Life Interrupted

You're wearing nothing but shorts and a shirt when police arrive at your door. The police cuff you in front of your children. You are hauled off to jail on 10 felony charges. You're told you'll spend a decade in prison.

In jail, you are forced to stand nude while police photograph you.

You are fired from your job. Your family wonders if you're a monster. Your car is repossessed. You must borrow money from friends as potential employers laugh at the idea of hiring you. You touch your fiancée and she recoils. You can't afford medical treatment for your son with sickle cell anemia. Neighbors won't allow their children to play with your children.

And all you can do is pray that the truth someday comes out.

Instead, the state attorney general sends a press release to every media outlet in town that says:

"Authorities say the correctional officer, Derrick Allen (DOB 6/10/70), allegedly smuggled marijuana into the Perryville Prison Facility on two occasions between February and August of 2001 and had repeated sexual contact with (an) inmate in 2000 and 2001."

Seven months later, the truth finally appears to have come out. Department of Corrections officer Derrick Allen had his life ruined because of scurrilous lies by a single inmate.

Particularly maddening to Allen: He was also the victim of what appears to be a remarkably shoddy and slanted investigation by the Department of Corrections, an investigation led by DOC investigator Darrell Smith. Had Smith led a solid investigation, the truth would have been clear the moment inmate Kimberly Thomas, a convicted armed robber well known by inmates and guards for her lies, opened her mouth.

"I know how a person feels when they finally decide to commit suicide," Allen told me. "I was destroyed by false allegations that any decent investigator would have immediately known were ridiculous."

The state personnel board recently recommended Allen be rehired immediately with all back pay. DOC officials have complied and have offered Allen a job, but they have offered him a position at a different prison facility another 30 minutes from his home.

Allen wants the same job from which he was wrongly terminated.

Also, a Superior Court judge, in effect, dropped the charges against Allen. The judge instructed the state Attorney General's Office that it must bring better evidence before a state grand jury if it wants charges brought again against Derrick Allen.

Here is the problem. While DOC officials have agreed to give Allen a job, and all evidence shows he is not guilty of the charges against him, DOC officials and attorney general prosecutors say they are continuing their investigation of Allen.

Which is typical for Arizona's state agencies. They will fish for years to save face. Which means they will continue to harass an innocent man by continuing an investigation that clearly has no merit.

Perhaps, as some imply, the investigation is nothing more than a little union busting. Allen is a member of the state's police and corrections officer union.

"They definitely have a slant against the unions," says Chuck Foy, president of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs. "They have proven they will do just about anything to send a message to us."

But the investigation of officer Allen, he says, was, as retaliations go, unusually pathetic.

"This investigation was the most egregious abuse of authority I've seen in my 30 years of law enforcement," says Foy. "If I had written a report like that, I would be laughed out of my sergeant's office."

Foy is calling for DOC's current leadership to be removed. He cites two other cases in Yuma and Perryville in which DOC employees had their careers destroyed by investigations that were later proven to be profoundly flawed.

"They are investigations used as retaliation," he says.

For his part, the investigator, Darrell Smith, says he believes his investigation of officer Allen was "a very solid criminal investigation." He told me he believes inmate Kimberly Thomas "is still a competent victim."

"This is still an ongoing criminal investigation," says Smith, who has been a criminal investigator for 30 years. "I believe it will be taken back to the grand jury."

Smith and DOC investigators had better find more solid evidence than they have now.

Here's how Derrick Allen lost his livelihood and was pushed to the brink of suicide.

Allen, 32, took a job as a corrections officer at the Perryville prison in 2000.

Early last year, inmate Kimberly Thomas apparently began to become attracted to the young corrections officers who occasionally worked her cell block.

Allen says Thomas propositioned him. He told her "I don't play that game," and he figured that was the end of it, he says.

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Robert Nelson