Lando Voyles, a criminal prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office who is running for Pinal County Attorney, put out a press release today claiming that his opponent refuses to prosecute violent felons who attack prison and jail guards.
Serious allegations, even in a heated political race. And a recent case that Voyles offers up to support his claim does anything but.
Voyles says that his opponent, County Attorney Jim Walsh, "refused to prosecute the case against Alejandro Guerrero," a state prisoner who "threw a hot liquid" on a guard walking past his cell in March causing the officer "to seek immediate medical attention."
He says that Walsh only "changed his mind when he learned that the [the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association] was going to endorse Voyles" on July 3.
In fact, the first quote in Voyles three-page statement comes from Kevin McClellan, president of the AZCPOA: "The current County Attorney refuses to prosecute the crimes against our correctional officers."
Voyles conveniently omits from his press release that Guerrero, 28, is in a state prison because the Pinal County Attorney's Office prosecuted him in 2011 for assaulting three correctional officers at the Pinal County jail.
And Voyles admits to New Times that he knew about Guerrero's criminal history, and the reason he was behind bars, but he didn't explain why that part didn't make it into his public announcement.
"All I can say is that if, and it's conditional, if this is what the county attorney's office is doing, then it's wrong," Voyles offers, and he says that the press release was based on what the union officials brought to him and told him was going on.
We asked Voyles why he used the Guerrero case as an example of Walsh's office not going after individuals who assaulted jail and prison guards -- when it was clear that Walsh's office went after Guerrero, who assaulted jail and prison guards.
"If they have a case that's clear cut, then they take it on," he says of the PCAO. "But, if it's anything shy of a perfect case, they don't seem to take it."
That's what he said.
(It is interesting to note that the man in the PCAO who makes the decisions about which cases to pursue and appropriate criminal charges is Paul Ahler, a guy who is no stranger to Voyles. Ahler was the chief deputy at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office -- where Voyles works as a criminal prosecutor. And, with nearly 40 years of prosecuting criminals, Ahler isn't exactly a newbie. He joined the PCAO in December 2010.)
The truth is that the Pinal County Attorney's Office did charge Guerrero with aggravated assault for the April 17, 2011 attack that left one of the detention officers with a broken nose. While it doesn't appear that he caused physical injury to the other two, he was still charged "with the intent to injure, insult or provoke" them while he was in their custody.
The PCAO took the case to the grand jury, which indicted Guerrero on April 25, 2011.
Instead of going to trial, Guerrero pleaded guilty to two of the aggravated assault charges as part of a plea agreement dated May 18, 2011. A Pinal County Superior Court judge sentenced Guerrero on August 22, 2011 to a maximum six-year prison sentence for the more serious charge, and a maximum three-year prison sentence for the other charge -- "intent to injure" -- to be served concurrently.
While one of the count was dismissed, Guerrero was still facing a fine of "no more than $50,000" for all three detention officers.
As we mentioned, none of that made it into Voyles' press release.
Ironically, it is Voyles who says in his statement that it's "extremely disheartening, if in fact, my opponent placed politics prior to justice," and laments there "is no place for politics when it comes to protecting our officers and our community."
Further, his assertion that Walsh's office refused to prosecute Guerrero for his latest attack -- on March 9 -- on a prison guard until after Walsh learned he wasn't going to get the union's endorsement simply isn't supported by county records.
Although the 2012 case was turned down on initial review, after consulting with Guerrero's victim, the Pinal County Attorney says it moved forward with charges. On July 2, county prosecutors presented the Guerrero case to a Grand Jury and he was indicted.
Walsh tells New Times that the decision to take the case to the grand jury was actually made on June 26, a Tuesday. The grand jury is convened twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, and more than a day was needed to process the paperwork and prepare the case. So, they presented it on the next possible day -- July 2.
Voyles tells New Times that he "messed up the dates in the press release, royally." He says he was actually endorsed by the corrections officers' union on June 22.
Even with an earlier endorsement -- the timeline still doesn't add up because Voyles claims that "on July 13, 2012, the County Attorney changed decisions from a 'turn down' to deciding to charge the case against prisoner Alejandro Guerrero, after all."
But, again, the PCAO took the case to the Grand Jury and indicted him on July 2.
"There is no possible connection between the indicted and that endorsement," Walsh says. "The duty of a prosecutor, our ethical responsibility, is to do justice. We don't do our jobs looking to score points. That would send the wrong message to our prosecutors, to win cases wrong or right."
He also says Voyles owes the prosecutors in his office an apology because while Walsh is running for a political office, he says his "prosecutors are not in the political realm, and Voyles accusing them of playing politics with these cases is reprehensible."
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