Feathered Bastard

Mark Spencer Lawyers-Up, Clams Up on Virgillo Smear

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office's investigation of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and its president Mark Spencer, the subject of this week's Bird column, produced a nice doorstop pile of documents for me to dig through.

I have limited time to scan the ginormous file that I obtained from the MCAO through a public records request, but portions of it make a nice addendum to what I had to say in the Bird.

The first is a supplemental report written up by Detective Alex Femenia. Femenia states that he contacted Spencer to ask him to come in for an interview regarding "possible witness tampering allegations involved in the [Officer Richard] Chrisman shooting."

(You can read the supplemental, here.)

The MCAO wanted to ask Spencer about the e-mail posted to PLEA's Web site concerning Councilmen Michael Nowakowski and Michael Johnson's phoning of Phoenix police Officer Sergio Virgillo, witness to the Chrisman incident.

Investigators were also interested in why, an estimated 48 hours after Officer Chrisman shot an unarmed man in South Phoenix, Spencer was calling a detective in the Phoenix Police Department's Drug Enforcement Bureau, looking for info on Virgillo.

Through that call, Spencer scored scuttlebutt on Virgillo's wife's felony conviction. 

Subsequently,  KPHO/Channel 5 ran a news item on Virgillo's wife. Investigators evidently suspected Spencer planted the story with the station.

Initially, Spencer, a sworn police officer, agreed to come in and be interviewed, just as several other cops and city and county employees agreed to be interviewed.

But Spencer apparently thought better about it after talking to his lawyer Maria Gonzales. Gonzales called Femenia and canceled.

Why, if Spencer had nothing to hide, did he lawyer up, just like Richard Chrisman did shortly after the shooting of Danny Rodriguez on October 5? 

Certainly Spencer's had no problem in the past (or the present) giving his opinion to the media, loud and proud. But when it comes to talking to fellow law enforcement, he hides behind his legal beagle.

The second document of interest is an interview with Phoenix Police Detective Ron Gomez of the PPD's Drug Enforcement Bureau. He's the guy who investigated Virgillo's wife Maria and determined that Officer Virgillo, who was then with the DEB, was unaware of his wife's involvement in a criminal enterprise. Maria Virgillo eventually caught three years probation for her lawbreaking.

(Peruse the transcript, here. Please note, the highlight marks are mine, made as I read the document.)

Gomez informed investigators that Spencer called him on his private cell phone about two days after the shooting, asking questions about Virgillo. 

The detective told Spencer about Virgillo's wife, and that Virgillo himself had been cleared, though his commander ultimately moved him out of the department for Virgillo's sake, according to Gomez.

Chrisman is a PLEA member and Virgillo is not. PLEA jumped in and chose favorites, instead of allowing the investigation to play out and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

As I mentioned in the column, Gomez told investigators that he recently left PLEA, and that he's changed his mind about Mark Spencer.

That, as additional info comes out about Spencer's nefarious activities, is a learning curve I'm hoping more cops and citizens enjoy.

I'll have more on Spencer and PLEA in the coming weeks. So stay tuned. 

In the meantime, if you're curious about Spencer's character, check this 2009 blog item I wrote about  Spencer's spotty career as a beat cop

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons