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County Attorney answers for Glendale abuse of force case

Posted at 5:56 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 22:04:23-05

GLENDALE, AZ — Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he decided to forward the controversial case of Glendale police repeatedly tasing a handcuffed man to the FBI in order to give the public confidence in the eventual outcome of the case.

FULL SECTION: Glendale Abuse of Force Investigation

“I thought it was best to have a completely uninvolved agency to take a fresh look at everything,” Montgomery said in an exclusive interview with ABC15. “That way, whatever decision they come to, is one that everyone could have confidence in.”

However, the county attorney declined to discuss his personal feelings about the incident, which has gained national attention, or go into detail about his office’s initial handling of the incident.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has been criticized in recent weeks after ABC15 revealed that prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Glendale Officer Matt Schneider for his role in a July 26, 2017 traffic stop.

Video shows Schneider and other officers repeatedly tasing passenger Johnny Wheatcroft, a passenger in a vehicle stopped for an alleged turn-signal violation.

Wheatcroft was handcuffed lying face down on the hot asphalt on a 108-degree day, already been tased 10 times, with one officer kneeling on his back as another, when Officer Matt Schneider, kicked him twice in the groin and pulled down his athletic shorts to tase him a final time in his testicles, according to a federal lawsuit and body camera footage.

Montgomery said he remembers being briefed on the incident at the time but did not recall seeing the body camera footage. After ABC15’s report, Montgomery said he watched the video and decided more investigation was warranted.

Below is a transcript of our questions and Bill Montgomery’s responses:

Biscobing: Can you tell me about your decision to forward this to the FBI?

Montgomery: Sure. I got a chance to look at all of the video myself and believed that a further investigation was warranted. And because we had already had one local review, because we had already had one local police department involved, I thought it would be best to have a completely uninvolved agency to take a fresh look at everything. That way, whatever decision they come to, is one that everyone could have confidence in, that looked at everything fresh, didn’t prejudge anything, and didn’t have any dog in the fight, so to speak. And whatever decision gets made, is the decision that gets made. I think it was Tuesday afternoon we started speaking with the FBI about taking the case to review and over the course of Wednesday we got the materials together and got that over to them.

Biscobing: Why the FBI and not another County Attorney’s Office?

Montgomery: Sure. Keep in mind, most county attorney’s offices don’t have the level of resources we have here. So, I’m usually very careful about asking other agencies to review things. And because this also involved a local law enforcement agency that this office also has a direct relationship with, I felt it better that I be the one responsible for handing that off a completely independent law enforcement agency to take a look at rather than to another county attorney’s office.

Biscobing: Now the FBI, can they look at state charges like assault or anything, or can they only look at federal crimes? That’s one thing I’m not clear on.

Montgomery: I did not narrow the scope or specifically request anything of the FBI. Initially, of course as a federal agency, they can take a look at violations of federal law. What I can tell you, is that when we have partnered with the FBI, and they conducted an investigation and they’ve brought cases to us, that we’ve been able to review state law violations and file cases. It is conceivable that a review of this could result in a recommendation to review for state charges. I don’t know. And if that were the case, that’s something that would probably go to another county attorney’s office, in that particular scenario. That would be one, where it might be best to have another county attorney’s agency handle that. The short answer is: I didn’t limit the scope of the FBI’s inquiry. And I didn’t ask them to do anything specific in terms of review of charges at either the state or federal level.

Biscobing: So you’ve just asked them to review it as a whole?

Montgomery: Correct.

Biscobing: Did you hear about this incident when it happened back in 2017?

Montgomery: I was briefed on it originally back in 2017. Officer use of force incidents, if we review them for potential charging, I’ll get briefed on a decision on that. I don’t remember taking a look at the specific videos myself. Rarely do I do that. So I recalled it initially. So then the incident came back up again, and I had conversations with the defendant’s attorney and the plaintiff’s attorney, I took a look at all of the videos and that’s when I came to the conclusion it’s best for us all involved to have someone else do a thorough review.

Biscobing: Was the video sent to your office back in 2017?

Montgomery: I don’t know. I would be surprised if it wasn’t.

Biscobing: So you’re not sure of that at this point?

Montgomery: No.

Biscobing: Have you had discussions with your staff about this since, you know, before forwarding this to the FBI about what they looked at the time and the decision not to prosecute at the time?

Montgomery: The best answer I can give you about that, Dave, is that after I got a chance to review all of the video and everything and assess everything that it would be best to have an uninvolved agency do a thorough review.

Biscobing: What is it about the video that you thought, let’s have this sent to the FBI? Was it the video? Was it the public outcry? The governor’s statement? What was the trigger point that made you decide we need to have this reviewed by the FBI?

Montgomery: Well to work backwards, the Governor’s statement, I had already made the decision the day before. So the Governor’s statement didn’t have any bearing on a decision that had already been made. In terms of public concern, when applying the law to facts and evidence, I can’t let public concern influence that particular decision. The decision to review a case for charging has to be based independent of that so that it truly is an independent determination and it’s not influenced by passion or prejudice. I want to avoid commenting on anything that I may have seen because the referral I made to the FBI, I didn’t say anything specific that would potentially influence or suggest my take on any facet of the previous investigation or what we can view on the video. I want this to be a clean review with no other input beyond what the FBI is able to come up with in their investigation.

Biscobing: So you don’t want to comment on what you’ve seen so as not to taint…

Montgomery: Correct. I want the FBI’s ability to review what they have on hand based on solely what they review and what their investigative leads take them to next.

Biscobing: Do you have any idea what sort of time frame the FBI might have?

Montgomery: I have no idea.

Biscobing: So that’s just open?

Montgomery: Yeah. It is.

Biscobing: Do you stand by how your office handled this initially?

Montgomery: I’m very confident in our referral to the FBI.