Police

Florence Cop Resigned, but Not Charged, After Accusation of Meth Distribution

A Florence Police Department officer was accused of consuming and selling meth while on-duty.
A Florence Police Department officer was accused of consuming and selling meth while on-duty. Radspunk/Wikipedia Commons
click to enlarge A Florence Police Department officer was accused of consuming and selling meth while on-duty. - RADSPUNK/WIKIPEDIA COMMONS
A Florence Police Department officer was accused of consuming and selling meth while on-duty.
Radspunk/Wikipedia Commons
An officer with the Florence Police Department resigned from the agency after he was investigated for allegedly using and distributing methamphetamine, according to records obtained by Phoenix New Times.

The allegations reportedly weren't corroborated by the Florence Police Department, and the department didn't forward the case for review by local prosecutors for possible criminal charges against the ex-cop, Michael Phillips.

Back in January 2020, an individual reported to the Mesa Police Department that Phillips had acted impaired when he responded to a traffic collision in Florence the previous day, Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) records state. The person, identified in the records only as "TG," claimed that Phillips was acting "erratic and unprofessional" and showed them pictures of his naked wife. That evening, Phillips sent TG a series of disturbing text messages that made them "uncomfortable."

TG promptly reached out to Mesa police regarding Phillips' conduct, who subsequently contacted the Florence Police Department. The latter agency opened an internal investigation into the traffic collision incident, as well as other information that the department had received about Phillips' alleged drug activity. Two sources had allegedly informed the department that Phillips was supplying an individual identified as "TS" in the AZPOST records with methamphetamine.

TS was interviewed during the Florence Police Department investigation. He claimed that Phillips had given him "several ounces" of meth back in July and August of 2019 and that he'd "spent time" at Phillips' home where he saw "Officer Phillips and his wife engage in drug activity."

But before the investigation was completed, Phillips resigned from the agency on March 4, 2020. In response, the Florence Police Department closed the investigation, the AZ POST records state. The investigation was "unable to corroborate" the allegations against Phillips. Notably, the records state that Phillips was not interviewed as part of the investigation.

Through a spokesperson, Florence Police Department Chief Bruce Walls declined to comment on the case after New Times made multiple requests for an interview. Attempts to reach Phillips were also unsuccessful.

New Times requested the police report regarding the incident from the Mesa Police Department. Brandi George, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email that she was "having difficulty" finding the report. New Times also requested a copy of the internal investigation into Phillips from the Florence Police Department.

The unconfirmed nature of the allegations against Phillips prompted AZ POST, which is responsible for certifying all police officers in Arizona, to punt on the case. At a May 19 meeting, the board voted to close the case with a "Resolve in the Future" designation, meaning that no action was taken at the time.

"This designator indicates that we did not have enough information to proceed with the case. Typically, it occurs because the peace officer resigns prior to a criminal and/or internal interview," Matt Giordano, executive director of AZ POST, wrote in an email.

He added that while Phillips is technically still certified, the designation requires any law enforcement agency that wants to hire him to address the allegations before the board.

The AZ POST records also state that the Pinal County Attorney's Office did assess the case to determine if criminal charges were warranted.

However, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told New Times that his office never received a formal case referral from the Florence Police Department and that the office never pursued criminal charges against Phillips. His office did interview a criminal defendant who claimed to have dirt on Phillips, but the man allegedly didn't have any information that they could use.

"They met with him, they did a free talk with the defendant, they got nothing. There was no actionable intelligence that was garnered," Volkmer said. "He was doing this to try to reduce his prison sentence. There was nothing that we could verify."

But that doesn't explain why Phillips resigned in the middle of the investigation.

As of 2017, Phillips was making around $60,000 per year at the Florence Police Department, according to govsalaries.com. He joined the agency in 2013 after briefly working at the Surprise Police Department, AZ POST records state.
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety