Arizona State University Police Officer Stewart Ferrin resigned on Monday, about nine months after video of his violent arrest of a black professor went viral.
Although ASU officials had said previously that Ferrin's arrest of Ersula Ore on May 20 was proper, they flip-flopped when the public weighed in following the dash-cam video's release.
In January, in another apparent nod to public pressure, ASU reversed an earlier finding that Ferrin had violated no policies during a May 15 encounter between the officer and a graduate student, records obtained by New Times show.
Ferrin's been on paid administrative leave since Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV) aired the dash-cam video of Ore's take-down and arrest. His confrontation with Ore began over an alleged jaywalking violation on College Avenue.
The arrest drew some headlines before the video's release, but ASU quickly cleared Ferrin's name.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office then reviewed the facts of the arrest and the video. Not only did Ferrin do nothing wrong, the prosecutor's office review concluded, but Ore deserved to be charged with multiple crimes, including resisting arrest. She later pleaded guilty to that charge and received nine months' probation.
The associated viral video tapped into the national undercurrent of concern about the way police treat black people several months before Michael Brown was shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri. ASU became the center of a national firestorm that's still simmering, upsetting President Michael Crow's vision of the New American University. In June, Provost Rob Page published a letter stating that ASU was solidly behind Ore.
With all that pressure on ASU, the rookie officer found himself on paid leave as his employer referred the Ore case to the FBI for another review. Longtime ASU police chief, John Pickens, unexpectedly left his position early. ASU claimed Pickens' departure had nothing to do with Ore, but the timing was suspicious. Assistant Police Chief James Hardina retired at the same time.
Then, in January, ASU informed Ferrin that he was being fired.
The FBI investigation had concluded Ferrin did nothing wrong, and referred the case to the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office, which made the same finding.
But ASU had hired veteran private investigator Keith Sobraske to perform an additional probe into Ferrin, according to Ferrin's lawyer, Mel McDonald.
On Monday, after Ferrin released his resignation letter to the public via Facebook, ASU released its January 7 notice of intent to terminate the officer, which seems to have been based on Sobraske's findings. (We're hoping ASU releases Sobraske's report today.)
The first thing we noticed is that on page one of the ASU document -- authored by current ASU Police Chief Michael Thompson -- it sustains a finding that Ferrin "acted contrary" to policy and procedure during a confrontation with student Joseph Rheinhardt on May 15.
Yet in August, ASU police released a document to New Times showing Rheinhardt's complaint was declared "unfounded."
We're still investigating that discrepancy and have asked ASU to comment about it.
The flip-flop on the Rheinhardt case looks like more evidence of political micro-managing of the police department by the public-relations-minded university.
In his Monday letter to ASU and the public, Ferrin said the long leave put financial and emotional stress on his family. Ferrin's wife recently had a second baby, which could explain why ASU put off its decision to fire Ferrin in late January and extend his leave.
"The lack of support, cooperation and downright bias, coupled with an agenda to ruin my career, has become unbearable," Ferrin wrote.
Addressing Chief Thompson, Ferrin goes on: "I will no longer play the game that you and ASU have orchestrated in an effort to bring me down and affect my life at every front."
The 18-page intent-to-terminate document (see below for link) by Chief Thompson begins by stating that Ferrin committed "multiple acts of noncompliance and misconduct."
The first is the May 15, 2015 incident with Rheinhardt -- a complaint ASU listed previously as "unfounded."
Rheinhardt declined comment for this article.
As described in Thompson's firing document, the incident with Rheinhardt should not have been "unfounded" initially.
It tells how Ferrin grabbed the graduate student violently and attempted to cuff him -- even though the student had done nothing but disobey Ferrin's verbal commands about which crosswalk to use. Ferrin told another officer who responded to the scene at Sixth Street and Packard to cite the student, but the other officer declined because the student hadn't committed any violation.
Thompson, in the new finding, wrote that Ferrin had made a "rigid, inflexible application" of policy instead of exercising good judgment.
The theme of "inappropriate behavior" continued with Thompson's review of the Ersula Ore arrest, which occurred five days after Ferrin tried to arrest Rheinhardt.
Chief Thompson backs up the notion made since the beginning by Professor Ore and her attorneys that since College Avenue was marked on May 20 by "Street Closed" signs, Ore was within her rights to walk in the street.
"Finally, given her lawful right to cross the roadway, nothing in Dr. Ore's conduct while crossing College Avenue resulted in an unreasonable inconvenience or hazard," Thompson wrote.
Because the initial stop was based on an unreasonable idea of jaywalking, "You also arrested Dr. Ore without a lawful basis," Thompson wrote.
Ferrin became a police officer on April 30, 2012, and completed his training in February of 2013. During this "brief employment," he's been the subject of discipline and "multiple coachings," the report states. Thompson mentions other troubling incidents with Ferrin.
For instance, he threatened to arrest the parent of an ASU student who allegedly became upset with him during a traffic stop. A supervisor told him, "It's not us against the public, it's representing the public. And if we alienate mom and pop, whose children go to school here, we're going to have a problem."
Ferrin was "dismissive regarding this instruction," Thompson wrote.
But so was ASU -- by not disciplining Ferrin at the time.
The ASU parent, Tracy Stewart, was outraged over her treatment by Ferrin and filed a written complaint with ASU last March.
On June 25, after ignoring repeated attempts by Stewart to find out what was going on with her complaint, ASU told Stewart that her allegation against Ferrin was "unfounded," according to a letter signed by ASU Commander Louis Scichilone.
Thompson's report details other "coaching" moments for Ferrin.
But ASU was doing nothing about Ferrin's supposed misbehavior before the Ore video went viral.
Ore filed a $2 million notice of claim last month against ASU, the first step in a lawsuit.
Ferrin's notice of claim can't be too far behind.
UPDATE: Here's ASU's explanation for why the complaint made by Rheinhardt was initially declared "unfounded." This response comes from Gerardo Gonzalez of ASU's public-relations department:
"After the incident on May 15, 2014, Joseph Rheinhardt filed a citizen complaint with ASUPD regarding Officer Ferrin's conduct.
"However, after talking with his attorney, Joseph Rheinhardt withdrew his citizen complaint and would not participate in the investigation that was initiated based on his complaint.
"As a result, the allegation in Rheinhardt's citizen complaint was deemed "unfounded."
"Subsequently, the department decided to initiate its own investigation into Officer Ferrin's actions during the Rheinhardt incident and asked Keith Sobraske to conduct the investigation. Rheinhardt did agree to talk with Keith Sobraske. Those allegations were sustained."
UPDATE: February 19 -- New Times obtains three witness videos from ASU of the arrest of Ersula Ore.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
New Times is reviewing the Rheinhardt complaint and other records related to Ferrin that are being released by ASU today, so check back later for more updates.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.