A Phoenix cop since 1983, Hardin had been a sergeant for only three months when Rodriquez stole the Chevy and presented him with one of his first major tests as a supervisor.

Hardin interviewed Rodriquez a few hours after the clash. He focused on the guy who smashed into the pickup truck I was driving," Rodriquez says, referring to Perez. He didn't want to hear about the other guys."

A tape of the interview confirms Rodriquez's account. Hardin ends by asking Rodriquez if he wants to file an excessive-force complaint. Rodriquez says he does, hoping the police investigation will include all of the cops who beat on me, not just the guy [Perez] whose car got wrecked."

Hardin assures him it will. But Joe Perez unwittingly had attracted the heat to himself by being the only cop to admit any wrongdoing.

I'm not gonna lie to you," Perez told Hardin on tape that night. I hit him, I kicked him, I was angry at him. Do what you gotta do. Honestly, I just went off on him. I said, `Get down,' and he wouldn't get down. I have no excuses for what I did."

In mid-January 1991, Hardin officially accused Perez of having used excessive force. The sergeant forwarded his findings to the department's Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), which scheduled a hearing in late March 1991.

During this time, Perez-who was still working his normal shift-began to hear troubling things from his peers: Everybody at the station was telling me, `You're the scapegoat in this one, pal. You're the one going down for everything.'"

The police union-PLEA-assigned officer Francesca Anatra to represent Perez before the DRB. But Perez then dropped a bombshell at an official meeting with Sergeant Hardin and Anatra.

²Perez contended that other officers at the arrest scene also had punched and beaten Rodriquez. He also claimed Hardin had looked on passively, which Mauricio Rodriquez and at least two cops confirmed. Such a charge is a serious one to levy against a supervisor present during a volatile arrest.

Hardin insisted he had yelled at Perez to stop hitting and kicking Rodriquez, but that the police helicopter had drowned him out. He also denied seeing any officers but Perez use excessive force on the suspect.

Fran Anatra expressed shock and anger at Perez's attack of Hardin. She later apologized to Hardin and asked PLEA to take her off the case, saying Perez hadn't previously told her anything about other officers being involved.

Perez's allegations caused the department's Internal Affairs unit to start an investigation. It also prompted the department's General Investigations unitÏwhich looks into possible criminal wrongdoing-to assign a detective to the case. Perez's long-awaited DRB hearing was postponed until the parallel investigations were completed.

Mauricio Rodriquez hadn't heard from the police in months, since a grand jury indicted him on felony charges for stealing and crashing the Chevy pickup. But just two days after Perez's stormy meeting with Sergeant Hardin and the PLEA representative, police investigators visited Rodriquez at the Madison Street Jail.

During that interview, Rodriquez changed his story. He said the cop who crashed into the Chevy had bent his arm back until his wrist snapped. Anyone familiar with the case knew that wasn't true, because Perez had been led away before other officers grabbed Rodriquez. On April 4, 1991, Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell dismissedÏat the request of prosecutorsÏall charges stemming from the car theft and subsequent crash. The dismissal came during a hearing in which Rodriquez was sentenced to four months in the state's Shock Incarceration program on an unrelated 1990 resisting-arrest charge. Prosecutors insist that Rodriquez's cooperation with police in the excessive-force case against Perez had nothing to do with the charges against him being dropped. ²The Phoenix police investigations of Perez-criminal and Internal Affairs-continued for weeks. During that time, officers Kevin Sanchez and Robert Zimmerman passed lie-detector tests questioning whether they had used excessive force on Rodriquez.

Officer Robert Walsh, however, showed deception," a police report said, when the polygraph operator asked him if he had deliberately hit Rodriquez with a fist.

Phoenix police later reprimanded Walsh for using excessive force." But the department didn't suspend him, and prosecutors showed no interest in seeking an indictment against him.

ONLY ONE COP told Internal Affairs investigators that anyone other than Joe Perez had beaten Mauricio Rodriquez. Even Perez couldn't specify who had been doing the hitting after him, other than to describe it as a shark frenzy."

But Patricia Boyd, a cop since 1988, said she had seen Kevin Sanchez, Robert Zimmerman and another officer she couldn't name strike Rodriquez with their fists. Although the events repelled Boyd, she tried to put it into perspective.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin