Carmen Figueroa, DPS Detective Found to Be Undocumented, Had a Near-Perfect Record

Carmen Figueroa, the Arizona Department of Public Safety detective who had to resign after discovering that she wasn't in the country legally, had a near-perfect record as a police officer.

Figueroa's resignation became a national story last month, as Figueroa had believed what her parents told her since she was young -- that she was born in Texas. When her brother, who's in the military, applied for a passport, the State Department investigated their citizenship, and informed the siblings they were actually born in Mexico.

A review of the 10 years' worth of records in Figueroa's personnel file, released to New Times last week, shows a single incident Figueroa was disciplined for in her law-enforcement career.

Many times, when a police officer is making headlines for something negative, there's something to be found in an officer's personnel file (consider that the Maricopa County "Brady list" obtained a few years ago by our colleague Stephen Lemons had nearly 500 names on it.)

For example, former Phoenix Police Officer Richard Chrisman, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his egregious shooting of a Phoenix resident in 2010, had been caught on camera planting a crack pipe on a mentally ill woman. Former Scottsdale Police Officer James Peters, who was involved in six fatal shootings -- each of which were found to be justified by Scottsdale PD -- had to be counseled by his supervisor for being rude to citizens, and also pointed a gun at his own face, according to his file.

Figueroa's file isn't as action-packed. However, in addition to years after years of positive performance reviews from her supervisors throughout her career -- most of which was spent in Tucson -- the one incident in her file is worth mentioning.

In 2009, the year before Figueroa became a detective, she and another officer were doing off-duty work for a construction company working on U.S. Route 191, about an hour and a half away from Tucson.

The construction supervisor asked the other officer -- whom Figueroa said was a "senior officer" -- how long it would take them to get home, so he knew how long to pay them. Officer Gina Radtke told the supervisor it would take them about three hours.

Figueroa didn't correct Radtke. On their way home, Figueroa called Radtke and asked her what to do, because it wasn't going to take her three hours to get home. Figueroa actually called a dispatcher when she got home (two hours later), and asked if she should clock out early, even though she would get paid for another hour. The dispatcher said just to call back in an hour to clock out.

The next morning, Figueroa reported the incident to her supervisor. She admitted that she "screwed up," and added that she felt uncomfortable questioning a senior officer.

Although it certainly seems like a complete non-scandal, especially considering Figueroa reported herself the next morning, she was suspended without pay for an entire week -- indicating that DPS took it seriously.

The rest of her file is filled with regular paperwork, her string of positive performance reviews, and a couple letters of commendation.

It seems that the state of Arizona lost a decent police officer.

According to reports, Figueroa previously worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons before being hired by DPS in 2003. According to the Los Angeles Times, Figueroa had no problems with the employment processes, in which she used a Texas birth certificate her parents gave her.

Further, it appears that the story that Figueroa had no idea she wasn't born in the United States checks out. Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller reported that Figueroa passed a polygraph test to become a DPS officer, a test that specifically includes questioning whether the applicant lied or misrepresented themselves on their application.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley