Phoenix Police Summoned After Schools Superintendent Swiped Files from Her Own Office

  Poor Sandra Dowling.

The former Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools just can't catch a break. First there was the criminal indictment -- charged with 25 counts related to public corruption, she was presumed to be a crook in newspaper headlines across the state. Then, while the criminal case was still pending, a court-appointed board of receivers shuttered her beloved Thomas J. Pappas schools for homeless children. The criminal case ended with all charges dropped, and Dowling agreeing to plea to one lousy misdemeanor -- but she's still got a pile of legal bills.

And now, we can report that on her last day in office December 31, Dowling endured one final scandal. We'll call it ... Filegate.

According to a Phoenix Police report recently obtained by New Times, Dowling had one more brush with the law on her way out the door of the Superintendent's office: a police investigation into whether she'd swiped county files during her second-to-last day in office.

On New Year's Eve Day, the report says, Dowling's executive assistant contacted the Phoenix PD to let them know that numerous county files were in Dowling's office when she left the building the night before. But when she came to work that morning, the "office was cleaned out of all the files." 

The report continues, "[The assistant] also checked the office where the court-related files were kept. She stated those files were also missing. She stated that since Sandra did not return to work today, she suspects that Sandra is the one who took the files."

As it turned out, the assistant had already asked Security to review its tapes. It showed Dowling exiting the office, according to the report, along with her deputy superintendent, Ted Carpenter, and her longtime friend (and former state representative) Debra Brimhall Pearson.

You can check out the trio initially leaving the building here; subsequent footage shows Carpenter making a series of return trips, one of them in which he actually pushed a cart load of items. (The footage is grainy, so don't take our word for it; this is coming from the police report.)

Initially, Dowling's executive assistant, Ruth Ann Maxwell, detailed the roster of missing papers for the police: four desk drawers full of legal-size hanging folders, with paperwork on a teen pregnancy program, the Pappas Schools, budget information, legal files on district issues, and even historical documents.

Maxwell told police that the new files would be important to the incoming superintendent and that Dowling didn't have permission to remove them. Maxwell agreed to "aid in prosecution for the theft of the files," according to the police report.

But -- as hardly ever happens in Maricopa County these days -- we're pleased to report that reasonable adults managed to get the missing files returned without anybody getting arrested ... or even a lawsuit.

Someone actually did the right thing, it appears. And that someone is Sandra Dowling.

As it turns out, on the very day that Maxwell first called the cops, Dowling placed a call to her successor, Don Covey. "She stated that she was apparently frantic and wanted to return the missing files," the police report states, drily. "She wanted him to come in and meet with her 'now' as she had some items her attorney advised her to return."

Covey was in Flagstaff for New Year's and wasn't about to change his plans to obey her summons; besides, the report notes, he had no idea what she was talking about. So it wasn't until Covey returned to Phoenix and took office that the whole matter wassorted out: Dowling made arrangements to return the files on January 9, and Covey made it clear he had no interest in pressing charges.

"The case will be unfounded as no crime was ever substantiated," the police report concludes.

"I think everybody on this end wants to move on," said Richard De Uriarte, a spokesman for the county. "It was a mistake, and Sandra Dowling's attorney apparently returned all the files that had been mistakenly taken. The new Superintendent of Schools wants to be moving forwards, not backwards."

Nice to see such a spirit of cooperation in the county these days. Dare we say that everybody may have a learned a lesson from the original Dowling debacle? Are we all learning to get along rather than call in the sheriff's SWAT team?

Well, maybe not. But nice that for once they managed to settle this one without wasting money on lawyers.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske