More than a dozen liberal organizations and Democratic lawmakers are asking Bill Montgomery to establish an exclusion list of law enforcement officers with a history of dishonesty, bias, or violence.
In a letter sent to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Friday, the ACLU of Arizona, the local chapter of American Friends Service Committee, CAIR, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, LUCHA and The Justice Collaborative signed on with Representatives Athena Salman, César Chávez, Diego Rodriguez and Raquel Terán, Senators Senators Juan Mendez and Martin Quezada and newly-elected Phoenix City Councilman Carlos Garcia, are asking that Montgomery follow in the footsteps of St. Louis, where the city prosecutor recently placed 22 officers on her exclusion list because of racially-charged social media posts.
The Phoenix Police Department was recently scrutinized for active officers’ racially-charged and violent posts on Facebook found in a database from The Plainview Project, and a viral incident in which a police officer threatened to shoot an unarmed person over shoplifting, both of which were highlighted in the letter.
“These latest scandals have surfaced after a year in which Phoenix led the nation in police shootings, demonstrating the need for true accountability and real change in our police department,” the letter says.
Montgomery took issue with the letter to state that there is already something similar in place.
“We have a Rule 15 Disclosure Database that serves the same purpose, but with appropriate requirements for thorough investigations and Due Process guarantees,” he said through a spokeswoman.
Rule 15 governs disclosure of evidence for criminal trials.
Montgomery said he doesn’t think the people calling for this kind of list “know or understand the use and effect” of the rule already in place.
The letter ends by saying Montgomery has “unmatched power to demand better police practices,” and if he does not agree, it “enables and condones misconduct that undermines the integrity of our entire legal system.”
Montgomery isn’t the only official that does not support a no-call or exclusion list asked in the letter.
Joe Clure, the executive director of the Arizona Police Association, reiterated Montgomery’s comments about the Rule 15 disclosure in place.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding for what Brady v. Maryland is and is not,” Clure said, referring to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that requires the prosecution to disclose any material evidence favorable in its possession to the defense upon the defense’s request.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office keeps a list – known as the “Brady list” – of police officers whose honesty is in question.
Clure said the Brady list and the Rule 15 are determined independently by a court in terms of relevance and whether things are “disclosable.”
He said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to have these lists.
Retired Sgt. J. Gary Nelson, formerly of the Scottsdale Police Department, and a member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, or leap, disagrees with Clure.
He says that “a no-call list would help ensure biased and dishonest police can’t get in the way of Americans’ constitutional right to a fair trial.”
“Recent events, especially in Arizona, demand that we take serious accountability measures to keep only the best officers serving our communities,” Nelson said in a statement provided to Capitol Times.
Clure said he thinks the lists already in place are flawed because someone could make a mistake and then have a clean record for 10 or so years, but their name still won’t be removed. He compared it to a criminal defendant having a right to not have prior convictions held against them if the sentencing takes place after 10 years.
“There’s no doubt there is a war on police right now,” Clure said, adding that there is nothing broken that needs to be fixed.
The “exclusion” list the organizations are asking of Montgomery is, according to Clure, “a solution in search of a problem.” Clure also said that the whole process now is like double jeopardy for the officers.
While, the organizations don’t clearly state the current rule in place, they wrote in the letter that this would just be a step in the right direction, not necessarily a final solution to the ongoing problems they point out in Arizona law enforcement.
Analise Ortiz, campaign strategist at the ACLU of Arizona, said that instituting a no-call policy is an important step toward repairing the public’s trust with prosecutors and the criminal legal system as a whole.
“Officers who’ve publicly made their racist views known put the integrity of any case they handle in jeopardy,” Ortiz said in a statement.
The letter also mentions Montgomery has remained silent in times of crisis before, so this would be an opportunity for him to act.
“The County Attorney must be a leader for police accountability, not someone who sits silently on the sidelines waiting for others to fix a broken system that he oversees,” the letter says.
The letter does briefly mention the Brady list, but only to point out that this proposed change they are seeking would do more than what a disclosure database does.
“[The Brady list] does not prevent the County Attorney from calling [officers in question] to testify or prevent the office from accepting their cases,” it says in the letter.
Clure does emphasize that the Brady list needs to improve and add the capability for officers to eventually be removed or at least go through some type of appeal process.
“We hire from the human race, and until Jesus Christ comes down and applies you’re going to get people that are going to make mistakes. There are no perfect people,” Clure said.
While it’s unlikely Montgomery will bend the knee to this request, he may not be the county attorney much longer if Gov. Doug Ducey opts to appoint him to the Supreme Court later this year. Montgomery’s term as county attorney is also up in 2020, but he hasn’t yet filed to run again.