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Grandmother convicted as a Phoenix officer’s lies are kept secret

Anthony Armour
Posted at 12:38 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 18:37:14-04

This story is part of an in-depth ABC15 investigation into Arizona's broken "Brady List" system. Click here to see full coverage.

Frances Salazar still struggles to fully describe what happened.

“Oh my gosh, it was devastating,” she said. “It was worse than a nightmare. It’s hard to put into words.”

Especially, since her future rested almost entirely on the words of a documented liar: A Phoenix police officer whose history of dishonesty was kept hidden from Salazar, her defense attorneys, the judge, and the jury.

As a result, she was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Salazar would spend nearly two years behind bars before a judge would learn of Anthony Armour’s past lies and order her release.

“What they did to me is wrong, period,” Salazar said. “There’s not justice there at all.”

A year-long ABC15 investigation found Salazar’s case isn’t an anomaly.

Police and prosecutors have routinely delayed placing officers on Brady lists, which exist to track dishonest cops and ensure their past misconduct is disclosed.

In at least 175 cases since 2000, Maricopa County law enforcement officials waited months or years to place officers on the Brady list after their misconduct was confirmed, according to data obtained and analyzed by ABC15.

It all highlights another key failure in Arizona’s Brady list system.

Defense attorneys said there are no penalties or punishments for police and prosecutors who hide or withhold Brady material.

“Prosecuting people isn't a game. Putting people in prison isn't a game,” said Ben Rundall, a civil attorney representing Salazar. “That's why we have the constitution. That's why we have Brady.”

THE TRAFFIC STOP

In December 2013, Salazar and a friend were pulled over by Phoenix Officer Anthony Armour.

Salazar was the passenger.

The pair borrowed another friend’s car, which Amour stopped because the temporary license plate had recently expired.

The officer claimed he found a crack pipe wedged down between a seat and the center console during a search.

In the August 2016 trial, Armour gave damning testimony.

“I confronted her with the fact that I located the pipe,” Armour told the jury. “Then I said, 'I found your crack pipe. Is this yours?' And she admitted it was, and that there was crack inside the pipe.”

It’s something Salazar denies.

In an interview, she claims the pipe was not hers, and she never admitted the pipe was hers. “He lied.”

But Salazar had a history of addiction and previous drug arrests.

“I truly believe him putting that charge on me had a lot to do with my past offense,” she said. “But I’m recovered. People can change. But a lot of people don’t fight the system. Because let’s face it, if you take it to trial, you’re facing a lot more time. It’s a very scary thing, six to 15 years.”

Armour wasn’t wearing a body camera.

So it was Salazar’s word versus Armour’s. The jury believed him, and they convicted her on two charges.

PAST LIES HIDDEN

Salazar’s week-long trial was in August 2016.

But for an incident that happened a year earlier, Phoenix police sustained five allegations against Armour.

The internal investigation concluded he unlawfully entered an apartment, falsely arrested a woman who lived there, lied to his supervisor regarding the circumstances, then lied in his incident reports, and after his supervisor told him to release the woman from custody, he had her booked into jail anyway.

Armour was suspended for 80 hours, but not fired.

Phoenix police also didn’t report the case to the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, which is the state agency that licenses officers and could have revoked his ability to work as a cop.

“That should have been enough right there, but he continued to work,” Salazar said. “What about all of the people that didn’t come forth? Who knows what’s out there that he’s created havoc in their lives?”

In a written statement, Phoenix police did not directly answer a question about why Armour’s case wasn’t sent to the state board. Instead, a spokesperson deflected and told ABC15 to ask the state board officials, who have no role in Phoenix’s internal decisions.

Police records show Armor was investigated, but not sustained or disciplined, in multiple other internal investigations, including two shootings.

Armour, who recently retired by claiming accidental disability, is also facing an ongoing lawsuit stemming from another traffic stop in which he’s accused of sexually assaulting a woman.

The lawsuit alleges Armour “cupped” the driver’s breast and “touched her pubic region.” When the woman claimed she tried to start recording the stop with her phone, the officer grabbed her wrist and handcuffed her.

After, the woman claims Armour took her phone and snapped two photos with it. One of her laying on the ground with later-arriving officers standing above her, and the other photo of medical personnel at the scene.

But what Salazar’s attorneys said is just as bad as the lack of disclosure before trial, is how they claim the prosecution tried to hide the misconduct after the case was over.

Six months after trial, defense attorney Chris Doran said the county attorney’s office quietly tucked a one-sentence notice of disclosure in the old case docket without sending it to anyone.

The notice simply stated, “The state has disclosed newly discovered evidence.”

“And not even that, they didn’t even put his untruthful acts in the court file,” Doran said. “It was just the notice of disclosure.”

Salazar’s attorneys wouldn’t discover it until months later when preparing to file for post-conviction relief.

When brought before the trial judge, he ordered a new trial and for Salazar to be released. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges shortly later.

To Doran, that proves the point.

He “absolutely” believes if the jury knew about Armour’s past lies, they never would have convicted Salazar.

THE POWER OF AN OFFICER’S WORD

In Salazar’s case, Officer Armour was the key witness in a trial with little other evidence against her.

An exchange during cross-examination reveals the foundation of the prosecution’s case and the weight of the officer’s testimony.

DORAN: You never ended up testing that pipe did you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: You never ended up fingerprinting that pipe did you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: You didn’t test Ms. Salazar’s blood did you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: Or her urine?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: Or preform a drug recognition analysis on her?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: So you don’t know if she was under the influence of drugs at that time, do you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: You didn’t notice any lipstick on the crack pipe did you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: You didn’t test the crack pipe for DNA, did you?

ARMOUR: No.

DORAN: No further questions, your honor, thank you.

The owner of vehicle even testified that the crack and pipe were his own at the risk of facing his own criminal charges.

But prosecutor Elizabeth Lake told the jury none of that mattered.

In her closing argument, she said the officer’s word is all they needed.

“You have a number of witnesses, all of them have an incentive to lie,” Lake told the jury. “You have an officer who got on the stand and testified, I went, I confronted her and she said I’ll take responsibility for it. That’s it. End of inquiry. There’s no reason to engage in additional investigation.”

Salazar is now suing the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Her attorneys admit it’s a difficult case based on the extreme protections afforded to law enforcement officials.

“Police officers enjoy qualified immunity, and that's as long as what they did was in the course of their employment, they are immune from their conduct, even if it was horrible conduct,” Rundall said. “And for prosecutors, they have something called absolute immunity, it's the highest immunity under the law… So a prosecutor could withhold evidence and information in a criminal trial that proves or exonerates the criminal defendant, and that doesn't matter under the law.”

Citing Salazar’s ongoing lawsuit, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the Salazar matter and didn’t answer specific questions about the case.

County Attorney Allister Adel, who was not in office at the time of Salazar’s prosecution, sent ABC15 a written statement regarding the broader Brady list issues exposed in the station’s investigation.

“The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) has clear policies and procedures to ensure law enforcement integrity records are reviewed, maintained, and meet all discovery requirements as set forth in Brady v. Maryland,” Adel wrote. “Ensuring integrity in the evidence and witnesses in every case prosecuted by this office is a top priority.”

BRADY LIST DELAYS

Maricopa County began keeping an official Brady list roughly 20 years ago. In addition to getting the county’s list, ABC15 also obtained a list of every AZPOST case going back to 2000.

By comparing the two lists, they show Maricopa County officials routinely delayed putting officers' names on the Brady list, usually waiting months and sometimes years after misconduct was first confirmed.

The station’s data analysis shows at least 175 instances across the county. In Phoenix, the number is at least 60.

ABC15 determined the figures by comparing dates officers were placed on Maricopa County’s list to the dates AZPOST cases were reported. For example, if an officer was reported to AZPOST in 2015 but not placed on the Brady until 2016, it means that officer’s misconduct was already recognized, investigated, and sustained by the police agency but not yet added to the list.

Based on hundreds of additional Brady-level misconduct cases never sent to the state board, like Armour’s misconduct, the 175 instances is likely a significant undercount.

Defense attorneys said the delays raise clear constitutional concerns because it means many defendants may not have been properly notified of misconduct that could have helped their cases.

“(Armour) took my freedom,” Salazar said. “He took a lot of things.”

During Salazar’s 22 months in prison, she missed the birth of a granddaughter and her own mother’s health significantly deteriorated.

She would die shortly after Salazar’s release.

It’s the kind of pain and injustice she hopes her lawsuit and story will hopefully fix.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Salazar said. “I want there to be some kind of change.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.