News

DPS Uses an Old Tactic

Among the atrocities committed here recently was a vicious police public-relations ploy.

Several days after Officer Jim French of the Department of Public Safety shot and killed Jeffrey Dawes, seventeen, the following things occurred.

Reporters covering the story received calls from a police officer who told them he had a tip on a good story.

"Check out Dawes' traffic record at the Scottsdale court and you'll find he has quite a record of arrests. I guarantee it will make a good story."

This is a typical Department of Public Safety tactic when one of its people gets in trouble. Calls are made to various reporters and they usually take two paths.

First of all, the shooting victim had a bad record and a bad reputation. Secondly, take a look at the record of DPS officers who have been shot in the line of duty in times past.

There is no real logic here, just more police chicanery.
Sure, Jeffrey Dawes had a record of traffic offenses. He went through a red light one time. He was stopped another time for driving without a license. On another occasion, he was caught with alcohol in his car.

But to my knowledge, none of these offenses is punishable by the death penalty.

Rather than examine the background and psyche of the victim, DPS officials would be doing us all a favor if they spent a great deal of time and energy checking on the mental stability of the officer who settled a speeding case with a shot fired from a .45 semiautomatic pistol.

Shooting young Dawes in the back of the head is clearly what the police call a "bad shooting."

Dawes was dispatched within minutes of being stopped by Officer French after the chase along Interstate 10 that ended in Tonopah.

French claims he tried to force Dawes to the pavement to be handcuffed and his .45-caliber pistol accidentally discharged.

Was French panicked by the chase? Was he merely beyond himself with rage because Dawes failed to stop his car when the police warning lights went on?

There are so many questions to be asked about the adequacy of French's actions that one almost not dare to begin.

I went to Dawes' funeral last week at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale. The big, modern church was packed with his fellow students from Scottsdale's Saguaro High School. "Death has come as an invader," said the Reverend Eugene Maguire, "and we are helpless against it."

We are all helpless whenever the police decide to turn their guns against us.

But it is doubly frightening to see them ignore the problem and seek to destroy the reputation of the victim, whose life they have taken.

And why does the press side with the police in these tactics?
One reporter who did so had an interesting reason.
"Why are you letting the police try the victim in the press?" I asked.

Answer: "We took that into consideration, but then decided that this was a case in which everyone's dirty linen was going to be aired."

When this reporter called the Scottsdale court, the questions about Dawes' traffic record were greeted with delight.

"I'm so pleased you called," the reporter was told.
Dawes' traffic record was then read over the phone to the reporter, a highly unusual tactic.

I checked with a reporter from another newspaper which prominently displayed the traffic-offense story and got basically the same account.

The authorities were only too happy to cooperate in smearing the dead teen-ager.

You don't have to search too deeply for responsibility here.
This one has all the earmarks of the fine Italian hand of Sergeant Allan Schmidt, the Department of Public Safety's most skilled stiletto wielder.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick