Police

Sheriff’s Office Admits Botching DUI Case Against Phoenix Cop

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone launched an investigation into what happened in a DUI case against a Phoenix police officer.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone launched an investigation into what happened in a DUI case against a Phoenix police officer. Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has accepted responsibility for the bungled DUI case against a Phoenix police officer who fought with deputies and has launched an internal investigation to find out what happened.

The admission from the sheriff's office came after the Phoenix New Times detailed the case in a story on November 17.

"It's on us," Joaquin Enriquez, a sheriff's office spokesperson, told New Times shortly after the story was published. He said that the agency never submitted the case to prosecutors. The sheriff's office's internal affairs bureau has launched an investigation, he added.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Jason Halleman, an officer with the Phoenix Police Department, on July 3, 2021, after finding him unresponsive in a running car on a residential street. Halleman was holding a bottle of alcohol, and after being roused by deputies, failed basic sobriety tests and was arrested, according to documents in the case.

While at a sheriff's office substation, Halleman became combative with deputies as they attempted to process him and take his bloodwork. A minute-long video clip obtained by New Times shows him yelling at deputies, telling them to "shut your fucking mouth," and attempting to fight them. He was taken to the ground and handcuffed.

Although a test of Halleman's bloodwork showed a blood alcohol level of 0.189 — which is an extreme DUI under Arizona law and carries a mandatory 30-day jail sentence — he was never charged. He also was not charged for the altercation with deputies. The statute of limitations has since expired, and Halleman can't be charged with DUI in the incident.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, the state's law enforcement watchdog, is investigating Halleman. Phoenix police suspended him without pay for three weeks in September over the incident, according to AZPOST records, and he has since returned to work.

When New Times first asked questions about Halleman's case after it was discussed at a September AZPOST meeting, both law enforcement officials and county prosecutors denied that they botched the case.

On October 5, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Calbert Gillett said in an email to New Times that the agency wasn't responsible for the delayed charges. "MCSO submitted DUI charges within the timelines as defined by statute. You will need to reach out to [the Maricopa County Attorney's Office] on why this case wasn’t prosecuted," Gillett said. Case notes from an AZPOST investigator indicated that MCSO submitted the charges and bloodwork to prosecutors — or at least that AZPOST was informed that the charges were submitted.

But prosecutors said they never received a submittal from the sheriff's office. The county attorney's office had "no record" that it had ever received the charges and details about Halleman's blood alcohol levels after an initial citation, MCAO spokesperson Jennifer Liewer told New Times in November.

On November 7, New Times sent multiple requests to the sheriff's office for more information and informed MCSO that prosecutors had denied the agency's version of events. MCSO did not respond and did not clarify the agency's role in the bungled case until after the story was published on November 17.

On November 8, the day after New Times asked again about the case, Enriquez said the sheriff's office launched an internal investigation into the case. So far, he said, the agency found that while the case was submitted internally, a printed copy of the charges was never brought to county prosecutors, as is protocol. "That didn't happen," Enriquez explained.

"Why it was not done, why it took so long, and when the resubmittal did occur, why didn't it go downtown? These are all questions that are going to be answered once the investigation is completed," he added.

After the sheriff's office took responsibility, Liewer told New Times that the county attorney's office had nothing further to add. "I stand by my comment that the case was never resubmitted to our office by MCSO," she said.

So far, the sheriff's office had no clear answers about the reason the case was never submitted, Enriquez said. "Sheriff Paul Penzone takes these matters very seriously," he said. "I will update you when I have more information for release."

But that could take some time. Penzone was recently held in contempt of court for the severe backlog of misconduct investigations that has piled up in the six years he's been running the sheriff's office. Currently, the average investigation takes 611 days to be completed. Full-scale investigations that involve sworn deputies often take more than 800 days.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk

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