The mishandling of several cases by a Chandler detective has opened the door for defense attorneys to raise legal issues about the 146 other cases the detective worked as a sex crimes investigator and school resource officer.
At least one defense attorney, whose client was convicted of child molestation, has already asked the judge to throw out the guilty verdict because the court was never informed during the trial that Chandler detective Arnold Orozco was under internal investigation.
“Orozco was the investigating officer,” said defense attorney Larry Kazan. “His testimony was critical, and this would have undermined his credibility.”
Orozco took the stand during the December trial to testify against Verne L. Watson, a retired Arizona Department of Public Safety officer who was accused of molesting a 9-yearold girl in 2002.
Watson was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month after the jury found him guilty.
The trial occurred in the middle of the Chandler Police Department’s internal affairs investigation, which ultimately found that Orozco failed to forward 11 cases for prosecution and mishandled evidence in 46 criminal cases dating to 2000.
“I was not aware of any of these cases,” Kazan said. “It’s certainly something I’ll bring to the judge’s attention.”
Orozco was fired Jan. 23 once the investigation was completed. Officials in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said they were given a “heads up” sometime just beforehand.
“If we had known, we would have disclosed,” said county attorney
spokesman Bill FitzGerald. “But we didn’t know.”
Kazan and other Valley defense attorneys say Chandler police should have told the court about it much earlier.
“There are more farreaching implications than what goes on in their little house,” Kazan said.
A Chandler police spokeswoman said she doesn’t think the police are required to tell the court about an investigation before it is complete, but she said the defense attorney is doing his job by filing the motion.
“He’s trying to do the best he can do for his client,” detective Livi Kacic said.
FLURRY OF FILINGS
Kazan’s motion may be the first in a flurry of paperwork filed by other defense attorneys regarding cases Orozco has investigated.
Mesa criminal defense lawyer Marc Victor said there are several legal issues that could be raised, including cases where Orozco is suspected of mishandling 73 pieces of evidence or property. Orozco is suspected of keeping them in his locker or in a box at his apartment instead of logging them into the department’s property room.
Victor said questions about the chain of custody of evidence is often a fertile area of cross-examination.
“My guess is at the end of the day, the chain of custody was so poor that the property would not be able to be used,” Victor said. “It’s likely people could go to his house, they could’ve rummaged through the cardboard box. All that evidence would be inadmissible at trial.”
Victor also said findings in several U.S. Supreme Court cases show that the government, whether it be the police department or county attorney, must disclose information that may lessen someone’s credibility or be of help to the defense.
He agreed that Kazan has a valid case for a new trial.
“How much fun could you have with that as a defense attorney? It’s a dream come true,” Victor said. “The defendant was convicted of a serious crime without getting due process.”
Glendale police faced a similar situation last year, when they fired detective Brad Moore after an internal investigation revealed he falsified reports and failed to forward more than 200 domestic violence cases to city prosecutors.
Most of the cases had to be tossed because the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors had ended. Detectives had to salvage the others.
Unlike Orozco, Moore was placed on administrative leave during the eight-month investigation and was not allowed to testify in court during that time, said Glendale police spokesman officer Mike Peña.
Moore was then fired in March 2005 and lost an appeal to get his job back.
Peña said as far as he knew, the scandal did not cause defense attorneys to submit a pile of new motions.
“I understand why they might have,” Peña said. “Thank goodness it never went that avenue.”
A grand jury criminally indicted Moore early this year in Maricopa County Superior Court on one charge of fraudulent schemes and practices and 20 charges of tampering with a public record.
Chandler police officials said there were no plans to recommend any criminal charges against Orozco. He has appealed his dismissal.