Phoenix Cop Union: There's Been an Upswing of Officers Arrested for DUIs

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A Phoenix police union chief claims there’s been an “upswing” in DUI arrests among Phoenix police officers, and the department isn't exactly disputing it.

Among Phoenix Law Enforcement Association Vice President Toby Sexton's assertions, made in writing in the latest issue of the PLEA newsletter: there once was a time where 30 Phoenix cops were arrested for DUIs in one year, and discipline for DUIs used to be harsher.

Neither Sexton nor the Phoenix Police Department would address these claims. Asked about Sexton's claims, a spokesperson for the department told Phoenix New Times to contact PLEA about the information they published.

It’s unclear what Sexton stands to gain by exaggerating about criminal conduct among the police officers he represents in a newsletter for the police union, but Sexton did not respond when asked to elaborate.

"Not many years ago, there was a time when about 30 of our members had been processed for DUI during one year, which I believe is ridiculous," wrote Sexton in the January/February 2020 issue of PLEA's newsletter, the Phoenix Law Enforcer. At that time, Sexton wrote, a "new chief" came in and implemented harsh penalties for DUI violations, reducing the number of officer-involved DUIs.

"But now, suddenly, there is an upswing of officers being arrested for DUI," Sexton continued. "DUI is a criminal offense, and we as police officers should not be committing crimes and putting the safety of the public in jeopardy. Having said that, in the event you are arrested for DUI, we at PLEA will assist you through the discipline process and make sure you are being treated fairly."

Sexton wrote that he originally intended to write about something else, but decided to write about officers committing DUIs "due to some recent events."

"I would not even be mentioning this if it were a one-time occurring issue, but it seems to be happening on a continual basis, and it needs to stop," he wrote. "There seems to be a recent trend where several of our members have been arrested for DUI."

While PLEA's vice president strongly asserted that a troubling number of Phoenix police officers were arrested for DUIs last year, Sergeant Mercedes Fortune, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, told Phoenix New Times that five of the department's nearly 3,000 employees were arrested for driving under the influence last year.

Fortune would not release the identities of the five employees, and did not answer follow-up questions about whether, apart from those arrested for standard DUIs, any additional officers had been arrested last year for extreme or super-extreme DUIs (with a BAC of greater than .15 or .20), or aggravated DUIs. Nor did she respond when asked if there were more officers arrested last year than in previous years.

The five employees arrested for DUI last year remain under investigation, Fortune said.

The Phoenix Police Department's operations manual states that DUI is a Class III violation — an act "so serious and malicious in nature that [it] may require immediate intervention by the Police Chief with the immediate removal of all employee responsibilities." Employees arrested for DUIs could receive a 40-, 80-, or 240-hour suspension, demotion, or termination.

DUIs, soliciting sex workers, having sex on duty, and using illegal drugs all fall under the most severe type of violation (Class III), according to the department's manual, while sexual harassment and accidentally shooting someone are considered Class II violations.

Sexton claimed in the PLEA newsletter that a prior chief once had implemented harsher penalties for DUIs. The September 2015 version of the Phoenix Police Department's operations manual shows DUIs were still considered a Class III violation in 2015, subject to the same discipline outlined above, which implies that the chief who implemented harsher penalties was not Joseph Yahner, who served from 2015 to 2016, when current Chief Jeri Williams took over.

While the operations manual outlines a fairly serious range of disciplines for DUIs, Sexton wrote that DUIs that are not extreme and do not involve a collision "will generally get you a suspension without pay that is tolerable."

A first offense for DUI is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona. Anyone busted for one faces a minimum 24-hour jail sentence, a maximum six-month sentence, a $250 base fine that can go up to $2,500 in total fees and fines, a driver's license suspension lasting between 90 to 360 days, an installation of an ignition interlock device, possible probation, possible community service, and a possible alcohol education class.

Even an extreme DUI won't always cost Phoenix cops their jobs. On July 5, 2015, Ak-Chin Police arrested Robert M. Perez, a Phoenix police officer who was caught driving with one headlight and swerving in and out of lanes.

Records on Perez's criminal case could not be located using the Arizona Judicial Branch's court case information service. But The Arizona Republic's salary database shows a Robert M. Perez is still working for the Phoenix Police Department as a full-time police officer and collecting a $72,426 salary. A spokesperson for Phoenix police confirmed this is the same Robert M. Perez, but did not answer questions about the discipline Perez received.

Discipline for DUIs vary from agency to agency. Some police departments may automatically terminate officers arrested for DUIs.

"I do not know how much longer the Chief will tolerate Phoenix police officers driving impaired, but if this trend continues, she may change the current discipline structure for officers who are sustained for a DUI. Be responsible!" Sexton wrote in the PLEA newsletter.
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.