Veteran Mesa cop at center of ‘excessive force’ investigation - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Veteran Mesa cop at center of ‘excessive force’ investigation

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Posted: Friday, May 25, 2012 5:13 pm | Updated: 5:18 pm, Fri May 25, 2012.

A veteran Mesa police officer remains on paid administrative leave and the focus of an internal affairs investigation into accusations of using excessive force against two men during a traffic altercation.

The Scottsdale Police Department, which investigated the incident involving Sgt. Michael Duke and brothers Randy and Jerry Smyers, has submitted the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Mesa Police announced on Friday. Scottsdale handled the investigation at Mesa’s request to avoid bias or conflict of interest.

During a well-attended press conference, Mesa police Chief Frank Milstead said he believes that at some point during a traffic altercation in Mesa about 7:30 a.m. Dec. 18, 2011, Duke held one of the men at gunpoint and assaulted one of the men first. That information conflicted with what Duke initially reported that led to the arrest of Randy Smyers, 47, on suspicion of aggravated assault on a police officer, Milstead said.

Duke was placed on paid administrative leave the day following the incident once the brothers started informing the city of what happened.

“These allegations are always taken very seriously. The initial stages of the investigation indicated there may have been criminal misconduct,” Milstead said.

Duke was driving to an urgent care center with his children in the car and encountered an aggressive man engaging in road rage, according to the Mesa Police Association, the union representing the officer. Randy Smyers became angry because he felt that Duke was tailgating him in his van, according to documents released by police.

According to the Mesa Police Association, the man identified as Randy Smyers, stopped his car in the middle of a street and approached Duke’s car “in a threatening manner.”

Duke identified himself as a police officer and asked Smyers twice to move his car, but Smyers refused, shouted profanities at Duke and walked toward Duke’s van, according to a Mesa police report.

Duke drew his weapon and called 911. The two men eventually got into an altercation, during which Smyers suffered facial injuries and Duke injured his knee, according to the report.

Randy Smyers’ brother, Jerry, was also injured during the traffic altercation. Randy Smyers, who was accused of aggravated assault on a police officer, was booked into jail, but later released and exonerated of any wrongdoing, Milstead said.

No charges are expected to be filed against either of the Smyers, Milstead said.

“This officer’s conduct fell far below the standards of the police department,” Milstead said. “We have fallen down in this endeavor, and there was information in this report less than correct, and that has been rectified.”

Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokesman Jerry Cobb said on Friday the office has received the case from the Scottsdale police. The case is under review and no charges have been filed.

Nor has Duke been arrested in connection to the incident.

So far, one of the Smyers’ claims has been settled with the city, but the monetary figure is not known, and another claim is under consideration, Milstead said.

“Officers are compelled to act — on and off duty,” Sgt. Ryan Russell, president of the Mesa Police Association said in a statement issued by the union. “Sgt. Duke could have fled the area, but I don’t think that’s what the public expects of their police officers. Duke clearly felt his children and the public were threatened by Randy Smyers’ erratic actions.”

Duke has served as a gang detective and as a gang enforcement sergeant. He was a U.S. Army paratrooper in the first Gulf War, according to information from the MPA.

Near the end of the press conference, Milstead said, “What happened that day is unfortunate. It will impact his (Duke’s) career and his life forever. The outcome of the criminal investigation has a lot to do with whether he could stay on the force.”

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