Two members of the Department of Public Safety team that guards Governor J. Fife Symington III used their state cars for private business. The officers regularly visited the apartment of a woman who had been a drug informant for them, sometimes while they were on duty. In fact, one of the officers had a relatively lengthy affair with the informant.
And both of the officers are still members of the governor's security team.
You should already have read about this situation, which is spelled out in DPS documents, because a Phoenix Gazette reporter wrote and shipped the story to his editors months ago. I heard about the Gazette story last year; I kept expecting it to appear in print.
When it didn't, I decided to go ahead and ask for the DPS records on the case. I expected it to be a routine process. I ask for some public records. I am a member of the public. I obtain the records.
But when I went to Sergeant Rick Knight, a DPS spokesman, I got a reaction that can best be classified as bizarre.
First, Sergeant Knight had to know why I wanted to see these particular reports. Obviously, I informed the sergeant, I believed they might be newsworthy.
Next, the sergeant demanded to know who had told me about the reports. Then, suddenly and seriously, he accused a Gazette reporter of putting me "up to this."
I may have led a sheltered life up to now, but I have not known many journalists from competing news organizations who pass their story ideas to one another, like so much candy. Besides, I am fairly new to town. I had heard shoptalk about the Gazette story, but I had never met or spoken with the reporter who wrote it. (I still haven't.)
Sergeant Knight, however, continued to cross-examine me about my request for documents that are, by law, a matter of public record. The sergeant behaved as if I were not playing the game the way it was played in these parts. He again suggested I was in league with this vicious Gazette reporter.
Several weeks later, I finally got copies of the reports I had requested. Let's amend that a bit: I got copies of what was left of the reports, after DPS lawyers had used a six-month supply of white-out to obliterate every word they thought I should not see.
As I questioned Sergeant Knight about the documents, his defensiveness gave me the feeling that I was reopening a can of worms that he believed had been hermetically sealed a long time ago.
Perhaps I was. The unprinted Gazette story has been something of an open secret in journalistic circles for months now. Although I had heard several interesting accounts about the Gazette's handling of the story, I did not know exactly why the newspaper had not printed it.
So I called Don Henninger, managing editor of the Gazette, who seemed startled Friday when I asked him what had happened to the story on the governor's frisky guards.
"As far as I know, it's still alive," he said.
He acknowledged that the story might have "gathered some dust" during its trip through the Gazette editing process. And, Henninger said, he did not know the exact status of the story, because he had never read it. Lower-level editors had handled that part. But the Gazette was still pursuing it, Henninger assured me.
"If you have information that there's been a cover-up, that's not the case," he said.
And I was happy to hear it. Because the story apparently was written last fall, I believe it must by now have been edited to near grammatical perfection. By now, I'll bet there's hardly a comma out of place. In fact, after six months of editing, I expect the story is so well-edited that the Gazette may find the space to print it before you read this column of mine.
In case the Gazette piece requires additional months of review before it can be published, though, let me explain what the DPS investigation of the governor's guards shows. At least, I will explain as much as I was able to piece together from the whitewashed reports the DPS gave me.
@body:In the fall of 1991, two members of the governor's security detail became subjects of an internal investigation. The investigation began after a woman complained to Peoria police that she had received harassing phone calls. She believed that one of the two gubernatorial guards was responsible. The DPS could not determine who had made the calls; both officers denied involvement.
The DPS did find that the two officers had used their state vehicles to visit this female for "non-job related purposes." One of the DPS men also failed to properly document some evidence he had received from her. One officer got a four-day suspension for his misdeeds; the other got seven days of unpaid leave. Both remained on the elite detail that guards the governor.