You can add attempted bribery to the list of misconduct committed by former Deputy Chief Larry Black, one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's closest aides, the Munnell Memo investigative report shows.
A few years ago, the report states, Black offered a sheriff's lieutenant in his agency season tickets to the Phoenix Coyotes in return for dropping assault charges against then-Coyotes player Brad May, who had punched the lieutenant in the jaw.
Whether or not the sustained allegation against Black could be prosecuted as the crime of attempted bribery of a law officer, we're not sure. But, as former County Attorney Andrew Thomas once noted, bribery statutes can be interpreted very broadly. Thomas had been referring to the trumped-up and now discredited bribery and obstruction-of-justice case against Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. Thomas never explained why he thought Donahoe committed bribery, and he certainly produced no evidence it had occurred.
In contrast to Thomas' junk charge, the type of unethical behavior that investigators determined had been committed by Black is much easier to comprehend.
This reported incidence of blatant corruption began in the early hours of April 15, 2002, at the now-defunct Cat Eye Lounge in Scottsdale, when Brad May demanded that he and his friends be admitted entry. A bouncer told them they'd have to wait because the club was at capacity and May grabbed his arm, prompting the bouncher to shove the hockey player, according to a 2005 news article.
Burden, in uniform, stepped in and told May to take it easy, and that he was a sheriff's deputy. He also touched May, who then punched Burden in the jaw. (As the article linked above states, Burden later collected a court award of $26,000 from May.) May continued to thrash as Burden and another deputy, Brian Whitney, tried to restrain him.
The dust-up happened at about 1 or 2 a.m., and a few hours later, about 8 or 9 a.m., Burden was back at his office writing his report. Black, whom Burden didn't know very well, came into the office and closed the door behind him.
Black asked the lieutenant to either "minimize" the allegation against May or forget the whole thing. If he did the favor, Black knew someone who would give Burden season tickets to the Coyotes, the lieutenant said Black told him.
Black's a friend of former Coyotes owner and local fat-cat developer Steve Ellman, the report says. As you may remember, Ellman figures into other key areas of the investigations into Arpaio's office, including the SCA campaign finance scandal and an allegation that Hendershott traded law enforcement favors for restaurant space at a property Ellman once coveted.
Burden told investigators that Black's suggestion left him "appalled." He wasn't a hockey fan and never would be, he told Black truthfully. Burden sought two charges of felony aggravated assault.
"I'm going to have this guy prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as far as I can, with the felonies," he told Black.
The deputy chief pressed him, telling him they were "sweet tickets." Burden told investigators that he's never been sure whether Black meant "sweet" tickets or "suite tickets."
"Do you know what they're worth?" Black reportedly asked Burden, apparently giving him a hint that, even if he didn't like hockey, he could sell the gift for cash.
Burden, his jaw undoubtedly still smarting, wouldn't budge. But soon after, all the felonies got dropped to a third-class misdemeanor, without my approval. And I'm the victim."
The story doesn't quite end there.
Brian Sands -- one Arpaio's closest aides, as Black was -- recalled for investigators how Black once kvetched to him and a group of colleagues that he was worried his relationship with Ellman might be hurt because of the civil lawsuit Burden had launched against May. The statement by Black caused Sands to reflect whether his own relationship with Ellman might be in trouble over something so petty.
"Ellman's a friend of mine, as much as he's a friend of Larry Black, and it just didn't sound right. Because Ellman's got bigger fish to fry, so to speak," Sands related to investigators.
Sands said he later "cornered Ellman" and told him he shouldn't be so concerned about the lawsuit. Ellman professed that didn't know what Sands was talking about and certainly wasn't angry, Sands said.
Sands, whom Arpaio made chief of patrol as part of the reorganization announced on Tuesday, didn't remember being told by Burden about the attempted quid-pro-quo by Black. Burden doesn't seem to have detailed the incident to anyone until now.
When Black was asked about the allegation by investigators, he began having memory problems again. As we're learning from this investigation and the state Attorney General's probe into the SCA scandal, Black tends to develop amnesia under questioning.
In this case, though, he did recall something like what Burden had mentioned: Black said he remembered telling Burden that season tickets were all he might get out of the lawsuit he was filing against May.
Of course, that makes little sense. Black has his time-frame all screwed up -- investigators had been asking him about his statements to Burden on the morning of the assault, not about the lawsuit that came later. Black doesn't let on why Burden would get season tickets at all, or where they would come from.
Investigators sustained the allegation of trying to coerce or influence Burden into not pursuing criminal charges against May.
As the sheriff's office continues to trickle out the documents related to the investigation, expect to hear about more Black Ops in coming days.
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