Longform

Behind BadPhoenixCops.com: The Blogger Who Took on the Phoenix PD — and the Homicide Detective Who Might Be His Best Source

The ugliest donnybrook to hit the Phoenix Police Department in years started with one man's divorce.

That man, Jeff Pataky, wasn't a cop. He had nothing to do with cops, not at the time. He was just a software engineer-turned-blogger whose marriage had ended. But before all the issues in Pataky's divorce could be settled, he managed to create a slugfest that now threatens the stability of the Phoenix PD's homicide bureau.

It all began in 2007, after Pataky's soon-to-be-ex wife, Julie Cioppa, filed for an order of protection, claiming her ex-husband had abused her. After months of mudslinging from both sides, she managed to convince Phoenix police detectives that Pataky had violated the order. They arrested him.

As it turned out, the charge was bunk. Cioppa had apparently manufactured evidence, and the cops failed to do enough homework to realize it. The case fell apart on the very first day of trial.

And that's when Pataky started the Web site. Badphoenixcops.com doesn't just criticize the Phoenix PD brass — it excoriates them. The site promises "cover-ups and corruption," "dirty deeds and misgivings" — and, if its reporting can be believed, the site more than delivers. Think allegations of racism, adultery, a "massive cover-up" in the Baseline Killer case, and near-constant use of the term "assclowns" to describe high-ranking officers.

So when Phoenix police officers raided Pataky's home early on the morning of March 9, civil libertarians across the country cried foul.

The cops seized Pataky's laptop, his roommate's laptop, and his wireless modem. Then they busted into his safe and took his backup devices. Although Pataky was out of town, the cops handcuffed and detained his female roommate for three hours. Meanwhile, Pataky's sons — two elementary school students — had to be taken to school by uniformed officers, according to court records.

The raid quickly became a public relations nightmare for the Phoenix Police Department. Bloggers raised hell, videos defending Pataky sprung up on YouTube, and police brass were left scrambling to explain their actions.

Their "explanations" were cryptic, at best. The city's public information officers claimed that Pataky wasn't necessarily the target of the investigation, and that police weren't attempting to silence their most vocal critic.

All that may well be true. But the record suggests that even if they weren't trying to shut up Pataky, they were trying to shut down his best source — and that they'd come to believe that source was one of their own.

For the cops didn't just raid Jeff Pataky's home on March 9. They also raided the home of a 13-year veteran of the police force, Officer David Barnes.

The warrant sought Barnes' computer and other electronics. It also sought "any personal communication between Jeffrey Pataky and David Barnes."


Three months after the raids, the smoke has yet to clear.

Barnes' lawyer, Craig Mehrens, has requested that the court unseal the search warrants that allowed police into his home. But after police objected, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe agreed to keep the documents under wrap for four months, to give police time to continue their investigation without tipping their hand. We won't know until June 30 exactly what the cops seized, or why.

And many of the key people in this case refused interviews with New Times. Both Pataky and Barnes declined comment. So did the Phoenix Police Department and Barnes' attorney, Mehrens.

But after scouring hundreds of pages of public records, including e-mails from police commanders, internal memos, and court files, and talking to nearly a dozen Phoenix police officers, two important things become clear.

One, as much as he's infuriated Phoenix police officers, Jeff Pataky was almost certainly not the raid's ultimate target.

Two, the Phoenix PD is under serious pressure from within. Tension is roiling the homicide unit, the union that represents the department's rank and file is locked in a fierce battle with management, and a once-loyal band of brothers is now wracked with division.

Ultimately, this story isn't about a falsely accused man taking on the Phoenix PD. It's about a cop who decided to take on other cops — and the potential consequences for the city's homicide bureau and a host of high-profile murder cases.

Police investigators are convinced that David Barnes became disgruntled after he was transferred out of the city's homicide bureau. In his anger, they believe, Barnes began feeding information to Pataky — and they think he may have violated the law to do so.

Barnes' union representative, Dave Kothe, says that Barnes has denied being a source to the Web site — and, as Kothe points out, the blog indisputably is being fed by more than one police officer. But anecdotal evidence certainly points to Barnes' involvement. Soon after his transfer out of the homicide division, the detective's obsessions began to be reflected on the blog. The co-workers who Barnes had clashed with were dragged through the mud, accused of everything from adultery to racism. Meanwhile, the blog lauded Barnes as a whistleblowing hero.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske