A Mesa cop arrested and charged for sexual conduct with a minor. A Lake Havasu City officer who repeatedly accessed his department's bodycam videos and allowed his girlfriend to watch them. A supervisor who, as evidence custodian of the Somerton Police Department, repeatedly mishandled evidence, failed to send it for testing, or failed to preserve evidence in criminal investigations.
These are some of the things that got 28 Arizona cops banned from working in law enforcement in this state last year, Phoenix New Times learned after reviewing the 12 meetings and four integrity bulletins from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board in 2019.
The review also found that an additional 41 police officers and recruits voluntarily relinquished their peace officer certification or were denied a peace officer certification as a recruit.
Eighteen officers also had their certifications suspended for periods ranging from 40 hours to three years. One of those cases — the 40-hour suspension — included the Phoenix cop who conducted an unwarranted body cavity search, resulting in $1.6 million settlement to the victim. The fact that some officers have improperly accessed police records to stalk their exes or current partners — a felony offense in Arizona — or were found to have lied so much or used such excessive force that it ended up getting their peace officer certification suspended, but not revoked, is especially significant since those officers will still retain their gun, badge, and right to make arrests.
Taken together, 87 Arizona police officers got into trouble significant enough to hurt their peace officer status. The certification is a requirement to work as a police officer in Arizona. That number represents only a sliver of the nearly 15,000 police officers in the state of Arizona, but the POST records offer an interesting window into the unethical, and, in some cases, downright criminal, conduct some officers engage in while on duty.
The AZ POST is responsible for certifying all police officers in the state and is charged with protecting the public by overseeing the integrity of Arizona's cops. If an officer's misconduct is egregious enough, the AZ POST can revoke their certification. Police departments keep their own disciplinary records on employee misconduct, but the POST provides some centralized monitoring of law enforcement officers throughout the state. The POST's board, made up primarily of law enforcement officials, can also deny certifications to police recruits seeking to become officers.
The state-funded board also preserves a critical record of officer misconduct — which is especially important in Arizona because state law allows police departments to delete officers' misconduct records after three years.
Eight of the 28 officers who lost their certifications last year had been accused of untruthfulness, making it the most common reason Arizona cops got banned from the profession. Instances of untruthfulness can range from relatively minor — like when a Winslow officer who shot two turkeys while hunting off-duty without a valid gaming permit lied to a state game and fish — to serious instances of perjury, such as when another Winslow cop lied on a police report and claimed to have found marijuana, a felony in Arizona, even though the accused suspect actually did not have marijuana.
In one case, an Apache County sheriff's deputy told dispatch he had responded to the scene of a suicidal person, but his supervisor saw that the deputy's patrol vehicle was still at home.
The second most-common reason for getting one's peace officer certification revoked in 2019 was having sex on duty. Cops from the Apache County Sheriff's Office, San Carlos Apache Tribal Police, and Arizona Department of Transportation all got banned from law enforcement last year for the offense. A corporal from the La Paz County Sheriff's Office and a police recruit also had their certifications revoked or denied over alleged sexual abuse. According to POST records, John Gomez "sexually abused a deputy during a party at his home by inappropriately touching her," while recruit Joshua Gross "was arrested and charged with sexual conduct with a minor."
DUIs, drug use, damaging patrol vehicles and lying about it, felony convictions, assaults and domestic violence, and failing to investigate cases are among the other transgressions that got Arizona cops banned from the profession.
Some cases are not easily categorized, like the one involving a Chino Valley cop, Justin Angel, who "authored 11 criminal reports in which he omitted information," and "initiated traffic stops without any identifiable reasons for the stop, and conducted searches without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing."
Then there was the case of the Mesa sergeant who was the subject of four separate internal investigations. According to POST records, Sergeant Justin Corvelo was accused of creating a fictitious social media page and providing false, misleading or disparaging information about a fellow officer; engaging in disorderly conduct by yelling profanities at his neighbors; disregarding a direct order by driving a government vehicle out of town to conduct personal business; and violating department admonishments prohibiting him from discussing internal investigations about him to other employees. Like all other officers who had his or her certification revoked or voluntarily relinquished, Corvelo was separated from his department.
In a similarly strange case, Brad Jacobs from Lake Havasu City used his personal computer on multiple occasions to access his agency’s Axon body camera videos and allowed his girlfriend to watch. When questioned by internal affairs investigators about this, Jacobs lied and said he only accessed the videos from home to label them, when the videos had, in fact, already been labeled.
As with revocations, untruthfulness was also the most common reason for officers to get a certification suspended last year, playing a role in three out of 18 suspensions. A handful of other officers got their certifications suspended for things like speeding, wrongfully accessing law enforcement databases, neglecting their duty or failing to do their job, and drug use. One Avondale officer got a six-month suspension for posting racially insensitive content on his personal Facebook page, records show.
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POST records group together voluntary relinquishments and denials of peace officer certifications, so while integrity bulletins issued by the POST list 41 cases in which officers, "without admitting any allegations made against them, permanently relinquished their Arizona peace officer certifications," it is not clear from the records how many of those officers were recruits being denied a certification and how many were officers giving up their certification.
Voluntary relinquishments also mean that officer is banned from the profession in Arizona, and the circumstances surrounding relinquishment can be just as serious as those leading to a revocation. Both an ex-Phoenix cop who was arrested for allegedly molesting a minor and a former Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty to possession of burglary tools after being accused of stealing $600 from a dead man he had been called to assist are set to voluntarily relinquish their peace officer certifications.
Matt Giordano, executive director of the AZ POST, told New Times denials of peace officer certifications are permanent, meaning once a recruit gets his or her certification denied, they won't be able to become a cop in Arizona.
Correction: This story initially identified Joshua Gross as a Mesa police officer who had his peace officer certification revoked. He is actually a recruit who had his certification denied.