PHOENIX — Phoenix’s new police chief said he won’t use a secret messaging app like his predecessor and stated that the city’s false charging of protesters caught his attention.
During an introductory interview in his first week on the job, Michael Sullivan was careful when answering ABC15’s questions about the two scandals facing his new department, but he promised to always follow the law.
“That’s the way I will conduct business while I’m here,” he said.
Sullivan, who came from the Baltimore Police Department, inherits an agency in the middle of multiple scandals, lawsuits, and a Department of Justice investigation.
In the most recent example, ABC15 exposed that outgoing Chief Jeri Williams and her top cops used Signal to discuss sensitive department matters. The private messaging app is encrypted, and Williams had the auto-delete feature enabled.
ABC15 also learned other city leaders, including Mayor Kate Gallego, used the app.
When asked what he would do if other officials asked Sullivan to communicate with him on Signal or similar messaging apps, he answered, “I don’t have that app on my phone so it would be impossible for me to do that. I believe that communication needs to be handled in the way that the law tells us we need to handle it.”
One of the biggest matters facing Phoenix stems from the department’s role in falsely charging protesters.
Dozens of protesters have filed lawsuits and the cases are also part of the DOJ’s investigation.
In the most egregious example, police and prosecutors colluded to invent a fictional gang and then charge protesters as members.
“What I can tell you is I’m not completely 100% read in on this investigation,” Sullivan said. “I know there is ongoing litigation. What I can tell you is that I will look into each situation that comes up and I’m going to follow the law and make sure we do the right thing. I’m focused on doing the right thing.”
ABC15 obtained confidential grand jury transcripts showing officers testified that a group of protesters was like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.
“I can tell you it caught my attention when I read the reports on it,” Sullivan said. “I’m not completely read in on it. I’m on day three. I will look at each situation and we will follow the law.”
Williams largely escaped blame for the protest scandal by claiming she was unaware of the gang case. She blamed and demoted three assistant chiefs following an investigation conducted by a law firm hired by the city.
ABC15 later obtained secret recordings of assistant chiefs privately saying that Williams misled the public and city council about her knowledge of the case.
The assistant chiefs blamed and demoted by Williams have filed a lawsuit against the city.
Coming in as an outsider, Sullivan was asked about how he will able to determine who to trust inside the department.
“What I can tell you is my experience and my track record has been building teams. I walked into my last department and was able to build successful teams there,” he said. “You have to trust the people that you work with.”
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.