UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA COURSE TITLE: DIRTY TRICKS 101
Steve Emerine swears he's not a cop.
A spokesman for the University of Arizona's controversial Mount Graham International Observatory project, 58-year-old Emerine claims he attends campus demonstrations only to observe and answer media questions.
"Under no circumstances, that I can think of, would I be involved in telling police who to arrest or not to arrest," Emerine said last month during a sworn deposition.
But Emerine, who has announced he will resign at some as-yet-unspecified date from his $51,000-a-year public relations job, hasn't seen William "Sky" Crosby's videotape of an October 1992 demonstration at UofA's Steward Observatory.
Emerine's attorney is expected to receive a copy of the tape later this week in the course of a lawsuit challenging UofA responses to the demonstration. Once the tape becomes public, Emerine may well face the greatest public relations challenge of his six-year tenure at UofA.
Emerine plays only a small role in Crosby's two-hour videotape, which documents a protest against UofA's multimillion-dollar plan to build telescopes on Mount Graham.
But in the upper right corner of Crosby's video, for a few fleeting seconds, Emerine seems to be acting in dual capacities: university spokesman and de facto police officer. For whatever reason, Emerine appears to take inordinate interest in Phoenix physician, wildlife photographer and environmental activist Robin Silver.
And, for no apparent reason, Silver ends up in jail.
Emerine knows Silver well.
Emerine's job, after all, is to paint a positive face on the Mount Graham telescope project, which has been attacked on environmental, religious and financial grounds.
Since 1989, Silver has continuously requested public records from UofA on the telescope project. He has filed lawsuits, gone to Congress, triggered federal probes, grilled members of the state Board of Regents and generally been a complete pain in the ass for the university.
Although a fierce opponent of the telescopes, Silver contends he was careful not to participate in the Steward Observatory demonstration, and videotapes of the demonstration reviewed by New Times seem to support that claim. Silver, whose photographs have appeared in major newspapers and magazines, says he was focused on shooting the protest for his own archives.
But Crosby's videotape shows Emerine stalking Silver, nevertheless. Crosby says he shot the tape as part of his continuing efforts to document Native American and environmental issues.
In the minutes before Silver's arrest, the tape shows the photographer circling scores of protesters who are clustered around five men banging a ceremonial drum while leading a loud, lengthy chant.
Soon, the tape shows, the UofA police go through the motions of warning the crowd of protesters to disperse. Although a bullhorn is present moments later, UofA administrators elect only to read a warning statement in front of a police video camera.
Most protesters and observers appear not to hear the dispersal warning over the drumming, clapping and singing of demonstrators. (Police would later report that the noise was so loud, they had to yell to be heard while standing next to each other.)
Seconds after the warning statement is read, UofA assistant police chief Harry Hueston points out Earth First! organizer David Hodges for arrest.
Two officers grab Hodges and begin walking him to the door. Tracking Hodges as he is taken outside to a waiting police van, Crosby's camera catches a remarkable sight.
As Silver moves across the room looking for another angle to photograph, Emerine follows like a shadow. Sheepishly, Emerine raises his right arm and points his index finger at Silver's head. Silver, an emergency-room physician at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, turns briefly toward Emerine. The public relations man quickly pulls back his arm and acts as if he is scratching his head.
Silver turns away. Emerine resumes following Silver and points him out a second time, Crosby's videotape shows.
At this point, Silver and Emerine disappear from Crosby's videotape, but another tape shows Silver being arrested by two UofA police officers seconds later.
"I was just trying to get a photo when Emerine pointed at my face and said, 'Get that guy, get that guy,'" Silver would later tell Tucson police officers transporting him to jail.
Emerine, the public relations man, appears to have become Emerine, the cop.
The dual role Emerine apparently adopted does not necessarily clash with the clandestine approach UofA has used in dealing with other opponents of its prestigious telescope project.
The university and its German and Italian partners have spent about $10 million to complete two telescopes on Mount Graham, a 10,500-foot mountain in southeastern Arizona. The university is seeking additional partners to build the centerpiece of the observatory, a giant, $60 million optical telescope that school officials believe will keep UofA at the forefront of international astronomical research.
Protesters, however, claim the project violates environmental laws and the religious rights of Native Americans, who consider Mount Graham sacred.
So far, the university has prevailed in its legal battles with the protesters. The school's methods of fighting those battles, however, are raising new sorts of questions, both legal and ethical.
In addition to the arrest of Silver, which has spawned a lawsuit, UofA police used unusual tactics to detain another telescope opponent at a demonstration at Mount Graham last month.
There, UofA police had the Arizona Department of Public Safety arrest Hodges on a warrant related to charges that campus police had dismissed months earlier. When New Times asked UofA police officials about Hodges' arrest, it got conflicting--in fact, mutually exclusive--explanations from police officials.
Last year, protesters unmasked an undercover police detective who had infiltrated their ranks, and who apparently was working in conjunction with university administrators.
And unusual police tactics have been accompanied by unusual behavior at the administrative level. The entire Mount Graham project is overseen by a high-level university committee that has met weekly for more than six years.
In response to a New Times public records request, university officials claim that group--the Mount Graham External Affairs Task Force--has kept no minutes or agenda for its meetings, even though agenda and other paperwork were, at times, distributed. The group's discussions, decisions, reports and work, therefore, remain secret.
"It's like the minutes of the Mafia," says Bob Witzeman, a longtime telescope opponent and member of the Maricopa Audubon Society. "Nobody knows when they meet and what their records say."
@body:Eleven months after the Columbus Day demonstration that led to his arrest, Silver met Emerine once again. This time, the meeting occurred in a room full of lawyers, who had gathered to hear Emerine's sworn deposition, taken as part of a wrongful-arrest lawsuit Silver filed against the state, UofA, Emerine and others.
As he had in repeated interviews with the press since the Columbus Day incident, Emerine denied, this time under oath, ever pointing out Silver for arrest.
"That's not a job that falls under my duties, and it's not something that I do," Emerine said last September 22 when asked if he fingered Silver for arrest.
"I'm in the public information business," Emerine continued. "I'm not a cop."
Emerine, a former award-winning reporter for the Arizona Daily Star who served as Pima County Assessor from 1973 until 1980, may not carry a badge. But Silver said he can't understand why police arrested him immediately after Emerine pointed--unless police were responding to Emerine's cue.
Silver is convinced Emerine was following instructions from higher-ranking university officials to have him arrested. For Silver, the reason is easy to discern: At the time of his arrest, he and others were pressuring the university to release an internal audit that proved embarrassing to the telescope project.
"We already had established that the biology the project was based on was fraudulent," Silver said, referring to controversial studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dealing with the impact of the telescopes on the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel.
"And we were getting close to exposing the fact that they had an explicit plan to destroy the culture of traditional Indian people, as well as exposing the fact that the financing plan for the telescope project was illegal," Silver said.
The arrest, Silver believes, was an attempt by the university to discourage him from pressing his requests for public documents. He would later obtain those documents, after making repeated public records requests and ultimately obtaining a court order.
The documents outlined a university plan to isolate San Carlos Apaches opposed to the telescope project. The records also revealed concerns by an outside auditor that the funding mechanism for the $60 million main telescope might be illegal.
"Why else would a public institution knowingly and willfully violate a person's civil rights, except to send a message?" Silver asked.
@body:UofA Police Chief Mike Thomas, who was not present at the Columbus Day demonstration, said neither Emerine nor anyone else in the UofA public affairs department has the authority to direct university police.
"University relations doesn't tell university police who can or can't be arrested," Thomas said in an interview.
Thomas said university police must have a valid reason before they arrest someone.
"If somebody stands over there and signals you to arrest this person, that officer has to know he has probable cause," Thomas explained. "You have to have an observation of a crime or knowledge of an existing warrant. You just can't simply go out and arrest somebody."
At the Columbus Day demonstration, Thomas said, demonstrators were given a reasonable time to leave the lobby. After the warning to disperse was given, anyone who remained was violating the law.
Once a decision is made to arrest protesters, Thomas said, the university will typically go after the leaders of a demonstration.
"If you take out the leaders, then typically the followers don't know what to do," Thomas said. "That's a valid, legitimate tactic."
At the time of Silver's arrest, however, he was not actively participating in the demonstration, videotapes reviewed by New Times show. Silver was among a dozen other photographers, reporters and television news stations covering the event. Emerine admitted in his deposition that he didn't see Silver doing anything other than taking photographs. Yet Emerine said he "assumed" Silver was one of the organizers of the event.
Silver contends he never heard the order to disperse, because he was across the room from officers who made the announcement. Sloan Haywood, a witness who saw police arrest Silver, said there was "no warning" when officers came out of the blue and grabbed Silver.
"They came from nowhere and walked up to him and took him," she told Crosby on videotape.
It may not have mattered whether Silver heard the warning. School officials and university police appear to have discussed the physician's arrest before it occurred.
Exactly when a decision to arrest was made is unclear. Eight minutes before Silver was arrested, however, Crosby's videotape captures Emerine and Hueston meeting outside the observatory. Moments later, uniformed Tucson Police Department officers arrive. Tucson police already had at least three undercover detectives inside the observatory mingling with the protesters, police reports show.
According to one witness, UofA student David Goldstein, university administrators and UofA police decided to arrest Silver and Hodges soon after the demonstration began.
Goldstein said he encountered Melissa Vito, a UofA assistant dean of students, while leaving the observatory minutes before the arrests.
On Crosby's videotape, Goldstein contends that Vito "pointed out Dr. Silver and Dave Hodges to four of the officers that were there and said, 'Those were the troublemakers and we should get them.'"
"A little while later, after the police paddy wagon drove up, I saw about six officers walk in," Goldstein says. "First, they came out with Dave Hodges, dragging him, and then they came out, two officers came out with Dr. Silver."
Vito declined to return New Times' phone calls.
Seconds after university police grabbed Silver, he managed to turn on a tape recorder in his pocket. Silver can be heard repeatedly asking police why he was being arrested.
They didn't know.
"Why am I being arrested? Why am I being arrested?" Silver asks.
An officer replies: "I couldn't hear . . . so I don't know."
"You made a mistake," Silver replies.
Thirty seconds later, Silver asks another officer why he's being arrested.
That officer tells him he had been arrested for disturbing the peaceful conduct of a university.
Silver, a UofA alumnus, tells the officers he's a professional photographer as they handcuff him and put him in the back of the police van with Hodges.
"They fucked up," Hodges says to Silver as he is put inside the van.
For the next three hours, the men remain handcuffed, first in the van and later at the police station.
When Silver is finally released at 4:45 p.m., he is not charged with disturbing the peaceful conduct of the university. Instead, he is cited for trespassing.
Two months later, university police and the Pima County Attorney's Office apparently realized Hodges' concise, if profane, assessment of Silver's arrest was correct.
The charges against Silver were dropped on December 9, 1992.
@body:Four months later, Hodges--along with Native American leaders Guy and Kevin Lopez--appeared in Pima County Justice Court on several misdemeanor charges stemming from the October 12, 1992, demonstration.
During the April 28 hearing before Judge Emojean Girard, a paperwork foul-up required the Pima County Attorney's Office to dismiss all charges against the men. The charges were refiled moments later.
UofA assistant police chief Hueston, along with assistant county attorney Guy Keenan, filled out the paperwork related to the new charges.
But another paperwork mistake occurred. The court failed to quash an arrest warrant for Hodges tied to one of the earlier, dismissed charges. Hodges would only learn about the mistake five months later.
Police records show that UofA police made no effort to arrest Hodges on the outstanding warrant for months, even though Hodges' location was well-known. Hodges even had lunch with Hueston in early September. The warrant was never discussed, both men say.
On that day, Hodges was participating in a protest on Mount Graham during a dedication ceremony for the first two university telescopes. And that's when the university asked DPS officers to arrest Hodges, using a warrant that should have been quashed months earlier.
"They all knew it was bullshit," Hodges says. "Basically, I was set up. They just wanted to pull me out of there and get me out of the area."
Several hours later, Hodges appeared before Graham County Justice Court Judge Jacque Felshaw. Felshaw was astonished to learn that the warrant served on Hodges didn't appear on the statewide crime computer network.
"I've never known of an agency sending us a warrant that was not on the Arizona Crime Information Center computer," Felshaw told New Times.
The situation had another strange twist. The arrest warrant was delivered to the court by fax from the UofA police.
"I have never had one that was faxed to me," Felshaw said. "We just ordinarily check the state computer. If it is on the computer, then we know. We just haven't faced a situation like this before. It was unusual."
Hodges told Felshaw that the warrant was related to charges that had been dismissed. But there was nothing Felshaw could do to confirm his story late on a Saturday evening. So Hodges spent the night in jail, and was released the next day after posting $180 bail.
University police offered conflicting explanations for the bizarre circumstances surrounding Hodges' warrant and his subsequent arrest. Assistant chief Hueston, who was in court the day Hodges' charges were dismissed and refiled, told New Times he didn't have anything to do with executing the warrant.
"In all honesty, I cannot attest to anything," Hueston said when asked about the warrant.
Hueston placed the responsibility on Chief Thomas, who was in charge of directing the university's police operation on Mount Graham the day Hodges was arrested.
Moments after Hueston was interviewed, however, Thomas gave New Times a contradictory explanation for the warrant's sudden resurrection. Thomas claimed that, before leaving Tucson for Mount Graham, he learned of the warrant from Hueston--that is, from the same assistant police chief who, minutes earlier, had claimed to know nothing.
"He [Hueston] came to me and said we have a warrant for Dave Hodges, and he said it was confirmed," Thomas said.
Thomas said Hueston gave the warrant to a lower-level UofA officer, who delivered a copy of it to DPS officers, who arrested Hodges.
Paul Gattone, a Tucson attorney representing Hodges, said the UofA police department--and especially Hueston--had to know the warrant was attached to charges that had been dismissed.
"Hueston was in the courtroom," Gattone says. "He knew those charges were dismissed. No one is stupid enough to believe the warrant was in effect when the charges were dismissed."
Like Silver, Hodges believes he was the victim of a wrongful arrest. "It was complete harassment and a civil rights infringement," he claims.
But the ordeal may also have worked in his favor.
The warrant finally was quashed when Hodges appeared for trial on the new charges relating to the October 1992 demonstration.
Hodges told Pima County Justice Court Judge Robert Donfeld of his encounter with UofA police over the previous weekend. The story seemed to have an impact, Hodges said. The men each received two years of unsupervised probation and a 30-day suspended jail sentence, rather than the six months' confinement sought by the County Attorney's Office.
"There was great irony in the fact that they [UofA police] tried to nail me this weekend," Hodges said after the trial. "But it probably was responsible for us not getting jail time, because we were able to show the judge how the university is out of control."
@body:While videotapes, audio tapes, public records and lawsuits have shed some light on the university's questionable police tactics, it may be more difficult to break into an inner sanctum where top officials have set policies for the telescope project.
Every week for at least the last six years, a powerful group of university employees and outside consultants has gathered in the regents' conference room on the seventh floor of the university administration building to discuss all aspects of construction, government relations, operations and public relations relating to the observatory project.
Michael Cusanovich, UofA vice president for research, said the Mount Graham External Affairs Task Force, which meets every Tuesday, is strictly a forum for the exchange of information. Cusanovich, who set up the task force, said it doesn't take votes, and no formal decisions are made.
"It's not particularly insidious," he said. "We just talk."
The committee talks a lot.
And the design of the committee keeps it from falling under public review.
"It's not subject to the open-meeting law," said Tom Thompson, a university attorney and task-force member.
While agenda were once prepared for the meetings, that practice was dropped several years ago. No one takes notes of discussions at the meeting. There is no secretary. No minutes. And only on occasion are documents exchanged, Cusanovich says.
Yet consensus is frequently reached at the meetings on what actions should be taken, Cusanovich said. The task force frequently discusses what opponents of the project are up to and discusses appropriate responses, Cusanovich said. For example, Cusanovich said, he might direct a member of the task force to write an opinion column for a newspaper.
While the task force may discuss upcoming demonstrations, or responses to past protests, Cusanovich said the group, which includes Emerine, does not discuss police tactics or arrest policies.
When asked last Friday whether he has reason to believe that anyone on the task force is working with the police on arrests, Cusanovich was adamant in his response.
"Absolutely not," he said.
University attorney Thompson also objected strongly to the suggestion that the university's public relations department would point someone out for arrest.
"That's Robin Silver's allegation, and it's pure bullshit," Thompson said. He said UofA police, for whom he provides legal advice, don't take their orders "from anybody over at Steve's [Emerine's] office."
Emerine may not be the only person to be surprised by Crosby's videotape.
1: Crushing opposition to a prestigious telescope project.
A) Meet secretly for years without keeping notes.
B) Run covert investigations of political groups.
C) Arrest activists you dislike.
D) Deny everything.
E) Admit nothing.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.