Things Get Nasty in the Phoenix Police Departments Homicide Bureau
For more than a month now, I've been waiting for the court to unseal key documents in the Phoenix Police Department's investigation into one of its own, former homicide detective David Barnes.
I was hoping the paperwork would answer some questions: What does the department — which executed a search warrant on Barnes' home — have on the officer? Just what did the detective do to trigger his fall from grace?
Now that the documents are unsealed, though, I'm mostly mulling an additional question: Are these homicide detectives, or high school girls?
I write this, of course, as a former high school girl, one who (sadly) did her best to live up to the awful stereotype. My high school girlfriends weren't just a clique — we had sub-cliques. Naturally, we did the whole Mean Girls bit, from the nasty notebook and scurrilous gossip to angry confrontations and a tearful denouement in the ladies' room. We were pretty pathetic.
As it turns out, we had nothing on Phoenix's finest.
The recently unsealed 26-page affidavit provides further evidence that the PD's suspicions are likely true. Barnes almost certainly was feeding information to an anti-cop Web site.
But it also makes it clear that the homicide bureau is rife with backstabbing and gossip. According to the affidavit, two detectives went so far as to purchase a device called the "Iron Key," which would allow them to create new e-mail accounts and send untraceable e-mails.
They may have used the device, too. A mean e-mail circulated through the department last year (anonymously, of course), making such nasty allegations about a female detective's sex life that the detective was in tears. Numerous cops witnessed the detective "breaking down" and "balling her eyes out" in the bureau's conference room, according to the documents.
The police traced the e-mail to Australia.
So either some Aussie has a hard-on for a Phoenix homicide detective — or some of her colleagues went to great lengths to cover their tracks.
Which do you think it was?
The sad thing about the affidavit is that homicide is a serious business. Phoenix depends on this small bureau of dedicated detectives to solve its most serious crimes.
But in the affidavit, the detectives come across less like the guys on Law & Order — and more like a less-attractive version of Days of Our Lives.
Indeed, the documents unsealed by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe last Tuesday suggest that the homicide bureau has become incredibly dysfunctional. I'm talking about nasty anonymous e-mails, sobbing detectives, and a supervisor who everybody seems to think is a "drama queen" more interested in office gossip than getting the job done.
Surely, that's having an impact on the bureau's ability to solve crimes.
The documents also provide a window into the chaos surrounding the demotion of — and criminal investigation into — David Barnes.
As I detailed in a cover story last month, Barnes was a hard worker, but he rubbed some co-workers the wrong way. When he repeatedly lost his cool in meetings with crime lab personnel, he was transferred from homicide to patrol.
Around that time, someone began leaking information to a Web site, www.badphoenixcops.com. Since the information centered on a guy Barnes had clashed with, Sergeant Mike Polombo, Barnes quickly became the department's number one suspect. (Barnes declined comment for this column.)
It's pretty clear from the newly released documents that the department's suspicions were justified.
According to the documents, Barnes began e-mailing the Web site's owner, Jeff Pataky, even before his demotion was official. Pataky and Barnes went on to exchange at least 43 e-mails and six telephone calls in the next four months.
Those e-mails detail how Barnes contacted the Web site to promise information. Barnes also arranged face-to-face meetings with Pataky.
And that — along with some of the details in the affidavit — could present a real problem for the former detective.
First, there's the Baseline Killer issue. E-mails show that while Barnes was still in homicide, Pataky offered to connect the detective to Wendy Goudeau, the wife of Baseline Killer suspect Mark Goudeau.
"She is keenly interested in you, speaking to you, and knowing what you know about the [crime] lab and their fuck-ups," Pataky wrote Barnes in August.
Did Barnes talk to Wendy Goudeau? There's no evidence that he did. But Pataky certainly made the offer. If Barnes, one of the investigators assigned to the Baseline Killer case, took him up on it, he'd surely be in deep trouble.
Second, there's the issue of the missing nameplates.
Witnesses saw Barnes visit the homicide bureau two months after he was transferred to patrol. This was no social visit — it was 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
The paperwork suggests that Barnes may have used his access for a nefarious purpose. The very next day, the objects of Barnes' obsession — Mike Polombo and his wife Heather, also a homicide detective — reported that the nameplates on their office and cubicle had been stolen.
The nameplates would become an ongoing obsession of the Bad Phoenix Cops blog. They'd even be photographed at the Hoover Dam and at the county fair.
Was it Barnes who swiped them for Pataky? Again, the documents provide only clues, not authoritative evidence, but Barnes' weekend visit to the bureau one day before the plates went missing is certainly damning.
Finally, there's the police report that Barnes took in November 2008. As I explained last month, Barnes was working as a patrol officer when, he wrote, he ran into Jeff Pataky in a Home Depot parking lot. Pataky, who was then in the middle of a heated custody dispute, supposedly volunteered to the officer that he needed help.
At Pataky's urging, Barnes wrote, he went back to Pataky's house. There, Barnes wrote a report saying that Pataky's ex-wife had coached his sons to lie about their dad.
But the report, we now know, has serious omissions. The unsealed documents show that Barnes and Pataky had months of contact before their supposed "chance" meeting in the parking lot. That's something Barnes surely had a duty to report in his write-up of the incident.
But regardless of those dealings, the department could run into a sticky situation if it actually attempts prosecution.
Barnes' report into Pataky's custody issues is probably not a criminal matter. And the nameplate theft is about as petty as theft gets. (They're worth $7.50 each, according to the documents released last week.)
The police department is going to look pretty stupid if that's the most it has on Barnes. As Barnes' attorney, Craig Mehrens, says, a law enforcement agency doesn't have to prosecute all the cases it gets. "This may be one they want to let go," he says drily. He maintains his client's innocence.
Indeed, just by executing the search warrant, the department gave itself a bit of a black eye. The documents filed last week would likely never have become public had the PD not raided Barnes' house.
Thanks to the documents, we now know that Barnes' colleagues thought he was a snitch because he was passed over for an award related to the Baseline Killer investigation. We know that one female supervisor has a history of asking inappropriate questions about her colleagues' sex lives. And we know that Heather Polombo has been so upset by needling on the Bad Phoenix Cops Web site, she's bursting into tears on duty.
Personally, I'd like to see these guys spending a little more time solving murders — and a little less time rumbling in the hallway.
That was fun in high school. But surely it's time to move on.
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