Maricopa County Deputy Sean Pearce's Suspension Reduced in Fatal Crash

Sean Pearce had his two-week suspension slashed to one week in a 2013 crash that killed a citizen while the Maricopa County deputy was speeding in an unmarked vehicle without lights or sirens.

Pearce, son of recalled state Senator Russell Pearce, already has avoided criminal charges in the crash. He would have gotten away with just taking a defensive-driving class for a Glendale speeding ticket in the incident, but New Times' inquiries led a judge to later order a $714 fine. Even a two-week suspension was considered too onerous for him by the Maricopa County Merit Commission.

On Wednesday, the commission approved a recommendation to lower Pearce's punishment for violating Sheriff's Office policies in the tragic incident, which also sparked a lawsuit still under way. Details of the internal investigation that led to the discipline are being withheld until Pearce exhausts his appeal process under a 2009 law that shields cops from public scrutiny when they are accused of wrongdoing. New Times has an ongoing request with Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office for the records.

After the December 2013 crash, an investigation showed that Pearce — now working as a detective — had reached a speed of 81 miles per hour on the streets of Glendale, where the speed limit was 40 mph.

When John Edward Harding pulled out of a side street in his Nissan Cube, he didn't stand a chance against the full-size SUV driven by Pearce. He and other detectives were pursuing a taxi believed to contain a man wanted for murder, but the passenger turned out to be a female relative of the suspect.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery declined to bring charges against Pearce, dismissing concerns about political favoritism as "amateur analysis." He noted that the view of both drivers had been blocked momentarily by a third car.

Harding's family is suing for $5 million in Superior Court.

Richard Cruz, the family's lawyer, claims that Pearce has been "shielded" from accountability.

The commission's decision "is another example of a failed system that turned a blind eye to the egregious, deplorable act of an officer," he says.

Calls to the Merit Commission weren't returned. 
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.