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THE POLICE STRANGLEHOLD ON ED MALLET'S FIANCEE

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When he speaks of his neighbors, Elder Add describes people he knows and likes; I'll bet you weren't aware that you know these folks, too.

Of course, you wouldn't have guessed your acquaintance from the press coverage of Charita's complaints. Her allegations were a one-day story in a month of articles following Mallet's death. After the police denial aired, Charita was left hanging out, just one more anonymous black angry at law enforcement.

But you know the Currys. Charita's grandfather, Henry Curry, might well have been Phoenix's most famous black man prior to the arrival of the Suns' Connie Hawkins.

Before his death in 1991, Henry ran a downtown shoeshine parlor for nearly four decades. His business was brisk enough that he kept employed relatives, the occasional rummy and a one-armed man named Lefty. Henry won a fistful of Best of Phoenix awards, and the daily newspapers routinely did features on this unique gentleman, who polished the foot leather of Lyndon Johnson, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. But when Henry turned off the lights and locked the door at night, he drove home to South Phoenix, and the reporters in their shiny shoes--well, they didn't live where Henry lived.

Henry's son Joseph is Charita's dad. He says that after his daughter protested the choke-hold death of her fiancee, the cops followed him to work at the shoeshine parlor.

"The pressure just doesn't let up," he says.
It's now about 11 p.m., and Elder Add has retired for the evening. Joseph Curry is done working on the car in his yard and has gone inside. Charita's friends are on the street beginning to unwind. There is beer to pass around.

Her brother Sid and their friends Carl DeWayne Scott and Kenny Lane stop to talk about a recent trip to the dentist.

Sid drove his sister and her youngest child to the dentist for a checkup. Once the mother and daughter were inside, the cops arrived at the dentist's.

"We were just waiting on her in the parking lot when one squad car shows up and then two or three more," recalls Carl. "`What you doin' here? What's your name? What gang you with?' Then they searched the car. "They said they got a call from someone about suspicious people. They put me in cuffs 'cause I had an outstanding warrant for driving without a license. I was in jail for eight days."

Charita, Sid, Carl and Kenny figure that her protests caused the cops to follow them to the dentist's, shake the young men down, search the car and arrest Carl.

The police offer another explanation.
A sergeant listening to my recap is irritated that anyone would listen to the charge that Charita Curry was followed. He says the cop might well have been doing heads-up police work. "He could have been driving by, seen three black males in the parking lot and decided to check it out."

In other words, being young and black makes you not only suspicious, but subject to a police roust.

Which, of course, is exactly what happened to Ed Mallet.

The police department's own investigation into Mallet's death, recapped in an inch-thick document, makes one thing very clear: The cops didn't stop the young man because of any broken laws.

Officers had extra patrols in the area where Mallet died because two blacks had been killed nearby in recent months. When Mallet and a couple of friends pulled into an apartment complex, one of the guys asked the manager about using a pay phone. She, in turn, alerted the cops with her suspicion that Mallet was there to buy drugs. What was her suspicion based upon? Nothing. She just had a feeling. And that's it. Charles Fanniel, president of the Maricopa County branch of the NAACP, told me that he has reports from residents of the complex that the manager was routinely concerned about any blacks who showed up there to visit friends living in the apartments.

But drug dealing does go on at the complex, and people are wary.
When Ed Mallet was pulled over, he did not have a valid driver's license on him, but he did have an attitude. There seems little question that he smarted off.

Eyewitness accounts are all over the place on just how the traffic stop escalated into violence, so the truth is still in labor.

But Mallet's death was more than a tragedy; it was a public relations nightmare for the cops. There were no drugs or weapons or large sums of cash in the dead black man's car. Neither the police nor the apartment manager saw Mallet break a law. Though a giant of a man, he turned out to be a cripple who walked on prosthetic limbs, and, worse, police had used him in classrooms to lecture schoolkids about the dangers of gangs.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey