Here’s a piece of advice to local newshounds: Whenever Tim Casey is kvetching about “abuse of power,” then your bullshit detector should be flashing fire-engine red.
Casey, you’ll recall, has made defending various abuses of power by the satraps of Maricopa County into his personal gravy train. He’s best known as Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s one-time consigliere.
And yet, here was Casey in recent segments by ABC 15 and Channel 12, suggesting that Paradise Valley Town Councilman Paul Dembow used his influence to score preferential treatment for his 20-year-old daughter, Paige Dembow, after a fatal accident in November, where Paige struck and killed 77 year-old Howard Lee Brown as he was crossing the street.
Thing is, the record never really backed Casey’s unsubstantiated claims about the incident. Casey represents the Brown family, and he has said he might file a notice of claim against the town, though none has been filed yet, perhaps because such a claim seems a losing proposition.
There is zero evidence that the Paradise Valley police cut Paige Dembow some slack on the day of the accident, nor is there evidence that Paul Dembow pulled rank on the investigating officer or even identified himself as a member of the town council at the scene of the accident.
Indeed, the spare facts themselves back Paige Dembow’s version of events. The Paradise Valley Police Department report of the incident suggests that on a rainy, overcast November afternoon, Paige was traveling on North Invergordon Road in her 1999 Toyota Corolla when she hit Brown, who had been crossing the road while walking his dog.
Brown was taken by emergency personnel to a local hospital, where he later died of his injuries.
Officer Steve Hovorka, the investigating Paradise Valley policeman, wrote in his report that an “extremely emotionally upset” Paige told him that “she did try to stop but due to the wet roadway, she skidded, hitting Mr. Brown, and then coming to rest about 25 feet [away].”
When he was talking to Paige, Hovorka said, he “did not detect any visible impairment.” Also, there was “no odor of alcoholic beverage on her breath, nor did she appear to be under any type of drugs or medication.”
When Hovorka searched the car, he found no open containers of alcohol “or prescription medication or anything else that could have contributed to the accident.”
The car, which was in Paige’s name, did have an interlock device on it, court-ordered from a previous conviction, but if anything, this would show that Paige was sober. Otherwise, the device would not have allowed her to operate the vehicle.
This is where Casey’s conspiracy theory kicks in. He charges that the presence of the interlock device should have been enough probable cause to ensure Paige’s arrest and testing for alcohol and drugs.
“If there is impairment from non-alcoholic sources, pain medicines, street drugs, anything like that, including marijuana, [the device] doesn’t check for that type of impairment,” Casey claimed.
So the mere presence of an interlock device means a driver should be arrested and tested for other sources of impairment, even if there are no visible signs of such impairment?
Casey also believes that Paige should not have been allowed to leave the scene with her father. ABC 15 and Channel 12 reporters make a big deal out of this, as well, though Paradise Valley PD says Paul Dembow did not identify himself as the town’s vice mayor.
“But this isn’t just a case of he said/she said,” ABC 15’s Melissa Blasius told viewers in her initial report. “Because Paradise Valley police just told us today that they have all of the interactions on videotape.”
The video was from the body cam of the involved officers. Both 15 and 12 promised to follow up as soon as they got hold of it via public-records requests, which would take a couple of days.
Here, I would ask, why didn’t 12 and 15 just wait until they had the video before proceeding with a story?
If they had, they would have seen that the video backed up the police report. And maybe at that point, they would’ve had no story.
There was reason to wait, beyond Casey’s reputation for defending Maricopa County against abuse-of-power claims.
For instance, the police report included statements from a witness to the accident, Ernie Markle, who said he saw it all, as he had been driving behind Paige at the time.
According to a written statement Markle gave police, which is in the Paradise Valley report, the pedestrian, Brown, “did not look any direction but straight ahead of himself” as he crossed the street in the rain, his dog in front of him on a leash.
Markle further said that Brown “seemed to be completely oblivious to the car coming toward him the entire time,” and that a collision seemed “unavoidable.”
The good Samaritan jumped out of his car, called 911, and helped a distraught Paige to the side of the road. According to the report, Markle told one officer later that Brown “stepped directly in front of the other vehicle” and that Brown had been wearing dark clothing and a dark, fisherman’s-type hat with a wide brim.
As for Paige, Markle stated that she “did not make any statements to him that would implicate her in any wrongdoing,” just that “she could not stop in time, was sorry and expressed concern for the pedestrian’s condition.”
Witness Ernie Markle told PV cops that pedestrian Howard Brown “did not look any direction but straight ahead of himself” as Brown crossed the street in the rain, his dog in front of him on a leash.
The videotape backs up the contention of the Paradise Valley PD that the cops played things by the book. On tape, Officer Hovorka asks Paige’s father to identify himself and he says he’s Paige’s dad, “Paul Dembow.” He does not mention being on the town council, and Hovorka gives no indication that he knows Paul Dembow at all.
Paige herself looks as sober as a parson, though at times she seems understandably upset, in shock. The sky is overcast, and it seems to be raining off and on. There also is water visible on the road.
“I definitely think [Brown] was not paying attention,” witness Markle tells Hovorka at one point.
The next day, to another officer, Markle says he still is “incredulous” that Brown “stepped out in front of” Paige, walking from the road’s median.
To its credit, Channel 12 did a follow-up piece with the video it had obtained, but naturally, Casey wanted people to believe him, not their doggone eyes.
“There is smoke here,” Casey told Channel12. “And I believe where there is smoke, there is fire.”
Actually, where there is smoke, there may just be a lawyer blowing smoke. Casey did not respond to repeated requests from New Times to discuss this case.
The Channel 12 story darkly hints at a “history of drug use” by Paige. And Paige’s Facebook profile is pretty open about her being a recovering addict.
Previously, she has pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, remains on probation, and must submit to random drug testing, according to court documents.
Friends of her family tell me that Paige has been undergoing emergency counseling to deal with the situation.
Since the accident was already months old, why didn't ABC 15 and Channel 12 wait a few days for the body-cam footage? What was the rush?
Paradise Valley turned over the death investigation to the Scottsdale Police Department. Documents obtained from it show that the death was accidental and that no one will be charged.
In a statement to the press, Paul Dembow expressed sorrow for the Browns’ loss, and mentioned that Paige’s grandfather, had died days before the accident.
But my question is: What has Casey achieved in his media statements? Did he help his clients with them? Was it part of a media squeeze-play seeking a settlement?
Also interesting is the timing of the story, which came just as people were talking about Paul Dembow’s possibly running for PV mayor.
Whatever the case, I can only hope that my colleagues in the press will be a little more skeptical the next time smoke gets blown in their direction. Particularly when Tim Casey’s doin’ the blowin’.