At first, it seemed like a routine shoplifting case, recalls Phoenix police detective Larry Stubbs.
"I've been a cop for 23 years," says Stubbs, who investigated the case late last year, "and this is the only time I can remember a shoplifter who says he was innocent who apparently was innocent."
A county prosecutor says he wouldn't file charges on fourteen-year-old Cortez High School student Damon Shepard because he didn't believe the store detective who busted the youth.
Deputy county attorney Wayne Stewart tells New Times he declined to prosecute young Shepard "because I had seen a previous report on a shoplifting case by [the store detective] and it was too similar to this one. I mean very, very similar. I would not have dismissed the case if I had believed him."
The store detective, Danny Brisson, was considered a superstar by the management at Metrocenter's Broadway Southwest, according to Brisson and sources familiar with the case. Brisson says he averaged at least twice as many shoplifting busts than any of the big store's other undercover dicks.
As thrilled as store management was with Brisson's efforts, something must have nagged at them. At the start of the Christmas season, according to police records and Brisson, Broadway Southwest fired him.
Brisson, who says he is now working "outside the security industry," concedes that Broadway Southwest "was hungry for my statistics. My stats were very, very important to them because I didn't sit on my butt in the office and do paperwork. Corporate would even send new detectives to me to show them how it's done. But I didn't cheat."
So why would the store dismiss its most productive thiefbuster? Brisson says he violated store policy by busting a youth--not Shepard--for stealing a wallet inside the store, instead of waiting until he left the premises.
The store wouldn't comment, but Damon Shepard's dad has his own ideas on the subject.
"There's things I'll believe that Damon might do," says Oscar Shepard, "but stealing isn't one of them. When I got down there, I was told that a store detective had followed my son out of the store. They showed me the sunglasses they said Damon had stolen. They're regular sunglasses--like most people wear--but not these kids. He wouldn't wear those if they were free."
Such comments might seem the standard defenses of a naive pop unwilling to face the facts of his son's wrongdoing. But Shepard did some investigating on his own after Damon was detained at Broadway Southwest last October 14.
"The guard told his supervisor that Damon had put the glasses into his front pocket and walked out of the store," Oscar Shepard recalls. "My son's kind of a hefty kid, to put it bluntly, and the pants he had on were tight--very tight. We got home and tried every which way to put some glasses there. It wouldn't work."
Broadway Southwest declines to give its side of the story.
"I ran this by management," says the store's divisional vice president of loss prevention Lucinda Stueland, "and we are prohibited from talking about a previous employee under penalty of law. I'm sure you and your company will exercise responsible journalism in reporting this matter."
Stueland would not say whether Broadway Southwest has exercised responsible management by informing those busted by Brisson about his alleged mode of operation.
Brisson says he only "vaguely" remembers the Shepard incident. But he denies "ever having planted anything on anybody at any time."
"I'd say I arrested a good 150 people in my year or so at the Broadway," says Brisson. "For one parent to come and complain should tell you something. I think this guy Shepard scared them because he threatened to sue. I could bust more than enough people without planting anything on anyone."
However, deputy county attorney Stewart says he declined to prosecute Damon Shepard because, "the lack of credibility of a material witness [Brisson] precludes a reasonable likelihood of conviction. I don't know why Broadway Southwest won't discuss this matter, because it seems as if they acted responsibly by dismissing the individual."
Broadway Southwest's own report of the Shepard incident, which is attached to Phoenix police reports, says: "Witness Brisson first observed subject now known as Damon Shepard in the men's sunglasses department. [Shepard] selected a pair of sunglasses off of display spindle and then closed the sunglasses up and quickly shoved them into his left front pocket, thus causing them to become concealed . . . "
Brisson stopped Shepard outside the store and asked him for the sunglasses back, the store's report says.
"Subject Shepard then stated, `I don't have them. I put them back,'" the report continues. "Brisson then recovered the sunglasses from Shepard's left front [pants] pocket."
The store notified the Phoenix police, and Officer R. Wamsley responded.
"I asked Damon which pocket the sunglasses were in," Wamsley's report says, "and he said he didn't know. I asked which pocket did Danny take them from, and he said he didn't know about the sunglasses until Danny put them on the desk in the security office. Damon said he did not take those or any other sunglasses."
About two weeks after Brisson busted Damon, Oscar Shepard says, "Broadway writes and says they're dropping the charges. I call them back, and they said, `We are not going to prosecute this case because your son was so adamant about his innocence.'
"I'm thinking, `What crap!' It gets you to wondering, how many other kids has this guy planted stuff on who now have criminal records?"
Phoenix detective Stubbs says he telephoned Broadway Southwest on November 22 to tell them prosecutors had dropped the Shepard case.
"[I] was told Mr. Brisson did not work there anymore," Stubbs noted in his report.
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Says Stubbs, "The store didn't tell me anything about why they had fired their employee. I remember the prosecutor asking me if I had any more cases involving that guy [Brisson], but I didn't, and that was that."
That was where this story ended, except for a final question. How will Broadway Southwest keep a similar scenario from happening in the future?
"We will have no comment," says corporate mouthpiece Lucinda Stueland.