For a hot-shot legal beagle, Craig Mehrens sure seems to have plenty of time to write op-eds for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
His latest ditty for the Phoenix police union's Web site defends PLEA's all-day BBQ/fundraiser today on behalf of his client, fired killer-cop Richard Chrisman. The former Phoenix police officer faces charges of second degree murder, animal cruelty, and aggravated assault in the October 5 death of unarmed south Phoenix resident Daniel Rodriguez, and the offing of Rodriguez's dog.
PLEA identifies the writer as "Rich Chrisman's lawyer," and Mehrens is still listed as Chrisman's criminal attorney in the case.
However, Mehrens did not sign the op-ed. Though he does make references to being Chandler cop Dan Lovelace's mouthpiece back in the day, which Mehrens was.
I called Mehrens' cell number to ask him if he wrote the piece, all he would say is, "Goodbye, Steve," before hanging up the phone. I called him back and left a message on his cell informing him that if I did not hear from him, I would have to assume he wrote the article.
It's not surprising that Mehrens would defend his client and trash Sergio Virgillo, the other officer present that day. Virgillo told investigators that there was no cause for Chrisman to kill the barking dog and then gun down Rodriguez.
Rather, what's striking about the opinion piece is that Mehrens essentially admits that there are plenty of cops and members of the public who're ticked off with PLEA doing a cookout charity event for Chrisman.
Check this passage out:
Recently many of you, your wives, your loved ones, and others in the community have questioned how PLEA could support Rich; from the start; but now that he is fired, the rhetoric has escalated to degrees that really frighten me. Rich is only charged; nothing more. He is presumed innocent under the law and he should be presumed innocent by you, its citizens.
Since PLEA announced that it was holding a BBQ to support Rich, the public clamor has become even more contentious. Many people cannot understand why his Union would still support him, suggesting, I guess, that if the Police department fired him, he must be guilty; that the Brass must know what they are doing. If that were so, then there would be no need for unions in the country; we could just trust the brass to look out for the rank and file.
Nice little pro-union touch. Though PLEA ain't exactly the IWW, and Craig Mehrens is no Clarence Darrow.
He compares Chrisman's case to that of Dan Lovelace, the Chandler motorcycle cop who was found not guilty on a second-degree murder charge for shooting a mom in 2002. The woman was in her car with her 14 month-old child.
What Mehrens doesn't tell you, however, is that Lovelace's actions in this case and another incident cost the City of Chandler $4.6 million in lawsuit settlements.
Lovelace attempted to get his job back with Chandler, which had fired him following the incident with the mom. He was turned down. Transcripts from an internal affairs investigation revealed that Lovelace was remorseful over the shooting when interviewed a week afterward.
"I'm so sorry. I screwed up the department, everyone," Lovelace is quoted as stating.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, of all places, turned down Lovelace's bid to become an unpaid reserve deputy. Lovelace finally found employment with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office when Sheriff Paul Babeu hired him as a detention officer.
So trying to paint Lovelace as some sort of martyr is totally bogus, and only works on those who know nothing of Lovelace's history.
Mehrens is critical of former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley for revealing a videotape showing Chrisman planting a crack pipe on a mentally-ill homeless woman, a stunt that landed Chrisman on the MCAO's Brady list.
"Although it may have shown bad judgment on the part of the officers involved," Mehrens writes. "It had nothing to do with the Oct. 5 shooting."
Actually, it has a lot to do with the October 5 shooting, because if the city had canned Chrisman in 2005 when it had the chance, Phoenix wouldn't be staring down the barrel of a $30 million notice of claim filed by Rodriguez's mother.
Also, Mehrens never mentions the fact that Chrisman had been under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General's office as being part of the Phoenix Police Department's off-duty pay scandal.
True, Chrisman is innocent until proven otherwise. But Mehrens doesn't exactly extend that same courtesy to Virgillo, whom Mehrens vilifies, calling into question Virgillo's "veracity."
Of course, we can't judge the veracity of Chrisman's statements because he zipped his pie hole and lawyered up almost immediately after the shooting.
Mehrens says Chrisman told other officers that Rodriguez had gone for Chrisman's weapon. Too bad Chrisman couldn't tell that to investigators. I suspect Chrisman held his tongue because he knew he'd messed up and that Virgillo wasn't going to go along with the program.
I have to wonder about Mehrens' own statements in the piece, as he seems to take some liberties.
The lawyer criticizes Virgillo's "version of the events" saying that Virgillo "watched them from outside the trailer; for that's is exactly where he was when the situation started escalating."
He adds, " According to Officer Virgillo the dog made him afraid; and the pepper spray bothered him, so he left his fellow officer inside the trailer to handle the situation."
In the interview done by police detectives following the shooting, Virgillo never says that he was afraid of the dog in the room. You can read the police report for yourself, here.
Instead, Virgillo said that neither the dog nor Rodriguez were a serious threat to either officer.
The trailer home -- which was in Rodriguez's name, btw -- has a very small living room. That's where the struggle between Chrisman and Rodriguez took place. Virgillo was in the room at one point and struggled with Rodriguez as well. Chrisman deployed his pepper spray and it choked Virgillo so that he did exit the room briefly.
Virgillo was standing on the threshold of the entrance when he saw the shooting. If Mr. Mehrens had spent more time examining the crime scene instead of writing op-eds for PLEA, he would know that the room is so small that from the threshold, you have a 180 degree view of it. Virgillo was in the perfect position to witness what transpired.
In addition, Virgillo stated that Rodriguez had his hands up and was taking a step back when Chrisman plugged him. He was not going for Chrisman's gun, according to Virgillo's account.
Mehrens makes much of the fact that Rodriguez had meth in his system, according to the autopsy report.
Last time I checked, having meth in your system does not give a cop carte blanche to shoot you. Though Mehrens may feel differently, as he's made his livelihood representing police officers accused of wrongdoing.
It should also be observed that we don't know what, if anything, Chrisman had in his system. It's been speculated that he was on steroids, but Chrisman was not tested for drugs.
Mehrens fails to mention something else from the autopsy report, Rodriguez's left temple was bruised. This corroborates Virgillo's account, as Virgillo said that when they entered the mobile home, and Rodriguez told the pair the had no right to come in, Chrisman went ballistic.
Chrisman supposedly put his gun to Rodriguez's temple and told him, "Yes we do motherfucker!"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
And so it began, according to Virgillo. Virgillo described the gun being in Chrisman's right hand. So it would figure that Rodriguez would have a bruise on his left temple.
If Mehrens had some integrity, he would defend his client in the media without running down Virgillo. But Mehrens is doing his damnedest through PLEA's Web site and other outlets to claim that Virgillo is Pinocchio's second coming.
What does Virgillo gain by doing the right thing and telling the truth about what happened October 5? Zip, zilch, nada. It would've been better for him, his career, his privacy, and his safety if he'd just kept his mouth shut or lied about what he saw.
But instead, Virgillo spoke up, and has since become a target of PLEA, PLEA's media pals at KPHO/Channel 5, and attorney Craig Mehrens. Is Mehrens attempting to poison a future jury pool with innuendo and truth-twisting? You be the judge.