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DON'T MESS WITH THE MARSHAL

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When the marshals attempted to seize the camera as evidence, the mother resisted, going so far as to strike a Phoenix police officer who'd just arrived upon the scene. Virginia Span was led off in handcuffs.

Far from being a simple, hardworking family, Deputy U.S. Attorney Ivan Mathew pictured the Spans as a family of carnies--Marshal Dains in the witness chair referred to the Spans as "codified country backwoods fucks"--who were at war with the City of Phoenix.

Because the Span property was in the process of being seized by the city in eminent domain proceedings, Mathew explained, a frustrated Jerry Span went for the marshal's gun believing the officers were part of a condemnation proceeding to evict them.

The federal government seized upon this extraordinary theory to explain why Jerry Span would lunge for the pistol, a move that is inexplicable without some motive.

In fact there was a high level of tension between the Spans and City Hall.
At a bond hearing following the arrests, Span attorney Ken Lincoln told the magistrate that because of the relocation dispute, he'd advised his clients, just 48 hours before the marshals showed up, " . . . that they are not to talk to any agency officer of any government in the United States, city, county or federal because of the problems . . . and I literally have told them that they can call me 24 hours a day and I would physically get in the car and drive to this location where all of this happened to interface with the agency . . . "

Nonetheless, the government's contention that Jerry Span went blood simple and attempted to grab Marshal Grotewold's gun over an eminent domain fight makes little common sense. Like most folks who get in a condemnation argument with the city, the Spans felt they weren't getting enough money for their land. And they resisted with every ounce of conniving, street-smart energy they could muster. But they did it through channels, with lawyers at hearings and in court.

Jerry Span is a slight fellow, barely 130 pounds. Far from being violent, he's meek, according to neighbors. He has never been in trouble with the law. And then suddenly he goes berserk and punches a marshal who weighed more than 220 pounds and follows this incredible act of bravado by trying to grab the officer's holstered pistol?

To do what?
On the other hand, are we to believe that Marshals Grotewold and Dains simply went off like a couple of Hell's Angels bikers, assaulting innocent civilians for no reason at all?

What are we left with to judge?
We are left with eyewitnesses who in each and every important detail corroborate the Spans. The eyewitnesses claim the marshals became violent as the Spans attempted to leave the scene.

We are left with a colleague of Dains and Grotewold, another U.S. marshal, who boldly stepped forward and offered to give evidence on the two marshals' reputation for provoking violence.

After Jerry and Darlene Span were found guilty, five jurors signed statements expressing their outrage over what happened in the courtroom. The jurors thought the marshals lied and that they had indeed attacked the Spans.

So why then are Jerry and Darlene Span going to prison?

TODAY, WE ARE ALL United States marshals. Television has turned law enforcement's pursuit of fugitives into armchair recreation. Wanted posters flash across the screen accompanied by lurid tales of wrongdoing on some of the industry's highest-rated shows. At the conclusion of these programs, viewers are requested to phone in tips if they have seen the felon in the neighborhood. When the Hollywood make-believe is over, the reality is a lot grittier. Most apprehended felons are run to ground through old-fashioned police work. The responsibility for picking up federal felons falls to the marshal's office.

It is a dangerous job.
On April 7, 1988, Marshals Dains and Grotewold drove to 1235 East Fillmore Street looking for Mickey Michael.

For two months, leads from a confidential informant had been filtering into the Phoenix office. Acting on the belief that the fugitive was in the Valley, the marshals obtained a court order forcing the phone company to open their files. The records traced Mickey Michael to the Fillmore address.

The marshals' intelligence revealed that Michael skipped out of Hammond, Indiana, in 1979 to avoid a theft conviction of three years. Possessing a lengthy record and a reputation for trafficking in firearms, Michael had already pulled one stretch at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey