20 more Arizona cops investigated for misconduct by state watchdog | Phoenix New Times


20 more Arizona cops investigated for misconduct by state watchdog

Excessive force, bungling investigations and domestic violence are the most common allegations against misbehaving Arizona cops.
A state trooper who was fired for ordering his police dog to attack people was among the cases opened by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
A state trooper who was fired for ordering his police dog to attack people was among the cases opened by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. Matt Hennie
Share this:
Arizona's law enforcement watchdog has opened misconduct investigations into 37 cops around the state so far this year, including a trooper who ordered his police dog to bite people and a Tempe officer who tased an unarmed man 13 times.

That's 20 new cases since March, when Phoenix New Times last reviewed misconduct probes from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

AZPOST's work provides a rare glimpse into police misconduct in Arizona, much of which is investigated by individual law enforcement agencies. When an officer is terminated for misconduct — or sometimes when a particularly egregious case surfaces in the media — AZPOST steps in. The board considers whether to revoke or suspend the certification of troubled officers.

The 12-member board includes Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes and Ryan Thornell, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. The board's most recent meeting was Wednesday.

Earlier this year, AZPOST investigated a former trooper with the Arizona Department of Public Safety for his TikTok videos and a former Phoenix police officer who kept evidence in his closet at home. Now, several new cases have come before the board.
click to enlarge
Tempe officers beat and tased a man who refused to leave a bathroom in September 2022.

Tempe police tase man 13 times

At the board meeting on Wednesday, AZPOST investigator Richard Bradshaw detailed an incident in Tempe in which three officers repeatedly punched a man in the face and tased him 13 times — all in the span of three minutes. The officers were trying to handcuff a man accused of trespassing,

The board voted to open an investigation into Tempe Sgt. Latasha Hampton, the officer who deployed the taser, after viewing body camera video of the incident. Board members declined to take any action against the other two officers involved.

Tempe police placed Hampton on "restricted duty" pending the outcome of the AZPOST investigation, according to city Communications Director Nikki Ripley. That means the officer is "providing no direct law enforcement services."

According to Bradshaw and body camera video presented to the board, the incident occurred on Sept. 11, 2022, when an unidentified local business called about a man who was refusing to leave. He was in the women's bathroom when Officer Daniel Rodriguez arrived.

The man, identified only as James, "appeared to be slightly delayed in his actions and understanding" and later was found to have had meth in his system that day, according to Bradshaw. James kept asking why Rodriguez was ordering him to leave the bathroom and sit down. He refused to do so and asked to leave.

When Hampton got to the restroom, Rodriguez attempted to handcuff James, who resisted. James tried to evade Rodriguez's attempts to handcuff him, but did not try to hit or kick the officer. Still, Hampton tased James and he fell to the floor screaming.

Over the next two and a half minutes, Hampton tased the man 13 times.

While he was being tased, Rodriguez and a third officer, Alex Kitchens tried to handcuff James. He was still flailing — perhaps because he was being continually tased — and the two officers both repeatedly punched James in the neck and face. Eventually, the three officers managed to handcuff him. James was arrested, although it's unclear whether he faced criminal charges in the incident.

The Tempe Police Department asked the Mesa Police Department to investigate the incident, and Mesa investigators found that all three officers violated Tempe's use of force policy. Tempe police agreed. But since 180 days had passed since the beginning of the investigation, none of the officers received any discipline thanks to a provision in the department's labor agreement with the police union.

It's not clear when the investigation began, or why it took so long for it to be completed. The contract does allow for investigations to take longer than 180 days if proper notice is given, a provision that was not used in this case. Ripley did not answer questions about this.

Rather, Ripley provided a statement that confirmed the incident violated Tempe police policy. "Such incidents simply will not be tolerated in our city, or by our leadership team. Accountability is of paramount importance to maintaining trust with public safety. The city is committed to fully understanding and correcting any mistakes that may have been made in this incident and its investigation, and ensuring that they will be prevented in the future," she said.

Now, though, Hampton may face repercussions from AZPOST.

Although Mesa investigators also found that Kitchens and Rodriguez violated policy by punching James, board members weren't convinced. In a 7-2 vote for Kitchens and a 6-3 vote for Rodriguez, AZPOST declined to open an investigation into their actions.
click to enlarge
Former state trooper Derek Fraser's police dog, Igor, runs with another officer to confront a suspect.

Excessive force, bungled investigations spur AZPOST probes

Hampton is hardly the only officer this year to be accused of excessive force. Use of force is so far the single most common reason for an AZPOST investigation, New Times' review of months of board meetings shows.

Of the 37 total cases against Arizona police officers opened so far this year, eight involved allegations of excessive use of force.

That force ranged from a former Mesa police officer, Kaylon Hall, who was criminally charged for shooting at a vehicle that drove away from a traffic stop, to Derek Fraser, a former DPS trooper and K9 handler who was fired for ordering his police dog, Igor, to attack people.

In a March 2022 incident, body camera footage showed that Fraser commanded Igor to bite a man who initially had run from officers, but who then got on the ground, put his hands up and allowed himself to be handcuffed. Fraser told DPS investigators that he "felt the dog assisted in getting [the man] into custody," AZPOST investigator Arlene Heckel told the board.

DPS fired Fraser for the misconduct shortly after the incident, Heckel said.

Excessive force was not the only reason for the new AZPOST probes. In six cases, cops are being investigated by AZPOST for mishandling investigations or evidence. Domestic violence and dishonesty also were common, with five cases each.

DUIs and reckless driving together prompted another eight cases.

New Times' count of new cases against Arizona cops does not include the many AZPOST probes of recruits who are still in the police academy. It also does not include the cases that occasionally arise involving former officers who are illegally working off-duty security or traffic control jobs despite not working for an agency.
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.