Sex, Crime, and Lies: Hundreds of Arizona Cops Banned for Misconduct

Phoenix police at an anti Neo-Nazi march.
Phoenix police at an anti Neo-Nazi march. Flickr via John Kittelsrud
More than 1,000 Arizona cops lost their peace-officer certifications since 1975 for lying, sexually harassing or assaulting others, using drugs or drinking on the job, and committing crimes like assault and theft, a review of a newly published database shows.

Phoenix New Times spent some time examining USA Today Network's extensive database, published on Thursday as part of the network's investigation into 85,000 law officers across the country who have been investigated for misconduct, and found hundreds of local examples of decertifications.

In Arizona, at least 1,112 police officers have been decertified for misconduct ranging from foolish to downright criminal. Among them: a Goodyear police officer who pleaded guilty to five felony counts of voyeurism after he filmed more than 20 women naked at a tanning salon; a Mesa cop who tased his 14-year-old son; and a Tucson officer caught with child porn.

Though the date of revocation is missing for nearly 500 entries, the data shows that more Arizona police officers committed misconduct egregious enough to lose their license in 2016 than any other year (47 decertifications in 2016).

Of the 133 law enforcement agencies included in the list of police officer decertifications dating back to 1975, the Phoenix Police Department lost more officers for misconduct than any other agency. Records show that 123 Phoenix police officers have been decertified. That's almost double that of the agency with the second-most banned officers: the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, where 68 employees have lost ability to serve in law enforcement in the state of Arizona.

Phoenix PD has about 3,800 employees while MCSO has 3,300.

In addition, 63 Tucson police officers were given the boot, while the Navajo Division of Public Safety lost 62 officers. The Arizona Department of Public Safety had 39 officers lose their certification.

Overall, police officers who have been decertified represent a small percentage of law enforcement officers throughout the state, but the problem is more acute in certain agencies.

The Navajo Division of Public Safety has significantly fewer officers than any of the other agencies with more than 60 decertifications, indicating the rate of decertification is high in the Navajo Nation, which straddles both Arizona and New Mexico. One officer had his license automatically revoked after he pointed a gun at his wife and children in 2014. In 2010, another Navajo officer's certification was automatically revoked when he brought a handcuffed woman to an isolated location despite not having enough evidence for an arrest, then groped and kissed her without consent, records show.

Vince Lewis, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, noted that Phoenix PD is the largest police agency in Arizona, but deferred questions to the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board. AZPOST is responsible for certifying people to serve as law enforcement officers. While each police agency keeps its own disciplinary records on employees, AZPOST provides some centralized monitoring of law enforcement officers throughout the state. Yet there are many ways officers can slip through the cracks. If an officer's misconduct is egregious enough, AZPOST can revoke that certification.

However, as the Arizona Republic reported in 2017, Arizona cops terminated for misconduct at one department often manage to find work another agency: Between 2000 and 2016, Arizona agencies hired 418 officers who were fired or resigned over misconduct.

In 2015, the database shows, Phoenix police officer Timothy Morris was banned from being a law enforcement officer in the state of Arizona after he had sex with a woman who was in his custody. That same year, Stephen Wiley of the Phoenix Police Department also lost his certification over "sex related issues," including solicitation and making false statements. One year later, Alan Mayo lost his certification after he groped the buttocks of two female saloon employees.

Other Phoenix police officers have lost their certifications over failing to report child prostitution (Ralph Woods, 2014), sexual contact with a minor (Justin Laclere, 2014 and Christopher Wilson, 2012), domestic violence (Jose Morales, 2013, William Mellinger, 2009, Christopher Wright, 2009, and a handful of others), and using a suspect's cellphone to send explicit photos of the suspect to himself (Christopher Shreeve, 2010).

Untruthfulness was one of the most common causes of decertification for Phoenix police officers. While sexual misconduct and assault were also prevalent causes, dozens of other officers were decertified for using excessive force, falsifying police reports, using alcohol or drugs on duty, stealing, getting into fights, or trying to get paid for shifts they didn't work.

For a handful of Phoenix police officers who were banned from law enforcement, the punishment hardly seems to fit the crime. In 1996, Mark Burns was terminated for smoking pot. Phoenix police officer Tammy Hasenauer was decertified because she "failed to investigate marijuana crimes."
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.