The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office last year initiated an intense traffic stop on an innocent Prescott Valley family while deputies were helping Major League Baseball chase a suspect in an alleged game-fixing scandal.
Plainclothes MCSO deputies went to Prescott Valley -- in Yavapai County -- at the request of the MLB to follow their suspect, although the game-fixing scandal turned out to be nothing. Nonetheless, MCSO deputies told the suspect's family they were all going to jail, and the suspect's brother was handcuffed during the family's run-in with the Sheriff's Office.
A Center for Investigative Reporting writer who covered the story that's in the current issue of Sports Illustrated tells us that one of the family members recorded the traffic stop, and the audio corroborates what's reported.
"These officers really scared those people," Lance Williams says. "His family didn't do anything bad; they were just picking up his car for him."
The story on the supposed game-fixing scandal states that Prescott Valley resident Kris Barr, a childhood friend of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke, runs a website where he sells tips for gambling on pro sports games. Despite the fact that they hadn't even spoken since they were kids, Barr started advertising his tips by saying he and Locke were colluding in an effort to fix baseball games.
MLB started to investigate, and in February 2013, Barr was certain that undercover cops were following him, and despite a local cop assuring him no one was following him, Barr ditched his car and asked his family to help him get it.
According to the story by Williams and Brian Tuohy:
By that evening, Barr was frantic - "paranoid," said his sister, Savannah. He asked for help retrieving his car. Members of Barr's family piled into two vehicles and drove to the bowling alley. Savannah Barr got behind the wheel of Kris Barr's car with his girlfriend, Kendra Hagerty, and their 7-month-old baby as passengers. Barr's mother followed in her car. Brother Don and a 12-year-old niece trailed in his own car.
They drove a mile on a strip of two-lane asphalt through a semi-rural area west of town. Then, according to Barr's family, all hell broke loose. As many as eight unmarked cars with lights flashing roared down the darkened road, forcing the convoy to pull over. Plainclothes officers jumped out.
According to Savannah Barr, an officer with a drawn gun leaned into the car and declared, "Whoever is driving this car is going to jail!" Frightened and in tears, she got out of the car.
The officer was looking for Kris Barr: Kris had been in "a hit-and-run in New Mexico," he said, and the other driver was in critical condition. Where was Kris?
Don Barr had turned on his cellphone to record the traffic stop. He too was told to get out of his car. He says he could hear officers yelling at his sister, threatening to put her in jail and take her kids away if she didn't disclose Kris Barr's whereabouts. Don called out to her, saying she didn't have to say anything. For that, he says, he was handcuffed.
"You're causing a ruckus," an officer says in the recording.
Don Barr asks who the officers are. "You guys are supposed to tell me why I was pulled over," he says.
"We're conducting an investigation," one officer responds. " ... And I am not giving you any information about what we're investigating. Do I look like a traffic cop to you?
"I'm a very secretive person," the officer continues. "When I feel like you have a need to know, I'll tell you."
By the Barr family's estimates, 15 officers surrounded them that night. To this day, they have no idea who the officers were.
Neither the New York Police Department -- which had detectives assigned to the game-fixing case -- nor baseball would identify which agency was involved, and the reporters had to phone a few agencies before finding out it was Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office that was involved with the stop.
From the story:
Spokesman Lieut. Brandon Jones confirmed that the department's fugitive unit had made the traffic stop to assist the New York detectives. He said there was no incident report -- "no records, no nothing," as he put it -- and said the detective in charge of the traffic stop declined to be interviewed. "MLB asked them not to talk," Jones said.
Jones reiterated to New Times today that he didn't have too much information on the stop due to the lack of records.
Jones said there are no records because this was MCSO's only involvement in the case. He says deputies made contact with Barr at the request of the MLB, which was working on an investigation with "a New York agency."
"Baseball reached out to us after investigators discovered he lived here [in Arizona]," Jones says.
Despite the fact that Barr accurately predicted the winner of five consecutive games in which Locke started, Barr admitted he had made up his stories about colluding with Locke, and baseball has cleared Locke of wrongdoing, according to the story. It also was concluded that Barr committed no crime.
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We wonder about whether this is true about the MCSO, though.
Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.