A botched narcotics case has raised troubling questions about a blacklist compiled by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office that brands local police officers as possibly unreliable to testify in court.
Being on the Brady List — so called because of a 1963 Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to turn over certain information to defense lawyers — essentially calls into question an officer's honesty and could prevent the officer from helping make a case in court.
The list is beneficial to the public in that it helps prevent bad police officers from convicting someone who may be innocent.
But it also raises concerns.
A county attorney's office spokesman initially said there were about 50 Valley officers on the list, but only released 36 names to the Tribune. Some names were not released because Chandler police objected to the disclosure of one officer’s name, and Tempe police didn't want 11 officers included.
The list irks many police officers because they say there's no way to appeal being put on it, and a recent case, police say, shows the potential for abuse by the county attorney's office.
The case involves a Chandler officer and a Phoenix officer who were part of an undercover narcotics operation. Chandler and Phoenix police officials said County Attorney Richard Romley is using the list in retaliation against their officers for criticizing one of his investigators over a botched May 22 drug bust.
"There has to be some forum for our people to defend themselves," said F.B. Robinson, president of the Chandler Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, a new, unofficial police union. "Our guy never had that opportunity. What we have here, a sergeant was accused, and he had no recourse."
Barnett Lotstein, a 30-year prosecutor who now serves as a special assistant county attorney, said Chandler police Sgt. Dale Walters lied to Romley during the narcotics investigation. In any case in which Walters is a witness, a prosecutor is obligated to inform the defense of the allegation, he said.
"If I think you've lied to me, I have to tell the defense that," Lotstein said. "It's not like we have a choice."
Walters and Phoenix Sgt. Jim Cope were looking to raid a business on May 22 that happened to be owned by an informant for Jose Luis Rodriguez Soto, an investigator working for Romley.
Confusion ensued when both parties went to the raid, each side not knowing the other were law enforcement officers.
In a Sept. 4 letter to Chandler acting Police Chief Dave Neuman, Romley said Walters mishandled the investigation and gave "misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information" in response to his questions. Romley said his office would reject any cases from Walters.
Walters and Cope say the botched bust is Soto's fault. Several allegations against Soto were sustained for his end of the investigation and how he managed his informant.
According to public records, the county attorney's office also questioned Cope's conduct, but Romley has so far not placed him on the Brady List. The department pulled him out of narcotics while the Arizona Department of Public Safety reviews the matter. Walters was added to the list.
Chandler City Attorney Dennis O'Neill told Romley in a Sept. 12 letter that he found it "troubling" that Romley would use the "Brady File" as "leverage" to force Walters and Cope to new assignments.
Not waiting for an independent investigation "may give the perception of punishing any law enforcement officer who discovers information during an investigation that might indicate misconduct on the part of one of your investigators," O'Neill wrote.
Robinson and other officers point to the Walters case and say it's dangerous to put the power to ruin an officer's career in the hands of one decision maker.
Mesa Fraternal Order of Police president Bill Everson agreed that officers should have a right to appeal.
"That could cost the guy his job," Everson said.
There are some officers out there not fit to wear the badge, and "Brady" does a public service when it points them out, said Chandler Law Enforcement Association president Dave LeVoy.
But a "Brady letter should not be able to be presented based on one person's opinion. (It) should be based on fact," LeVoy said. "Otherwise, it could be used as a weapon."
Tom Hammarstrom, executive director of the Peace Officers Standards and Training board, which certifies police officers, said what constitutes inclusion on the Brady List can be subjective.
"Sometimes misconduct is alleged, and it's a misunderstanding," Hammarstrom said. "Someone can call in sick when they're just tired and lazy. Is that a Brady issue? Probably not."
Everson said there is dialogue with the county attorney's office to remedy the process. The statewide Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs is also researching cases involving officers in the Brady file in other counties and hopes to persuade the state attorney general to have them removed, said Jim Parks, president of the association and a Tucson law enforcement officer.
Besides an appeals process, Robinson suggested letting an internal investigation determine what behavior warrants inclusion in the Brady list. At least then, an officer can defend himself.
Lotstein said there is nothing to discuss because the law obligates prosecutors to keep the files and determines who's included.
Some officers may not know if their names are on the "Brady List." For an officer to get his name stricken from the list, the only likely recourse is to sue, Robinson said.
"Is that in the public's best interest?" Robinson asked. "We want to avoid lawsuits, we want to work with the county attorney."