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'Full Disclosure' shows Arizona needs monumental not incremental police reform

BRADY LIST PIC 1
Posted at 3:11 PM, Dec 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 21:59:11-05

PHOENIX — On Tuesday, December 29, ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing will deliver powerful reporting on the failure of Arizona’s law enforcement and prosecutors to effectively keep so-called “Brady lists.” In other words, they’re failing to document and track police officers with verified histories of lying and committing crimes.

We’re giving the program a big stage. With all that we’ve discovered in 2020 about systemic police misbehavior, it’s time to confront a truth that may be as powerful as all the video of police violence we’ve seen this year. That truth is this: while essential to maintaining a society where we all feel safe, police and prosecutors are simply unwilling or unable to police themselves. That’s not an overstatement.

As Dave reports:

“Protests have swept the nation because there is a crisis of trust. Trust is everything in policing. We give officers incredible power and authority. But when we can’t trust an officer to be truthful, or trust the police to police themselves or produce all of the evidence, the system breaks down. And when it comes to the Brady list, it is broken, badly broken. We’re back to show you why that is, why it’s still broken after 60 years. It’s ignorance. It’s arrogance. And, it’s indifference.”

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“Full Disclosure” vividly demonstrates that Arizona’s prosecuting attorneys and police departments have not lived up to their constitutional requirements and are not properly keeping Brady lists - an accountability tool that protects you from officers caught lying or committing crimes in the past.

If you care about your rights, then you should understand the protections of the Brady list, which is the outcome of a decades-old criminal case in Maryland involving a person named John Brady.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Brady v. Maryland (1963) that the prosecution must turn over all exculpatory evidence. Here’s a simple Brady description. Police officers are sworn to apply the law in a truthful and equitable way and are required to be honest. If they lie, it’s a serious breach of trust. Lying officers, whether or not they are fired for their dishonestly, are placed on the Brady list. When cases they’ve investigated come to trial, prosecutors must disclose which officers involved were once found to be untruthful.

That’s “must disclose.” It’s a requirement.

So, if you face an officer who has arrested you and built a case to put you in prison, Brady requires that you and your lawyers know whether your arresting officer or the case investigators have ever been untruthful, even if their actions occurred years ago. A judge will review the information, and your attorney can decide to use that information to discredit your accuser, the police. The jury deciding your fate, then has the opportunity to consider the credibility of testimony or evidence from an officer who has a record of lying, documented in the officer’s personnel file.

As “Full Disclosure” reports, many Arizonans aren’t being told if their accusers are liars and on the Brady list.

“Full Disclosure” shows stunning decisions by prosecutors and police to keep the names of officers off of the Brady list or keep their placement secret. It documents their failure to develop a mandatory statewide database with these officers’ names and records, allowing Brady listers to move from department to department without any question of their qualifications. It exposes the ignorance of police chiefs and prosecutors about the basic requirements of Brady. It shows the human cost of unfair prosecutions based on untruthful investigators and prosecutors.

“Full Disclosure” is both damning and enlightening. The report damns, yet again, career law enforcement professionals who simply can’t bring themselves to follow requirements to assess the fitness of police officers. The report enlightens by offering a comprehensive, searchable database of Arizona’s Brady list officers, which gives everyone a tool they need to know their accuser. ABC15’s Arizona Brady list was developed through Dave Biscobing’s tireless research into every county’s records and personnel files from law enforcement agencies statewide. It sets the standard for what prosecutors and police chiefs should be doing, but are not.

“Full Disclosure” may also change the way the Brady list is applied in Arizona to get rid of “bad cops.” Going forward, the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST), the state’s police oversight body, has stated police departments should now refer all Brady-level misconduct for review. AZPOST Executive Director and veteran police leader Matt Giordano told ABC15 this is “…very serious.”

“The board has been very clear, very direct that they take a dim view of anyone who is dishonest as a police officer,” Giordano said. “There is no room in our profession for someone who can’t be trusted.”

Now, let’s address the certainty of push back on this report. I expect that ABC15 will be labeled “anti-cop” by police unions and political leaders whose reflexive response to critical reporting is to condemn it. Certainly, I expect to hear that we’ve indicted an entire profession because of the deeds of “a few bad apples.” And, my favorite criticism has always been this one: “The next time you need a cop, call a reporter instead, and see how that works out.”

That response would be unfortunate. Dave Biscobing’s reporting is factual, comprehensive, deep, and also deeply disturbing. It was built on 18 months of work doing extensive interviews with legal experts, with brave victims who risked much by talking about their personal experiences with rogue Brady list officers, and with law enforcement insiders dedicated to the tremendously difficult task of fixing a culture that protects police no matter the facts. It included hours of analysis of body camera video and the examination of hundreds of Arizona police officers' personnel records. It uses the facts to confront obvious missteps by people who should know better.

Add to Dave’s reporting, the work this year by ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius, and there is a real case for monumental, not incremental, police reform.

Throughout 2020, Melissa’s 70 unique stories on police misconduct, excessive force, civil rights violations, racial bias, and failures in transparency and accountability were beyond eye-opening. Among Melissa’s findings:

  • Criminal investigations of police officers favor the officers and result in lesser punishments than citizens charged with similar crimes.
  • An Arizona sheriff openly admitted that his jailers inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on a mentally ill grandmother.
  • Phoenix Police are much more likely to point a gun at a Black person.
  • Speaking out against police misconduct means facing swift and harsh retaliation.
  • Too often, treatable mental illness leads to dangerous police encounters.
  • Police often talk about de-escalation in resolving potentially violent encounters. De-escalation is not reflected in training.

All of Melissa’s reports can be found here.

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I hope you’ll take the time to watch “Full Disclosure” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 29. Or, you can find the reports here. Please direct your comments to me at mark.casey@abc15.com. I expect some colorful responses. Journalists hate cops, right? Well, no.

For about 14 months, I worked at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office as the Director of Public Information. Sheriff Paul Penzone wanted to reform a public information office that had become a re-election and fundraising tool for Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He asked me to help.

In taking on that task, I worked with women and men in uniform, responded to the scenes of officer-involved shootings, to protest demonstrations, went inside jails and through the booking process, and attended town hall meetings where angry activists said bad things about MCSO, much of it true

The people in uniform I worked with were, for the most part, professional, committed to service, and interested in helping communities become safer and better. They have a very, very difficult and very, very dangerous job. We owe them our thanks, our support, and our respect. And, as this reporting by Dave Biscobing and Melissa Blasius shows, we also should expect them to follow the rules and to face the consequences when they don’t.