PHOENIX — Does Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams understand the “Brady” list process and why it’s important?
After an interview with ABC15, multiple attorneys said Williams does not.
The chief incorrectly cited court processes that don’t exist and have nothing to do with the long-standing constitutional requirement to turn over evidence of officers’ past lies, crimes, and integrity issues in cases.
“It was shocking to read that,” said Armando Nava, a leader with the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. “ And (it’s) honestly kind of chilling that she might not know the process and why it’s important. It’s been a principal for decades and to have someone manage the size of this department and not understand it should terrify everybody.”
ABC15 requested a sit-down interview with Williams to discuss the station’s “Full Disclosure” investigation.
It’s a series of reports about problems with Arizona’s “Brady” lists that also highlights a specific Phoenix officer who kept his job despite multiple lawsuits, documented lies, and sex assault allegations.
The department granted ABC15 a 12-minute interview with the chief.
Here’s the answer that nearly a dozen attorneys called confusing, inaccurate, and bewildering.
ABC15: As of last year, we found there are about 100 to 110 active Phoenix officers on the Brady list. How do you feel about that?
CHIEF WILLIAMS: I feel that’s a process that’s been set up to make sure the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the prosecutors can engage in asking people questions during the voir dire process. But I also know there are people on that Brady list from 23 years ago who have literally turned their lives around. They made mistakes 23 years ago, yet they are still on the Brady list. I know that some of the officers on the Brady list can still testify in court once they go through the actual process.
Instead of directly answering the question, Williams brought up voir dire and a non-existent process to allow officers to testify.
“None of those things have anything to do with voir dire,” said Jared Keenan, a defense attorney who now works with ACLU Arizona.
Voir dire is one of the most basic parts of the criminal trial process. It’s the questioning of potential jurors during the jury selection process to weed out potential conflicts and biases.
Expert witnesses can also be questioned under voir dire to test the validity of their expertise. It does not apply to eyewitnesses like arresting officers, attorneys said.
Those officers can and will testify if called by prosecutors or the defense. There is not a process by which a Brady list placement stops their testimony in Maricopa County.
A Supreme Court decision from nearly 60 years ago just requires that those officers’ past issues be disclosed to defendants and their attorneys to ensure a fair judicial process.
Given that a small fraction of criminal arrests ever go to trial, Brady’s importance far extends beyond testimony in the courtroom.
“Totally bewildered why (voir dire) would enter her mind,” Nava said. “And again, it’s kind of scary why she doesn’t understand why Brady is important and how it functions.”
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland ruled that police and prosecutors cannot withhold exculpatory evidence, especially past dishonesty by officers.
As a result, prosecutors began maintaining “Brady lists” to track law enforcement officials with integrity concerns, including past crimes, lying on the job, and other misconduct.
ABC15 obtained Brady lists for every county in Arizona. They show there are more than 1,400 law enforcement officers on the lists. There were more than 400 in Phoenix — more than 100 still active. It’s about one in 30 current officers in the city.
The earliest placement for a current Phoenix officer is 1999. The majority of active Phoenix officers on Brady were placed on the list within the past decade.
In response to a follow-up question to seek a clearer answer about the amount of Phoenix officers on the list, Williams said, “I always find it concerning when we’re talking about integrity issues. What I know is I’m unafraid to address challenges like that.”
For more of ABC15's interview with Chief Williams, tune in Wednesday to ABC15 News at 6 p.m.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.