It’s been almost a year since Phoenix police raided the home of a blogger who had been critical of them, hoping to find some shred of evidence that would allow them to lock him up.
Or at least shut him up.
The search warrant, signed by a judge who has since been indicted on racketeering charges (in what is most likely just another Sheriff Joe Arpaio witch hunt) accused Jeff Pataky of “computer tampering with the intent to harass” as well as stealing from the department.
Police ended up confiscating three computers, routers, modems, hard drives, memory cards and everything necessary to continue blogging.
After months of quietly preparing their case against Pataky, including several months where the search warrant remained sealed, Phoenix police presented their case to an Arizona grand jury.
Two weeks ago, the grand jury refused to indict Pataky on the main charges against him, including harassment, identity theft, petty theft and computer fraud. Essentially any of the allegations listed on the search warrant.
The grand jury did, however, indict him on perjury and false swearing, the former stemming from a divorce case that occurred before he even launched his blog. The latter charge because he apparently swore on oath that he did not own the blog. He still insists he doesn’t own the blog.
Former Phoenix homicide detective David Barnes, who was accused of feeding Pataky information for his blog, was also indicted on perjury as well as harassment against two of his fellow police officers.
According to the indictment, the two men swore that they had never met before November 15, 2008 when Barnes responded to a report from Pataky regarding his ex-wife violating a court order.
Investigators believe Barnes was feeding Pataky information long before that date because he had an ax to grind with a couple of his co-workers.
The truth is, Barnes was speaking out against the department long before Pataky launched his blog in April 2008. He was the one they were trying to shut up because he kept complaining about the ongoing blunders in the Phoenix Crime Lab that affected several murder cases. And he also had a personal beef with those two officers.
Although the grand jury found no evidence supporting the allegations on the search warrant against Pataky, police are refusing to return the confiscated items.
“We have made numerous requests, but they are holding on to my items to be malicious pricks,” Pataky said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Sunday night.
Besides all the electronic equipment they seized, police are still holding onto all his personal documents, including tax returns and bank statements as well.
Nevertheless, the Phoenix Police Department is now claiming that they never had a problem with Pataky’s blogging.
According to the Phoenix New Times:
Phoenix Police Sergeant Trent Crump told New Times that in his 25 years on the force, he can’t remember a single time when a current police officer has been indicted.
“It’s extremely unusual,” Crump said. “Any time we have an employee who engages in something like this, it’s a setback for us. … It’s a black eye for the department.”
When a search warrant was executed on Pataky’s home last March, the blogger cried foul, claiming the police were trying to shut down a (loud) critic. Crump rejected that idea tonight, noting that the charges against Pataky won’t affect his Web site: “We understand he has a First Amendment right, and we respect that right.”
As a guy who spent nearly four years covering the police beat in Phoenix for the arizona republic newspaper, I can tell you firsthand that Crump is a liar. I’ve written several stories on Phoenix cops who were indicted for one thing or another. In a department of more than 2,800 officers, it wasn’t that uncommon.
So are we to believe him when he says the raid against Pataky had nothing to do with his blog?
It had everything to do with his blog.
But the story behind the raid goes much deeper than that. It is a story of a frighteningly dysfunctional police department that habitually commits blunders, only to cover them up by committing more blunders. A tale of vengeful ex-wives, promiscuous mistresses and shattered careers. A complex entanglement that I will not even attempt to describe on this blog.
For that, I urge you read last year’s cover story by the Phoenix New Times, which describes it as the “ugliest donnybrook to hit the Phoenix Police Department in years.”
The raid quickly became a public relations nightmare for the Phoenix Police Department. Bloggers raised hell, videos defending Pataky sprung up on YouTube, and police brass were left scrambling to explain their actions.
Their “explanations” were cryptic, at best. The city’s public information officers claimed that Pataky wasn’t necessarily the target of the investigation, and that police weren’t attempting to silence their most vocal critic.
All that may well be true. But the record suggests that even if they weren’t trying to shut up Pataky, they were trying to shut down his best source — and that they’d come to believe that source was one of their own.
Notice that the above passage makes no reference to the mainstream media raising hell. If it were solely up to the arizona republic, which broke the story by burying a forgiving piece on the inside of its local section last March, the story might never have gained nationwide exposure.
So hopefully police around the country will think twice before they decide to raid the home of a blogger.
Because there are just too many of us to shut down.