You may be familiar with the work of Bill Richardson. Until recently, Richardson wrote a blog for the Arizona Republic. We got word this week that the Republic axed Richardson's blog and if you ask Richardson, Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff was the cause for the axing.
Richardson is an ex-cop -- a 20-year veteran who spent the bulk of his career with the Mesa Police Department in its homicide and sex crimes divisions. His blog was fairly critical of Valley police agencies, most notably, the Tempe Police Department and its chief, Ryff.
Richardson's been hounding the department recently over out-of-control spending and above-average crime rates -- in other words, good journalism. The department, Richardson believes, didn't like it.
Back in June, Richardson got a letter from an elderly rape victim. In the email, the victim criticizes Richardson for bashing Ryff and one of his advisers, Charles Cobb.
"I am very disgusted with your attitude. I am so appreciative of the entire Tempe police department because I am that elderly woman in the case. It was the Chief who called in the FBI, Mesa crime lab, other police departments and the U.S. Marshalls," the victim writes in the email.
Richardson tells New Times he'd never written about Charles Cobbs and the person who wrote the email must have been directed by someone to include him. The tone and style of the email, Richardson feels, wasn't exactly that of a 77-year-old woman. In short, Richardson believes Ryff, upset over how Richardson had been covering his department, put the woman up to writing the email.
Richardson began asking the department questions about whether any of its members put the woman up to writing the email -- an ethical nightmare for the department -- and soon after he began poking around, his blog was canceled.
We called Tempe Police Sergeant Steve Carbajal to do a little digging of our own and were told it was "an issue between the Arizona Republic and Richardson."
We asked if we could speak with Ryff, and Carbajal said it would be "inappropriate" for Ryff to comment on a squabble between a blogger and a newspaper and to "ask the Republic about it."
So we did, and the Republic was equally worthless in terms of getting any sort of answer.
We called Republic editor Randy Lovely and were told by his assistant that he was on vacation until next week and the paper wouldn't comment.
We wanted to know what, exactly, led to the cancellation of Richardson's blog and found out the cancellation came after a complaint was filed by the NAACP and its Maricopa County leader, Reverend Oscar Tillman.
Tillman complained to the Republic that in one of Richardson's blogs he directed readers to a Web site called Tempepolicecloset.com, and on the site there were racially charged comments.
"Some of the things were very offensive," Tillman tells New Times.
None of those things, we should point out, were written by Richardson.
Richardson believes Chief Ryff -- with knowledge of how powerful Tillman is when it comes to all things race related -- directed Tillman to the site, which led to the complaint.
We asked Tillman if the Tempe Police chief prompted him to file the complaint and were told -- in a defensive manner, we might add -- "a complaint was filed by a member of the NAACP and the matter is under investigation and I can't discuss it."
Tillman wouldn't say whether Ryff was behind the complaint, but he wouldn't say he wasn't, either.
Lovely, meanwhile, has received several emails in regards to the cancellation of Richardson's blog. Below is one of those emails written by a retired cop.
I am a retired Phoenix Police Officer. I know Bill Richardson personally and enjoy reading his blog. I would appreciate an explanation why it has been shut down. It is my understanding that he received some complaints from the NAACP and Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff. Bill frequently pushes for needed changes in Tempe and it's Police Department policies. It's no surprise that Tom Ryff would support the shutting down of his blog.
I am sure I am not alone in asking for some justification for the shutting down of the blog. I look forward to your response.
Lovely responded with the following:
We did receive a complaint regarding Mr. Richardson's blog and our investigation found no wrong-doing on his part. Unfortunately, he then sent a letter that we felt was an act of intimidation. We have a strict policy that investigates any complaints against the paper without prejudice so that we insure we're not leveraging our position in an unfair way. The public must be able to voice concerns without fear of retribution.
Richardson got word of Lovely's response and insists he never wrote any "intimidating" letter and isn't sure to what Lovely is even referring.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Richardson contacted Lovely to get some clarification -- accusing someone of intimidating someone is a fairly big deal. He was told he and Lovely could discuss the matter next week -- when Lovely's back from his vacation.
Richardson, who seems to be interested in nothing more than getting to the bottom of things, feels he was silenced by a police chief he believes is trying to keep him from digging into the inner-workings of the department. To apparently use a 77-year-old rape victim and charges of racism as tools to silence him are what Richardson finds most appalling.
"Cobbs only does what Ryff tells him to do. I spent my entire career in uniform working in poor and mostly black and hispanic areas. I did it by choice and if I may say so, I was trusted and respected immensely by the minority community," Richardson says. "You don't have people make you quilts, bake you sweet potato pies, cook you bar-b-que and invite you to family parties if you're a racist. And you especially don't have a black man rescue you from an attack by a dangerous ex-con if the people don't care about you."
Who knows if there was any conspiracy to oust a probing journalist but one thing seems clear: something stinks in the Tempe Police Department.