down.
"I couldn't just sit there and listen to them talk to her like this, so I took about five steps out of the front door. Then I realized I'd left the front door open, so I turned around and went back in the house, because Whittni has a cat and two dogs and I wanted to make sure they didn't get out."
The cops yelled to him to stop. Grubaugh heard them. He didn't. "Next thing I knew, I heard kicking, and the door flew open. Belford came into the house. He was totally hostile. He grabbed me by the arm and threw me out the front door. There were two officers running towards the front door, running towards me, and one of them had a flashlight raised like a club. They were screaming something. I started kind of jogging away from them, saying, 'Just calm down, chill out, I'm not trying to get away.' They got even more belligerent, saying, 'You'd better stop! You're gonna get your little ass kicked!' So I kept going, still trying to communicate with them. I ran out into the roadway. At this point, there were numerous officers in pursuit of me."
The situation, already absurd, then became farcical. Faulkner ran around, dodging the cops, trying to reason with them as they tried and failed to grab him. "They were coming at me from all different directions, but I managed to dodge all of them. I started running back into the front yard, and everything kind of calmed down. It was weird, because one second everyone was after me, and the next it was calm--no more shouting and screaming." He turned around, put his hands behind his head, and faced the cops.
"That's when I noticed that Belford had fallen down."
Belford had fallen while chasing Faulkner around. He suffered a brain and spinal-cord concussion.
The other cops cautiously surrounded Faulkner, then tackled him. He was handcuffed and taken to jail. He says he wasn't read his rights. "One officer said that my rights were read to me. But the officer that he says read me my rights says he did not read me my rights."
Grubaugh claims that one of the other cops told her they'd do everything possible to make sure that Faulkner spent time in jail. Then a cop asked her if he could search her house. "I told him there hadn't been anyone in my house, and they'd already been in my backyard. So I said no. And he said, 'Fine. The next time you need our help, we won't be there.'"
The cops tried to make good on their promise of jail time. Faulkner was charged with resisting arrest and disobeying a police officer. Both Faulkner and Grubaugh received letters from Belford, threatening to sue them.
Belford's version of the story is not that he was so poorly trained that he couldn't run without falling over and hurting himself. Rather, he claims that Faulkner knocked him off balance as he tried to tackle him. When you look at Faulkner's build, it's difficult to imagine him knocking anyone off balance unless he was swinging a two-by-four.
Faulkner claims that a public defender tried to persuade him to plea-bargain. "She told me I didn't have a case. . . . I think she was trying to railroad me into a plea because she had a big case load. She told me that if I didn't take the plea, then greater charges would be added and I would have no chance at all of beating those charges. My father was with me when I spoke to her, and she also convinced him that I didn't have any chance in court."
Faulkner at first decided to accept the plea-bargain, which he says would have meant a 30-day stint in Tent City, three years' probation and a restitution cap of $20,000 for the injuries of the officer.
Grubaugh laughs as she takes up the story. "One morning, we wake up and Steve just goes, 'I don't have to do this! I'm not going to do this. It's not right.'"
He got a bank loan and used it to hire a lawyer, Jason Beskind. The case was to go to trial November 17. It never did. The charges were dropped. "The cops knew they didn't have a case," says Faulkner.
It's easy to see why. Even though the police reports tell a story that's very different from the one told by Faulkner and Grubaugh--the cops claim that beer bottles were thrown at them by unidentified assailants--the list of inconsistencies is astounding. Witnesses I talked with corroborate Faulkner's version.
Beskind is reluctant to comment on the case, for fear of repercussions to his client.
"The charges were dropped without prejudice," he says, "which means that the county attorney can choose to refile. I wouldn't want to say anything that might cause him to do so out of spite."
Spite is a common motif in cases involving the Scottsdale PD. One lawyer I know advised his clients to move out of Scottsdale to escape harassment.
Grubaugh says there was a constant police presence outside her house in the aftermath of the incident. "They drove by my house all the time, driving slow."
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The couple tried filing complaints with the Scottsdale PD, but they claim they were stonewalled.
The incident has altered Faulkner's career ambitions. He plays bass in a band, Cousins of the Wize, whose first CD is about to be released. But playing music no longer satisfies him.
Now he wants to go to law school, he says, "to try to stop this kind of thing from happening."
Contact Barry Graham at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org