Bombs Away

The police lieutenant played golf every Tuesday afternoon, and his buddies were always welcome to join him.

Sergeant Chuck Mount, a decorated veteran who helped supervise the Phoenix Police Department's bomb squad, often took the lieutenant up on the open invitation. The cops hit the links dozens of times on their off-hours, but sometimes Mount was naughty. On a few occasions, he admits to New Times, he violated the department's policy and drove his bomb squad truck to the club.

All was fine until February 12 of this year, the day a thief broke into the bomb squad truck and plundered it. What happened next, according to critics, was a perfect example of how Phoenix police supervisors take care of their own even as they mete out tough punishments for rank-and-file officers.

Double standards in discipline have become routine at the Phoenix PD, says Mark Spencer, a police officer who was recently elected president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a labor union that represents cops.

"They whack officers and shake their fingers at supervisors," he says, "and I don't think that's fair."

Mount's boss, Lieutenant Michael DeBenedetto, was put in charge of investigating Mount for a policy violation. Yet he was the lieutenant who had invited Mount and possibly knew his subordinate was skirting the rules. The potential for shenanigans with that kind of conflict of interest is clear.

After a brief investigation, DeBenedetto requested — and received — an exception to the punishment normally given for Mount's violation, a written reprimand.

New Times learned of the incident from union sources claiming, like Spencer, that disciplinary double standards are a type of low-level corruption that, if left unchecked, could lead to malfeasance.

Spencer pointed to another incident that New Times wrote about ("Anger Mismanagement," The Bird, Stephen Lemons, March 15, 2007), in which Assistant Police Chief M.L. "Andy" Anderson was involved in an off-hours road-rage incident. Anderson, head of the department's internal affairs unit, had ordered his teenage daughter — whom he was teaching to drive — to follow a pickup truck as Anderson and the pickup's driver screamed obscenities at each other. Spencer asserts that an average person, or average officer, would have been charged with the crime of disorderly conduct for the same behavior.

Anderson was given supervisory counseling, which is little more than a gentle scolding. Mount received the same punishment for his infraction.

Indeed, a career cop like Mount probably shouldn't have been treated harshly for such a minor offense. In a policy-obsessed bureaucracy like the police department, it's only human to break a rule or two in more than a quarter-century of service.

Spencer says he's not pushing for tougher punishment for Mount, he just thinks regular officers ought to be shown the same kindness as sergeants, lieutenants, and assistant chiefs.

Whether a trend of double standards really exists, the way police administrators handled Mount's indiscretion was, in and of itself, unusual. Police seemed reluctant to share details of the case, taking months to fulfill requests by New Times for public records concerning the incident. Some documents, such as an e-mail between supervisors about DeBenedetto's possible conflict of interest, still have not been released.

It's not as if Mount's a troublemaker. Until last spring, he hadn't been disciplined in his 27-year career. He misused the vehicle, in part, because of oppressive work demands and pressure most people never experience. He has to be ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to respond to the most fearsome threats imaginable (though, fortunately, actual bomb attacks are extremely rare in the Valley).

His supervisor, the lieutenant, hadn't seemed worried about possible policy violations and, reportedly, never asked where Mount had been parking the truck, a hard-to-miss, behemoth Ford F-350 pickup, for the golf games. Mount was a hard-working cop and figured he deserved a bit of golf with his friends, even if the only way he had time to play was to fudge the rules.

He says he found out belatedly that El Caro Golf Club, a short-but-tough golf course near Northern Avenue and Interstate 17, is in a relatively high-crime area. Mount lives in the East Valley, 20 miles from Phoenix's border. He's supposed to be able to jet out to any spot in Phoenix, with his gear, in one hour, and that's why he can take his work truck home.

In a memo to DeBenedetto, his supervisor, Mount wrote that he worked from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on February 12, then drove to El Caro around 1:25, where he met DeBenedetto and firefighter Tom Skowronski for their game. The lieutenant arrived about a half-hour later, reportedly oblivious to the big truck in the parking lot.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern