A Grandmother Asks for Us All: Who Will Stop DPS?

Sally Tavilla is 71 and still honors her Boston roots when she says words like farm or park. She is a lady who relishes her family.

"I brought up five beautiful children," Sally says, "and they're a credit to this country."

She and her daughter Jeanette were talking on the phone the morning of August 3 when the noise just became too loud.

"I asked her to turn down her television," said Tavilla. "My daughter told me she didn't have the TV on. Then I asked her if she heard the voices. They were men's voices. I didn't hear everything that was said but I did hear one man say the word `vandalism.'"

As the mother and daughter listened in astonishment, the two men became aware that something was wrong.

"The one man said to the other, and I can't remember word for word what was said, mister, but it was something to the effect, `I'm not too concerned. This system I have, no one can break through this system. It's very good.'"

Sally Tavilla did not know that her daughter already lived in fear of her phone.

From April 25 through May 3, Tavilla's daughter Jeanette and son-in-law Leon Woodward were subjected to a reign of terror by telephone.

In that short space, 51 phone calls--death threats as well as anonymous callers who refused to speak--came at all hours of the day and night.

Phoenix Police Detective Rick Hargus conducted an investigation that traced 43 of the calls to state police headquarters or to the private residence of DPS Officer Van Jackson.

Although Jackson resigned on May 12, the harassment did not stop.
A second wave of intimidating calls began on June 10.
A month later the Woodwards also began to suspect that, somehow, their phone might be wired.

On July 31, Leon Woodward was talking with state Senator Jerry Gillespie when their conversation was interrupted.

"I don't remember what was said because I was so surprised," said Senator Gillespie. "We were talking along and sometimes you'd hear a real quick cut-in, some static and then voices. It was unlike anything I've ever heard before."

Three days later, after Sally and Jeanette heard the conversation of the two men on the Woodward phone, Leon knew he had to do something.

In desperation, Leon Woodward summoned an electronics specialist who has worked for Fortune 500 companies, police departments and banking institutions, and has testified on wiretaps as an expert witness in trials.

In August, David Rabern of International Counterintelligence Service told Woodward that his phone box had been "tampered with" in a pattern consistent with eavesdropping.

"There were scratches on the outside, wires were pulled out as if something had been attached to them with some device or someone had been testing it trying to find which pair of wires was the talk pair."

Speaking of her son-in-law, Sally Tavilla cannot make sense of what has happened.

"I know Leon is active in politics and very outspoken when he thinks he is right, but still, I was stunned," said Tavilla. "I talk on the phone to my daughter often. We talk about my grandchild. I have nothing to hide, sir, but you wonder what else is happening. I have a beautiful grandchild and daughter. I don't want anybody to harm them.

"You wonder what is happening to this beautiful country of ours."
According to surveillance expert Rabern, the overheard conversations on the Woodward line were "cross-talk."

"If someone was fooling around with their phones," said Rabern, "that could happen, sure."

Ms. Tavilla, who has been ill recently, reacted with the discouragement of the elderly to the events in her family's life.

"I'm glad I'm on the way out and not on the way in. I was one of those people who thought every year would find America a better country. I never thought this sort of thing would happen in this country. Who is going to fix it?"

I called County Attorney Richard Romley to ask him, in one grandmother's eloquent words, if he is the one who is going to fix it.

Mr. Romley is not returning phone calls on the Woodward case or answering grandmothers' questions these days.

These questions, however, will not go away. These questions began a year ago last spring when DPS ran amuck during the impeachment of former Governor Evan Mecham.

The first count in the impeachment charged Mecham with obstructing justice. The governor was accused of ordering DPS director Colonel Ralph Milstead not to investigate the allegation that Mecham aide Lee Watkins had threatened another government worker's life. The state's chief witness against the governor was Ralph Milstead himself.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey