Feathered Bastard

Mark Spencer's PLEA's Smears Sergio Virgillo (Again), Fundraises for Richard Chrisman

In the wake of the Phoenix Police Department's firing of Officer Richard Chrisman, the cop facing second degree murder charges in the October 5 slaying of an unarmed South Phoenix man, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association continues to smear fellow Officer Sergio Virgillo, who witnessed the shooting and told investigators that neither the victim, nor his dog (which Chrisman also killed), posed a serious threat to himself or Chrisman.

The latest sleaze tactic from PLEA comes in a post to PLEA's Web site, announcing a BBQ/fundraiser on April 7 for Chrisman. The post contains a not-so-thinly-veiled swipe at Virgillo's credibility, one that it would not surprise me to see tonight on KPHO/Channel 5, known by some detractors as "PLEA TV."

"The State's primary witness is currently part of an internal investigation regarding his veracity in a recent court proceeding," says the unsigned post.

Though the statement does not mention Virgillo by name, it's pretty obvious who's being talked about. But here's one piece of info that I hope Channel 5 uses if it runs with this latest piece of PLEA sleaze: It's dead wrong, according to the Phoenix Police Department.

PPD spokesman Steve Martos told me that there was a recent fact-finding inquiry into allegations of untruthfulness leveled against Virgillo, but whatever questions there were about Virgillo have been resolved.

"[PPD] did look into it and found no wrongdoing," explained Martos. "It did not reach the level of an internal investigation and quickly went nowhere."

I called PLEA president Mark Spencer and left a message asking for him to phone me back about the inaccuracies in the post. He has yet to return my call.

I also put in a public records request asking for any memos or reports related to the inquiry. I will report on them as soon as I have them.

This is, of course, simply PLEA's latest attempt to back PLEA member Chrisman and undermine non-PLEA member Virgillo at every possible opportunity.

Indeed, as I've previously reported, PLEA was investigated by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office regarding allegations that PLEA was involved in witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery has closed that investigation, as PLEA's shenanigans did not rise to the level of criminality. However, there have been shenanigans.

Reports and interviews done as part of the MCAO investigation revealed that 48 hours after the Chrisman shooting, Spencer called a detective in the PPD's Drug Enforcement Bureau, where Virgillo once worked, looking for dirt on the officer.

The MCAO wanted to talk to Spencer as part of the investigation, but Spencer clammed up and lawyered up.

It was more insidious than just pimping dirt on Virgillo. According to an MCAO interview done with the MCAO's law enforcement liaison Keith Manning, both Spencer and PLEA lobbyist Levi Bolton raised the issue of the Chrisman shooting with Manning prior to current County Attorney Bill Montgomery taking office.

Manning informed them that neither he nor the soon-to-be County Attorney could comment on the matter, but Bolton and Spencer had no problem bringing up the topic. After all, PLEA had endorsed Montgomery during his run for County Attorney, and PLEA had made a donation to Montgomery's campaign.

I'm not saying Spencer, Bolton, or other PLEA operatives broke any laws, but Spencer and PLEA have actively been attempting to undermine Virgillo and bolster Chrisman, truth be damned.

Maybe the PLEA folks think that's a-OK, since Chrisman paid dues to PLEA. But as part of PLEA's agreement with the City of Phoenix, PLEA technically represents ALL police officers, not just those who pay them dues. 

Plus, whatever happened to that much vaunted "brotherhood" amongst police officers? PLEA must not subscribe to that. The organization has no problem sliming Virgillo or anyone who doubts Chrisman's account of what happened on October 5.

Finally, the PLEA post whines that other Phoenix cops now under investigation haven't been fired, so why Chrisman?

The answer, of course, is a dead, unarmed man by the name of Danny Rodriguez. But I would argue the firing has come way too late. Chrisman should have been canned back in 2005, after a security camera caught him planting a crack pipe on a mentally-ill homeless woman.

If he'd been let go then, he would not be facing a second-degree murder charge today. And that's whether or not he ends up beating the rap.

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