PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department routinely delayed sending misconduct files to prosecutors for at least 100 “Brady” list officers for hundreds of days on average, according to an expert’s statistical analysis of past cases.
The delays – usually months, and sometimes a year or more -- mean many defendants over a decade likely did not receive constitutionally required exculpatory evidence before accepting pleas or going to trial.
One of those defendants is Frances Salazar, who is suing the city.
She was wrongfully convicted in August 2016 because evidence of her arresting officer’s history of dishonesty was never disclosed before trial.
“The reality is [Phoenix’s] policies, in addition to known problems with an officer they consistently failed to hold accountable, denied Ms. Salazar her right to a fair trial, and resulted in the wrongful incarceration of a legally innocent woman for nearly two years,” according to a recent motion filed by Salazar’s attorney as part of her federal lawsuit against the city.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland ruled that police and prosecutors cannot withhold exculpatory evidence, including past cases of dishonesty and other misconduct by officers.
As a result, prosecutors began tracking problematic officers by creating “Brady” lists.
But ABC15’s ongoing “Full Disclosure” investigation found the system for tracking those officers in Arizona is deeply flawed. Arizona county attorney’s offices almost exclusively rely on police departments to voluntarily report cops for inclusion.
Salazar’s attorney hired an expert, Dr. Melissa Kovacs, to analyze a decade of Brady list cases (112) for 10 years (2006 – 2016) proceeding her wrongful conviction.
The expert’s analysis found it took:
- 476 days, on average, for an officer to be placed on the “Brady” list following an allegation.
- 200 days, on average, for Phoenix to report an officer to prosecutors for “Brady” list consideration after an internal investigation was concluded.
ABC15 obtained a 3.5-hour video of Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams being deposed in the Salazar case. [A transcript of Williams’s deposition is embedded at the end of this report.]
Williams was questioned repeatedly by Salazar’s attorneys about the delays cited in the expert’s report. The chief declined to comment directly on the findings or hypothetical situations posed about those delays.
“We are looking at a report that’s the opinion of an individual that you all hired,” Williams testified. “Again, this is the first time I’ve seen this report.”
In court motions, Phoenix’s attorneys have not disputed Kovacs’s analysis in court filings. Instead, the city filed an opinion from a separate expert, who called the findings “irrelevant to generally accepted police policies and practices.”
In a statement for this report, a police spokesperson also did not challenge the statistics and wrote, “The time period which is the subject of the analysis is before Chief Williams’ tenure.”
Williams and Salazar’s attorney sometimes clashed during the deposition.
One of the more tense moments occurred when Williams was asked multiple times to explain what she would consider a “timely” disclosure of “Brady” material.
The chief wouldn’t provide a specific timeframe, saying it would depend on many factors. She also said she trusts her staff to handle and understand the issues.
Williams declined to directly answer questions about whether the delay that caused Salazar’s wrongful conviction was appropriate.
“So in April of 2016, I wasn’t the police chief,” Williams said. “So I’m going to put that on the record again. Someone else was the police chief. Again, I don’t know how long it takes [the Professional Standards Bureau] to finalize the investigation and get the information to [the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office].”
Salazar was arrested, charged, and convicted for a drug possession charge based solely on the word of a single police officer, Anthony Armour. He was not wearing a body camera and Salazar was never drug tested.
The year before Salazar’s trial, a police supervisor accused Armour of falsely arresting another woman and then lying about it. A department internal investigation confirmed Armour’s dishonesty 105 days before her trial but it was never disclosed, records show.
An ABC15 investigation further found Armour, who retired under an accidental disability claim, had a long history of discipline and misconduct allegations. Multiple women have accused him of sexual assault, including a fellow officer in 2010.
A police spokesperson said the “Brady” reporting “process is currently taking less than 30 days.”
Following the initial publication of this report, the department provided information to support the 30-day figure for nine cases reported over the past seven months.
During the deposition, Williams also dismissively responded to a question when asked what she knew about Salazar, a wrongfully convicted citizen in her city, whose case has made repeated headlines and was even the topic of a previous ABC15 interview with the chief.
At first, Williams answered, “Do I know anything about who and who?” The chief then said, “No, other than she’s suing me.”
The city’s attorneys also unsuccessfully tried to subpoena ABC15’s raw reporting on Salazar’s case.
Williams recently announced her intention to retire this summer.
Her tenure as chief has been controversial, and she will leave Phoenix in the middle of multiple ongoing scandals.
The city is also facing a sweeping Department of Justice pattern or practice investigation.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This report is a continuation of ABC15’s “Full Disclosure” investigation. Chief Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing is the only person to ever compile a comprehensive statewide “Brady” list, and he’s in the process of updating the public database. ABC15 will air more reports about the police chief’s deposition, Phoenix’s reporting delays, and other “Brady” cases in the coming days. A transcript of Williams’s deposition is below. Dave Biscobing can be contacted at Dave@ABC15.com.]