Even amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, there was no shortage of outrageous, maddening, and eye-popping police misconduct and scandal in Phoenix and broader Arizona this past year. It seemed like every other week there was a fresh lawsuit being filed against the Phoenix Police Department, a controversial shooting, or new allegations of local cops sexually assaulting women. And that was all against a backdrop of massive nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, sparked by the infamous killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, back in May.
Through it all, Phoenix New Times was there, chronicling the latest controversy, uncovering police malfeasance and scrutinizing law enforcement in this state. Here's a few of our favorite cop stories from the past year (in no particular order).
An eye-popping federal complaint alleged that an FBI informant extorted an agent by using revenge porn photos. Mikaila Hughes, the former FBI agent, had an ongoing sexual relationship with the informant, Samuel Mattia, at the same time that she was using him for information about active FBI cases. Mattia reportedly told FBI officials that he had downloaded information from Hughes' Domestic Joint Task Force for Terrorism laptop and that he had a recording of her planting evidence on a suspect. Hughes, who has since resigned from the FBI, was also the wife of the deputy chief of the Goodyear Police Department. The FBI later found no evidence that a security breach occurred, according to court records.
The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, which is a collaboration between federal and local law enforcement agencies, has been monitoring victims of police violence and civil-rights activists across the state, records obtained by New Times showed. Black Lives Matter activists, police reform group Poder in Action, Phoenix-based African American community activist Jarrett Maupin, and other activist groups were among those monitored by law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, those same officials disregarded explicit threats issued by members of right-wing groups.
During the first weekend of protests in downtown Phoenix over police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, local cops responded with severe force. Protesters, who were allegedly peaceful, were tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, torn from cars, chased into residential neighborhoods, and arrested en masse by the Phoenix Police Department while leaving demonstrations. Phoenix cops "copy-and-pasted" the same probable cause statement for all the arrests to justify them. Numerous lawsuits have been filed over the department's response to the protests, including one by a 31-year-old Phoenix-based bartender and hairdresser whose arm was broken by a rubber bullet.
Last spring, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Mohave County Sheriff Dougals Schuster played to the conservative crowd and said that they would refuse to enforce Governor Doug Ducey's emergency stay-at-home order, which was designed to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19. At the time, Lamb told New Times that he would send deputies to "educate" businesses that violated the lockdown order rather than writing any citations or arresting people. "I'm not trying to change his policy, I'm just disagreeing with it, and I won't enforce it. I don't think it's right," Lamb said. The next month, Lamb tested positive for COVID-19.
Amid nationwide civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced in June that the department would ban the training and use of a controversial neck restraint technique. The department framed it as a concession to the community within broader calls for police reform and criticism of police brutality. "We pride ourselves on being an organization willing to learn and evolve, to listen to our community and become better. I am confident this moves us closer to that goal," Williams said in a statement issued at the time. But just a few years ago, Williams was a proponent of the technique, and even publicly defended it when she was jockeying for her current job as chief in 2016.
A total of 28 cops in Arizona were banned from working in law enforcement in the state last year, according to a review of meetings and bulletins from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. An additional 41 officers and recruits voluntarily gave up their peace officer certification or were denied the certification in the first place as a recruit. The misconduct that got cops banned from law enforcement in 2018 included sexual conduct with a minor, mishandling evidence, and allowing a girlfriend to repeatedly view department body camera footage. A total of 87 officers in Arizona had their peace officer certification status threatened.
Sean Pena, a former Phoenix Police officer, allegedly sexually assaulted several women while on-duty over the course of several years. He now faces a criminal indictment from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. One of the women, Krystofer Lee, tells a horrifying story of being detained by officers, taken to an empty lot by Pena, and subsequently forced to jack him off while he watched porn on his phone. Lee is now suing Pena and the city of Phoenix, alleging that the department knew about the first assault and did nothing. Meanwhile, researchers say that sexual violence and misconduct committed by cops is a chronic problem throughout police departments in the United States.
Maricopa County Constable Doug Middleton was caught on video berating a shopkeeper at a local Russian food store. He told the store owner, Nerik Gadaev, who is a U.S. citizen, "I'm not in your country, I don't play your rules." Middleton also threatened to throw the store employees "out the door" and "sell" their property. It was all over a debt of less than $5,000. Middleton has a track record of misconduct — court records show that he was convicted back in 2001 in Maricopa County Superior Court of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, for instance. For the latest incident, he was eventually cited by the Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board for his behavior.
The lede of this mind-boggling story says it all: "On the morning of April 3, 2019, FBI agent Mikaila Hughes set out to meet 'The Godfather,' a retired FBI agent with information on the $350,000 bounty gang members had put on her head.
Or at least that's what she told her husband, Justin Hughes, deputy chief of the Goodyear Police Department.
The meeting would end with a frantic kidnapping investigation, revelations of infidelity and corruption, and the firing of Goodyear's police chief, Jerry Geier."
Read on for the insanely wild details of how Geier was ousted from the Goodyear Police Department.
A host of local and national organizations demanded the firing and prosecution of Phoenix police officers involved in the death of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. in 2017. They also claimed that the officers mocked Muhaymin's religion — Islam — shortly before he died; a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department disputed this characterization. Muhaymin was killed as officers tried to arrest him for having an outstanding warrant for not showing up to court over a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge. Multiple cops held him down and put knees on his head and neck. He said, "I can't breathe," according to bodycam footage, before he died in a pool of his own vomit. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office had previously cleared the involved officers of any criminal wrongdoing, but the organizations demanded that a new special prosecutor be appointed to investigate the incident. Meanwhile, Muhaymin's family is suing.
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