Acquitted of killing stepdaughter, Michael Turney sues Phoenix police | Phoenix New Times


Michael Turney sues for $300,000 over arrest for killing stepdaughter

‘Everybody thinks I did it’: The 75-year-old man sues Phoenix police, prosecutors for charging him with killing Alissa Turney in 2001.
Michael Turney sued police and prosecutors who arrested him in 2020 and put him on trial in 2023 for killing his stepdaughter. He was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Michael Turney sued police and prosecutors who arrested him in 2020 and put him on trial in 2023 for killing his stepdaughter. He was acquitted of second-degree murder. Courtesy of Michael Turney
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Six months after a judge acquitted him on charges that he killed his stepdaughter Alissa Turney, Michael Roy Turney sued police and prosecutors, alleging they colluded to punish him before his trial and violated his rights.

Turney, 75, is seeking more than $300,000 in damages in the civil complaint, which he filed on Jan. 11 in Maricopa County Superior Court. He accused several law enforcement agencies involved in his arrest and prosecution of wrongful imprisonment, excessive force, property damage, denial of appropriate medical care and defamation.

The hand-written complaint includes several defendants: the city of Phoenix; Maricopa County; current Phoenix police Chief Michael Sullivan and his predecessor, Jeri Williams, and two officers; Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and her predecessor, Allister Adel, along with a prosecutor; and former Sheriff Paul Penzone.

In the suit, Turney described his August 2020 arrest by Phoenix police as a “military operation” with one officer “picking me off the ground and placing his fist in my throat.” Turney's arrest and high-profile trial in 2023 received national media attention.

A former electrician and one-time Maricopa County sheriff's deputy who now lives in Apache Junction, Turney is representing himself in the suit. During an interview with Phoenix New Times, Turney said he couldn’t get a lawyer to take the case. He’s fatalistic about the outcome.

“I don’t ever expect to get any money from it,” Turney said. “I expect them to come down on me like banshees from hell.”

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit. Phoenix police did not respond to inquiries from New Times.
click to enlarge Sarah and Alissa Turney
Sarah Turney (left) started a podcast about her sister Alissa's case after she went missing in 2001.
Courtesy of Sarah Turney

‘I was very lucky to be acquitted’

Turney, with a $500,000 bond, spent three years in county jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors claimed Turney was responsible for the death of his 17-year-old stepdaughter, Alissa, who went missing on May 17, 2001. It was the last day of her junior year at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix.

Alissa initially was believed to be a runaway, but suspicion later fell on Turney, who police said was creepily obsessed with his stepdaughter and observed her movements with cameras inside and outside Turney’s house.

Police had mountains of circumstantial evidence, but no body, no crime scene and no way to prove if Alissa was dead or alive. In August 2020, Turney was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. His case went to trial in July 2023.

On July 17, after the prosecution rested its case, Turney’s lawyers cited a lack of evidence and moved for an acquittal. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sam Myers said there were two questions before him: Could the jury reasonably conclude, based on the evidence, that Alissa was dead; and could the jury reasonably find that “Alissa’s death resulted from the defendant’s conduct.”

Based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, Myers found that it would be reasonable for the jury to conclude that Alissa was dead. But Myers said there was “really no testimony about the defendant’s conduct in relation to Alissa’s death.” He found in favor of the defense, acquitting Turney of the murder charge and ordering that he be freed.

“I was very lucky to be acquitted,” Turney explained. “I think Sam Meyers should be put in for his citizen’s medal of honor”

Not everyone was laudatory. Mitchell praised prosecutors, police and members of Alissa’s family — ironically, Turney’s grown children and Alissa’s siblings — who believe that their father is responsible for their sister’s death.

“While our office doesn’t agree with the judge’s ruling today, we respect the decision of the court,” Mitchell said in July.
click to enlarge Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell
Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell praised prosecutors and police in July 2023 after a judge acquitted Michael Turney on charges that he killed his stepdaughter.
Katya Schwenk

Turney’s 2023 trial ended in acquittal

Alissa’s half sister, Sarah Turney, was 12 when Alissa vanished. Sarah initially thought that her sister went to California, based in part on a note, purportedly in Alissa’s handwriting, explaining that she was running away from home.

Sarah later came to believe that her father molested and killed her sister. She campaigned for Turney’s prosecution, promoting an online petition demanding her father be tried for Alissa’s death that garnered nearly 300,000 signatures. She created “Voices for Justice,” a podcast that explores her sister’s death. And she's posted scores of TikTok videos about the case.

“(T)he reality of Alissa's case was that law enforcement was never going to search for her remains," Sarah said after Turney was acquitted. "Despite my family's efforts to pursue that avenue, then I discovered the county attorney wanted to try the case as our father is now in his seventies.

“It was clear that we were running out of time, and without any search for Alissa's remains and no new evidence emerging, the county attorney's office made the decision to partner with the Phoenix Police Department to take Alissa's case to a grand jury for indictment, and they succeeded. Unfortunately, they just weren't able to get it past the finish line," she added.

James Turney criticized prosecutors and the judge in the same recorded statement with Sarah, who is his half sister.

“The fact that the judge did not allow it to go to the jury though was a shock,” he said. “My only hope is that he will be plagued for the rest of his life by the nightmares I have to this day in which my sister Alissa is pleading over and over for help.”

Veteran Phoenix defense attorney Jason Lamm said moving for an acquittal after the prosecution finishes its case is a standard tactic but one that seldom succeeds.

“It is rare for a judge to grant a motion for a directed verdict,” Lamm said. But he also said it's rare for prosecutors to indict a suspect in a murder case when there is no body and no crime scene.

As an adult, Sarah Turney confronted her dad about her suspicions concerning what happened to her sister. In a recording she posted to TikTok in July 2020, Michael Turney told her, “Be there at the deathbed, Sarah, and I’ll give you all the honest answers you want to hear.”

“Why don’t you give them to me now?” she asked.

“Because you got ‘em now,” he replied.

Turney told New Times that he knew he was being recorded at the time, and that he “continually told Sarah” that he did not kill Alissa.

“She kept trying to come at me different ways, trying to get a confession,” Turney said. “I did not tell her that I would say what happened to Alissa on my deathbed. I told her that she would hear the truth.”

New Times could not reach Sarah Turney for comment.
click to enlarge Michael Turney in 2009 interview with ABC
Michael Turney disputed allegations that he harmed his stepdaughter during a 2009 interview with ABC.
Courtesy of ABC "20/20"

‘Everybody thinks I did it anyway’

Michael Turney has given numerous interviews to the media over the years. In a 2009 interview for "20/20," ABC reporter John Quiñones confronted Turney with allegations that he’d sexually abused Alissa.

“There’s only two people that can confirm whether I did or didn’t. One is me. The other is Alissa. Alissa’s not here. I’m sitting here, and all I can say till hell freezes over is I didn’t do a damn thing to my daughter.”

The "20/20" segment also revealed that Turney had Alissa sign contracts in which she agreed to do or not do certain things before turning 18. One statement read, "My father, Mike Turney, has never physically or sexually abused me at any time."

Asked if that went beyond what a normal parent would do, Turney told "20/20" it "depends on who you talk to." He said he didn't think it went too far at the time, but he "felt bad" about it later because he believed Alissa ran away because of it.

Phoenix police raided Turney's house on North 34th Street in 2008, looking for clues about Alissa’s disappearance. Instead, they discovered a mother lode of weapons: 26 pipe bombs, two silencers and an array of firearms.

In 2010, Turney pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful possession of unregistered destructive devices and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served seven.

Following his release, Sarah’s social media drumbeat for justice began. The campaign went viral. And in 2020, when a grand jury indicted Turney, Adel — the county attorney at the time — praised Sarah's "perseverance and commitment to finding justice for your sister."

Turney said he was vindicated by the acquittal. He said he brought the lawsuit to call attention to his treatment and conditions in county jails, which he claimed are "filthy," unsanitary and unhealthy. Turney said he caught COVID-19 in jail, and his teeth were ruined because of poor nutrition. In the suit, he asked for $10,000 to repair his teeth.

"You would go months without sunshine, and rarely would you get outside to exercise," Turney said. He also complained of poor medical care and lack of access to vitamins.

The lawsuit stated Turney also wants to "punish the wrongful conduct" of police and prosecutors "to deter such conduct in the future."

Turney, though, said he realizes the lawsuit is a long shot.

"I tell myself, why not walk away?" he said. "I mean, everybody thinks I did it anyway. Not everybody, but a lot of them do."
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