Who Killed This Internal Police Probe? The Bosses.
The FBI has opened an investigation into the campaign of terror waged from the state police headquarters against Leon Woodward. Although a spokesman for the FBI refused to provide details, agent Gary Wildebrandt interviewed Woodward and his wife on the afternoon of September 26.
At the same time the FBI chose to open a file on the Department of Public Safety scandal, the Phoenix police chose to close down their own Internal Affairs probe of the Woodward case when it threatened to embarrass the city cops.
If those closest to the killing of the Internal Affairs investigation are correct, the explanations coming out of the office of Police Chief Ruben Ortega are just so much smoke.
Not only is the conduct of the state police (DPS) enough to cause concern in the Woodward matter, but now the actions of the city police (PPD) are also suspect.
There are some stories that the authorities do not want you to understand in their entirety. You wonder if you will ever confront the simple truth; after a time you begin to question why you live in a place that tolerates such behavior. The ordeal of Leon Woodward has become one of those tales.
Although Chief Ortega refused to return phone calls, two of his spokesmen, Sergeant William Hatounian and Major David Brewster, insisted the Internal Affairs investigation ended only after all leads were exhausted.
But Lieutenant Terry McDonald, the officer who actually conducted the probe, said he was ordered to close the case by Ortega's right hand, Assistant Police Chief Bennie Click.
Far from being completed, Lieutenant McDonald claims he was ordered to end the investigation just as he was about to administer a lie detector test to PPD Officer Robert Wenrick.
Officer Wenrick was the subject of a complaint charging obstruction of justice and filing a false police report. The alleged wrongdoing by Officer Wenrick centered on whether or not Leon and Jeanette Woodward informed the patrolman that DPS troopers were suspects in the death threats the couple received.
On the evening of April 25, Wenrick was dispatched to the Woodward residence to make a report on death threats and harassing phone calls. Within minutes of when he left and before the crucial report was written, Wenrick received a message to rendezvous with a DPS officer. At their meeting, the state cop, Van Jackson, informed Wenrick that Leon Woodward was the subject of a state police operation.
The city cop and the state cop were old acquaintances. Jackson asked if Wenrick would make a Xerox of his official written report once it was done and give the copy to Van Jackson.
No problem, said Wenrick.
Except there was a problem, a big one.
There was no state police operation, at least not a legal one, directed at Leon Woodward.
Instead, Van Jackson--and other DPS officers are suspected--waged a rogue cop campaign of terror and death threats against Woodward. Over a period of nine days the phone company traced almost fifty menacing calls from DPS headquarters to the home of Leon Woodward. The attacks were illegal hooliganism directed at an outspoken citizen.
Eventually, Van Jackson was forced to resign from DPS, was charged with two counts of phone harassment and pled no contest.
The Internal Affairs division of the Phoenix police wanted to know why Officer Wenrick turned over a copy of his report to his old friend Van Jackson if the victims had said that DPS might be the folks behind the death threats.
Furthermore, nowhere in Wenrick's report does it mention that DPS might be the culprits.
If the phone company hadn't successfully traced to DPS headquarters the ensuing calls, the role of the state police might never have been revealed.
Officer Wenrick says there is a real simple explanation for all of these questions.
The report was copied for Jackson because police agencies routinely extend that sort of professional courtesy.
He had no reason to suspect DPS was involved and therefore no reason not to cooperate with Jackson because the Woodwards never told him any such thing.
The allegation that DPS was behind the phone calls did not appear in his report because, again, the Woodwards never told him any such thing.
And while Wenrick's answer is possible, it is not very likely.
Both Leon and Jeanette Woodward are vehemently adamant that they told the patrolman that DPS officers were possible suspects.
The reason some officers in DPS loathed and harassed Leon Woodward is that the man loudly, constantly and colorfully criticized the state police.
It is unlikely that Woodward would ignore DPS as a likely suspect when he was interviewed by Wenrick.
In fact, there are taped conversations between Leon Woodward and his phone tormentors during this very time frame when Leon asks if the callers work for DPS.
Still, as the Internal Affairs investigation proceeded, Lieutenant McDonald found himself caught between the accusations of Leon and Jeanette Woodward and the denials of Officer Wenrick.
Then Leon Woodward pulled a surprise.
He volunteered to take a lie detector test; in fact, he took two lie detector tests and passed both with flying colors.
On September 6, Jack Ogilvie with C.I.S.-A.P.I., a licensed and bonded polygraph firm, examined Leon Woodward.
According to the confidential report:
Question: Did you report to Officer Wenrick that you suspected DPS officers of making threatening phone calls to you?
Question: Did you tell Officer Wenrick that you suspected Don Barcello of DPS of making threatening phone calls?
Question: On April 25, 1989, did you report to Officer Wenrick that you suspected DPS officer friends of Don Barcello of making the threatening phone calls?
The report concluded, "It is the opinion of this examination that the subject has answered all questions truthfully to the best of his memory at this time."
On September 19, Woodward submitted to basically the same questions from Fidelfacts, another polygraph outfit.
The examiner's report states: "No reactions indicative of deception were noted in response to relevant questions leading the examiner to the conclusion that Mr. Woodward was truthful in his answers to the relevant questions."
The report was signed by Carl Mohr, who after 25 years had retired from the Phoenix police, where he had administered lie detector tests for the department. This new information presented Lieutenant McDonald with a problem. If Woodward had been right all along, then one of his officers had almost torpedoed an investigation.
Was it incompetence? Did Wenrick simply forget to put in his report that the Woodwards had told him of their suspicions regarding DPS?
Was it loyalty to a fellow officer?
Did Wenrick omit mention of DPS in his report because his rendezvous with Van Jackson convinced him that Woodward was the real culprit, the subject of a DPS investigation?
Was it sabotage? Did Wenrick conspire with his old acquaintance, Van Jackson, to protect fellow law enforcement officers at DPS?
Or, was it possible that Leon Woodward was making all of this up and, somehow, had fooled not one, but two polygraph examiners?
Lieutenant McDonald approached Officer Wenrick with the new information from Woodward's polygraphers.
Officer Wenrick requested to take a lie detector test of his own.
But before the examination could be conducted, Lieutenant McDonald closed down the investigation and labeled Woodward's charges "unfounded."
Lieutenant McDonald told Woodward he'd been ordered by the police chief's office to end the probe.
An irate Woodward called the chief's office looking for an explanation, but neither Ortega nor Click would come to the phone. Instead, Sergeant Hatounian was delegated to field the call.
The following taped excerpts are from that conversation, which was recorded by Woodward:
Sergeant Hatounian: What can I do for you?
Woodward: How come when I want to talk to Bennie or Ruben [I get you]? They're not afraid of me, I don't bite.
Sergeant Hatounian: I know that, Leon, but, you know, if there's something I can do for you before we have to go to them, I'd sure like to try.
Woodward: Why in the world did they order this investigation of Wenrick stopped?
Sergeant Hatounian: They didn't. . . . The case is concluded. It was unfounded.
Woodward: How can it be unfounded when McDonald was doing the investigation and he hadn't closed the investigation? It was closed from above.
Sergeant Hatounian: No! McDonald was given the authority to close it whenever he was finished with it.
Woodward: Bill, the order came from Ruben.
Sergeant Hatounian: No, sir! We don't arbitrarily close cases prior to their completion.
Woodward: You're lying.
Sergeant Hatounian: Whaaaaaat?
Woodward: Ruben, through Bennie Click, that's why I don't want to talk to you, Bill. Don't you understand? Can't you get that through your thick skull? I don't want to talk to you. I want to talk to Bennie or Ruben.
Sergeant Hatounian: They're not available, sir, I'm sorry.
Woodward: Are you wearing a skirt for them to hide behind, Bill?
Sergeant Hatounian: No, of course not.
When I called the chief's office, again, neither Ortega nor Click would come to the phone. Later, Major David Brewster returned my call.
"To my knowledge, there was no guidance from the top [Ortega or Click]. This was a ho-hum affair. The precinct commander said McDonald closed it," claimed Major Brewster, who works in the chief's office.
In fact, there was very little that was ho-hum about this case; there never is once Internal Affairs is called in. Furthermore, Leon Woodward is not your ordinary citizen. He is a high-profile gadfly whose political protests would cost one DPS officer his career. And almost two years ago Woodward's allegations of misconduct involving another PPD officer had triggered an embarrassing Internal Affairs investigation that resulted in a suspension for the cop.
Or, as Major Brewster put it when I called, "Everyone knows who Leon is."
So Major Brewster is not entirely accurate when he suggests that the Internal Affairs investigation of Wenrick was "ho-hum," and when he claims that McDonald closed the file voluntarily, he is contradicted by McDonald himself.
After his frustrating phone call with Sergeant Hatounian from the chief's office, Woodward phoned McDonald. The following taped excerpts are from that conversation:
McDonald: Let me explain what's going on here. Maybe you'll understand it better. I don't know, maybe you won't. . . . Afterwards, Chief Click and I took it out to the parking lot there and that's when he told me, you know, he says, "I talked to Ruben about this and he says we don't want to give Wenrick a polygraph. We don't want to start a precedent." The bottom line is, you know, he said, he asked me, he said, "Wenrick took an initial investigation, correct?"
And I says, "Yeah," and he says, "The DPS guy was charged, correct?"
The bottom line as far as he's concerned is that we provided sufficient service to indict a perpetrator. They don't feel the department's employees have done anything wrong. So, on that basis, it's unfounded, and I was directed to tell you that . . . Woodward: It's just like you told me last night. The orders came from up above. Hatounian is saying that you had completed the investigation. That you found it unfounded. You found it unfounded because they told you it was unfounded.
McDonald: You're reading right. . . . For as long as I can recall, they've always had a deal in the general orders, and it's still there, it says that an employee can request a polygraph examination. It still has to be approved, but it says he could request it [which Wenrick did]. My thought, and I haven't necessarily verbalized this with too many people, if I get some hack out there that makes a complaint against me and makes some serious allegations of sorts, it comes down to a truthfulness thing. Am I now going to be denied that right to take a polygraph? Even when I want to take one? . . . I've got some sympathy for Wenrick. . . . Let's just say that Wenrick honestly doesn't remember you telling him that. It was an honest mistake. You know, if I was him, I've got family, I've got mothers, aunts and uncles and they pick up the New Times and read something.
Because it does look strange. You took a polygraph and passed it. Wenrick knows Van Jackson, gives him the report. The average public doesn't realize that that's a common practice between agencies, that we give reports left and right. What makes it, to me, what would have made it wrong, and I told you this on the initial day, if we can determine that Wenrick knew DPS were possible suspects and then turned around and gave it to a DPS officer, then to me it makes it wrong.
Last Friday, Major Brewster called me again. His story had changed.
He now admitted that Assistant Chief Click had killed Wenrick's lie detector test.
Major Brewster said it wasn't worth the time and expense of a lie detector test.
Woodward's lie detector tests had cost all of $150. For over two months the Internal Affairs investigation had dragged on and now, at the very end, a lie detector test wasn't worth the time or the money?
Because nothing Officer Wenrick did hindered the investigation, said Major Brewster. The state cop, Van Jackson, was nailed.
In other words, no blood, no foul. Except if that were really true, why launch an investigation by Internal Affairs in the first place? The probe by Lieutenant McDonald didn't begin until long after Van Jackson had resigned and been indicted.
It is obvious the chief's office killed Officer Wenrick's lie detector test because they were afraid he would fail it. Toward the end of their last conversation, Lieutenant McDonald said something to Woodward that was depressing coming from an officer entrusted with the responsibility for examining law enforcement officers' conduct.
"One thing that I think you do know," McDonald told Woodward. "That is, we got some people over at DPS there, at least one, Van Jackson, who was responsible for some turmoil in your personal life. And I'll be honest with you. I wouldn't blame you if you never believed another cop as long as you live."
It is a statement that rings with frightening resonance for all of us who have followed the saga of Leon Woodward.
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