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Frances Salazar was recently released from prison after evidence turned up that the officer who arrested her was a known liar.EXPAND
Frances Salazar was recently released from prison after evidence turned up that the officer who arrested her was a known liar.
Steven Hsieh

The Cop's a Known Liar. No One Told Her. Now, She's Free From Prison

When Maricopa County prosecutors sent Frances Salazar to prison for allegedly possessing crack, they relied on the testimony of Phoenix Police Officer Anthony Armour.

But during Salazar’s August 2016 criminal trial, prosecutors did not disclose that Armour had a history of lying on the job, including documented cases of inventing probable cause and falsifying police reports.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision — Brady v. Maryland — requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence that could exonerate a defendant. In the legal world, such evidence is known as Brady material.

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It’s possible that the Maricopa County prosecutor in Salazar’s case, Elizabeth Lake, did not know about Armour’s Brady material. (The Maricopa County Attorney's Office confirmed some dates related to this story, but did not respond to specific questions.)

The Phoenix Police Department did not inform the county attorney’s office of Armour’s misconduct record until December 23, 2016, according to spokesperson Sergeant Armando Carbajal. Amanda Steele, a spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, said the office did not receive the record until December 30, 2016.

The county attorney’s office added Armour to a list of public officials with credibility questions, known as the Brady list, months after Salazar’s trial, according to a copy of the list obtained by New Times through a public records request.

Salazar discovered Armour’s misconduct a year later. She was sitting in prison at the time, working at the library and helping Spanish-speaking inmates navigate the system. The investigative report disclosing Armour’s police policy violations came in the mail.

She read how the Phoenix Police internal affairs report sustained allegations that Armour unlawfully entered an apartment, falsely arrested one of its residents, lied to his supervisor about the arrest, booked the resident in jail after being instructed to release her, and then lied again about the arrest in a police report.

“I was blown away,” Salazar said in an interview with New Times.

It was exactly the kind of evidence that, had it been presented at trial, could've impugned Armour’s credibility and swayed the jury in her favor.

She confirmed with her attorney that the report was what they needed to get her out. Then she started singing: I’m going home. I want the world to know what the Lord has done.

Salazar had spent nearly two years behind bars by then. Prosecutors conceded their failure to disclose Armour’s record and dropped the charges against her. A judge ordered her released from prison in July.

This month, Salazar filed a federal lawsuit against the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and Phoenix Police Department, claiming they violated her due process rights by failing to disclose Armour’s misconduct record before her trial. She is represented by Benjamin Rundall of Honor Law Group.

The lawsuit also claims that prosecutors did additional harm to Salazar by failing to inform her lawyers when they finally did file the exculpatory evidence in Superior Court, prolonging her stay in prison by several months.

Salazar says she hopes the prosecutor’s office and police department will take another look at their policies to ensure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to anyone else.

"The trial was rigged,” Salazar said. "Because the evidence that should’ve been turned over would’ve made all the difference in the outcome in the trial. There’s no reason for them to hold anything back.”

Salazar’s ordeal with the legal system began in the wee hours of December 31, 2013.

At 4 a.m., she was sitting in the passenger seat of a gold Jaguar on West Highland Avenue to get some cash for a senior citizen she was assisting. Officer Armour, driving in the opposite direction, claimed to stick his head out the window and observe that the Jaguar did not have a license plate. Armour and his partner begin to follow the gold car before pulling it over.

In his police report, Armour said he stopped Salazar and the driver for altered registration tags on a temporary license plate. But according to Salazar’s lawsuit, he told the driver, Rodney McCullough, that he pulled them over for a broken taillight.

In a court filing, Salazar’s lawyer wrote that the vehicle did not have broken taillights or a temporary license plate, claiming the car displayed a permanent metal license plate at the time of the arrest. Officer Armour did not take photos of the vehicle.

Armour detained McCullough for driving with a suspended license. McCullough informed the officer that the vehicle was owned by someone named Antonio Harris. McCullough also said that, at one point, Officer Armour told him, “I’m not after you, I’m really after [Frances]."

Armour later asked Salazar whether there were any drugs in the vehicle. Salazar said “there shouldn’t be.”

The officer searched the car, finding a crack pipe with a crack rock. According to Armour’s police report, he found the pipe in stuffed between the shotgun seat and center console. But McCullough said the officer told him he found it below the front passenger seat.

Armour claimed in his police report that Salazar “admitted to the substance inside the pipe being crack.” He wrote that Salazar then claimed that the pipe must’ve belonged to someone else but that she would “take responsibility for it.”

Salazar tells a much different story. As she described it to New Times, "The dialogue was, 'This is your crack pipe. I found your crack pipe.' He didn’t ask me, 'Was it yours? Do I know about it?" It was an accusation basically,” she said.

She said she did not answer Armour's questions.

Armour also wrote in his police report that another officer called to the scene found a "secondary crack pipe in her possession," but Salazar was not charged for the second pipe and it did not come up during her trial. Salazar said police found the pipe in a jacket that she took from the backseat of the car, which she said she put on after she was asked to leave the car.

"His demeanor was really cocky, like he had control, like he had a chip on his shoulder,” Salazar said.

She was booked at the Fourth Avenue Jail, and later bonded out by her family. Prosecutors charged Salazar on January 3, 2014, for narcotics possession and drug paraphernalia.

Salazar couldn’t wrap her head around what was happening. "If you’re guilty, it’s one thing,” she said. "You accept responsibility."

She would know. Salazar had already served a total of six years in prison for multiple drug convictions in Arizona, as well as some felonies, court records show. The convictions spanned 1991 to 2007, a period when Salazar battled addiction.

Salazar said she’s been clean since then. The thought of pleading guilty to a crime she insists she did not commit never crossed her mind.

In part because of her prior convictions, prosecutors insisted that she serve between six and 15 years for the crack and pipe. Salazar insisted on a trial.

"I had the thought of six to 15 years on my mind, and yet I had faith the system would work for me,” she said.

The trial stacked the credibility of Salazar and her witnesses — Antonio Harris and Rodney McCullough — against that of Armour.

Harris testified that the car and crack pipe belonged to him. He said under oath that he never informed Salazar of his hiding place for the pipe between the center console and the seat.

On paper, the defense looked untrustworthy. On top of Salazar’s rap sheet, both Harris and McCullough are also convicted felons. Most of the jury questions filed with the court scrutinized Salazar’s story, not the police's.

Armour, on the other hand, looked clean.

Salazar’s attorney, Christopher Doran, attempted to discredit the officer by pointing to inconsistencies in his narrative, including contradictions over the location of the pipe and whether Salazar copped to owning it. But they couldn’t point to anything in Armour’s personnel record that would suggest dishonesty.

On August 16, 2016, the jury found Salazar guilty of both narcotics and paraphernalia possession.

She found it difficult to look back at her family members, who were sitting in the courtroom gallery when the verdict was read. Working as a hairdresser, she had been taking care of her sick mother, making sure she had groceries and company. She had taken in her cousin’s teenage daughters.

“Basically, I am leaving my family,” Salazar thought.

A few months later, a judge sentenced Salazar to six years' imprisonment.

Less than 20 days after Salazar was sent to prison, Phoenix police finally notified the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office that investigators had sustained multiple complaints against Armour.

The Professional Standards Bureau — Phoenix police’s internal affairs department — issued a report in April 2016 showing that Armour committed five policy violations when responding to a domestic violence call.

On November 4, 2015, records show, Armour unlawfully entered an apartment to search for a male suspect despite a female resident’s objections. That was his first infraction.

When the woman blocked a door, Armour pulled her aside, found the man, and arrested him. He then unlawfully arrested the female for hindering prosecution, his second offense.

When his sergeant asked him why he went into the home, Armour said another officer had seen the male suspect through the apartment’s window. That was a lie, and his third offense. In fact, the other officer told Armour that he had not seen the resident.

He wrote the same lie in a police report, racking up a fourth offense.

Finally, his sergeant told him not to book the woman into jail, and Armour disobeyed the order.

It's unclear why Phoenix police waited until after Salazar's trial to send prosecutors Armour's misconduct record.

Maricopa County prosecutor Elizabeth Lake notified the court of Armour’s record on February 22, three months after Salazar was sent to prison.

But Christopher Doran, Salazar’s trial attorney, said he didn’t receive a copy until December 2017.

Doran said his paralegal stumbled upon Lake’s disclosure of Armour’s record when she was reviewing the court docket to help Salazar consolidate files for her post-conviction relief case.

“I was speechless,” Doran said. He mailed a copy of the report to Salazar in prison. And he emailed Lake, saying he would file sanctions against the prosecution if she didn't dismiss Salazar’s case.

On July 23, 2018, Lake moved to dismiss Salazar’s charges. In a court filing shortly before the dismissal, a judge wrote that the state “conceded the alleged Brady violation."

Reflecting at her attorney's office for an hour on Tuesday, Salazar called her experience a "nightmare." She felt disheartened that she lost all that time to prison, especially since she's worked hard to rise above her prior convictions for crimes that she admits to.

"I’ve done all this stuff to get to where I am at just to be labeled for my past. I believe a lot of this has to do with my past record," she said.

She added that she does not believe "Ms. Lake had good intentions," but she doesn't feel like her actions should reflect on the entire prosecutor's office.

"Do I hang onto it? I can’t, because it will do more damage than good," she said.

Most of all, she hopes that Phoenix police and Maricopa County prosecutors will use her experience as a learning tool.

"I don’t want this to happen to anything else. I don’t want officer Armour to do this again," she said.

Officer Armour remains on active duty.

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