Crips In the Courthouse

Phyllis Hansen-Day, the chief clerk of the Maryvale Justice Court, had strong ties to one of the Valley's most lethal street gangs. The questions now facing investigators: How much did she help that gang as chief clerk? And how much did she really know about the murder in her home?

The search for answers in the case begins in a stark, fading tract of small ranch-style homes near 67th Avenue and Indian School Road.

Phyllis Hansen-Day's doorbell rang around 9:30 p.m. on the evening of November 17, 2000.

It was late, but Phyllis had gotten used to late visitors. Her husband's pot- and meth-smoking buddies could show up at any hour of the night.

A young black man in gangbanger garb was at the door. It was her husband's friend Ruben Johnson.

Phyllis knew Ruben was a member of the Lindo Park Crips, one of Phoenix's most violent street gangs, a gang credited with at least five assassination attempts on Phoenix police officers.

And she knew Fred and Ruben were doing more than smoking drugs together. Phyllis wasn't naive. After all, she was chief clerk of the Maryvale Justice Court, one of the Valley's busiest lower courts.

As chief clerk, she handled all the paperwork for thousands of traffic violations and misdemeanors, as well as hundreds of preliminary hearings in felony cases. Many criminal cases and search warrants involving Lindo Park Crips passed through her hands.

But Ruben was such a nice guy. He could "charm the skin off of a snake," she would say of him later.

This night, Ruben was excited and agitated. He had a secret to tell.

But Phyllis' neighbor, 20-year-old Michael LeMay, was also in the house. A slow-minded but friendly kid, he had been living with Phyllis and Fred for the last few months, since his mother kicked him out of the house across the street when she found out he was doing drugs. Phyllis took him in, and he was walking back and forth from the living room to the kitchen, the night that Ruben came to the house with a piece of paper and a secret.

Ruben held a small Arizona Republic article in his hand. He handed it to Phyllis.

The article detailed the murder two days earlier of a witness in an armed robbery case. One suspect surrendered at the scene. The other, described as a 5-foot, 10-inch man with a mustache and goatee, had escaped. The description fit Ruben like a glove.

Phyllis set the article down in the living room. Ruben and Phyllis walked hurriedly into her daughter's room and closed the door.

"I'm the suspect in the article," Ruben told Phyllis.

Ruben then related the details of the murder.

Ruben said he and a buddy had robbed a massage parlor down on Indian School Road two weeks before. His buddy had been caught. One of the people they robbed, Stephanie Smith, was going to testify in the case. So Ruben and a buddy, Quinndell Carter, found where Smith lived and went to kill her.

They busted into Smith's apartment. Ruben told Phyllis he found Smith in a back room of her apartment holding her 4-year-old son.

Ruben grabbed one of Phyllis' daughter's dolls and pointed a finger at a 45-degree angle to the doll's head to illustrate how he executed Stephanie Smith.

Then Ruben laughed. He claimed Smith tried to hold her son up to shield herself from the bullet.

But Ruben only killed Smith. He liked kids too much.

When Phyllis and Ruben emerged from the bedroom, Ruben walked to the living room to find the newspaper article.

Ruben looked cockeyed at the article. He believed it had been moved by Michael LeMay, the slow-witted neighbor kid, which also meant that LeMay might have read the article.

Ruben left the house.

Then Phyllis Hansen-Day, a lead administrator in Arizona's justice system, kept her mouth shut about the murder of the masseuse.

Four days later, the beaten and strangled body of Michael LeMay would be found floating in a canal only blocks from Phyllis Hansen-Day's home.

Four months later, Michael LeMay's family learned Michael had been killed in Phyllis' home.

Phyllis Hansen-Day, the chief administrator charged with upholding the law in a Phoenix court, was in the middle of two homicides involving one of the city's most notorious street gangs, the Lindo Park Crips.

The depth of the collusion between a court officer and murderous gangbangers is still being determined as part of investigations by both Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

According to county attorney sources, the probe includes allegations that:

• Hansen-Day stole more than $10,000 in collected court fines.

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Robert Nelson