Richard touts experience in county attorney race - East Valley Tribune: News

Richard touts experience in county attorney race

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Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008 7:55 pm | Updated: 11:22 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Even 20 years on, he still remembers the name. "S-I-A-H," he says, spelling it out with typewriter precision. "When somebody puts a contract out on you, you learn how to spell their last name."

County attorney hopeful likes links to governor

Gerald Richard, law enforcement consultant and candidate for Maricopa County Attorney
Gerald Richard

In his campaign to become Maricopa County attorney, there are many stories Gerald Richard tells from his days as a gang prosecutor in the late 1980s, and as a high-ranking civilian in the Phoenix Police Department more recently than that.

Among them, however, he often puts one front-and-center in speeches and rallies: the case of Calvin Siah, the gang member who wanted him dead.

The case, which he handled as a deputy county attorney in 1988, represents one of the biggest advantages he says he has over his opponent, Tim Nelson, in the Democratic primary election Tuesday.

"I am the only candidate that has actually tried felony jury trials," Richard said during a debate in July in Tempe.

But court documents shed some doubt on Richard's recollection of the Siah case. In fact, a review of court records shows no mention of a "contract" on Richard's life.

At one point, an officer told the court, "I also understand that he's threatened the county attorney on the case." No one indicted Siah wanted Richard dead.

In an interview before the records were reviewed, Richard said: "You actually see black-on-white that the guy has a contract out on you, and you say, 'Oh my God.'"

Asked about it later, Richard insisted there was once a document that was more explicit than that. "It specifically said: 'There is a contract out on his life.'" He also said the contract was later confirmed to him by detectives.

No matter the discrepancy, everyone agrees the case was successful.

The year was 1988 and gangs were on the rise nationwide.

Siah had been arrested twice in recent months in a known gang neighborhood in southwest Phoenix, the first time for selling cocaine to an undercover Phoenix officer, the second, selling to a man named Kozy Leon Jack.

During the investigation, Phoenix police created a mish-mash biography of Siah, which was later laid out in court records.

Siah, who could not be located for this article, was portrayed as a young drug kingpin in the making, somebody who ruled the cocaine trade in several Phoenix housing projects, earning as much as $15,000 a day.

In court documents, police said they also were investigating Siah on suspicion of ordering hits, that were never carried out, on several undercover officers.

"Suspect Calvin Siah has made threats to police officers (to shoot at one)," a document said. "PHX P.D. has received information through a confidential informant that 4 unknown B/M's (black males) have arrived in Phoenix to carry out suspect Siah's orders."

Richard was assigned the drug cases. Phoenix police asked him to put Siah away for a long time, Richard said.

"When they said he had to go away, I worked on that and sent him away," he said.

Nothing ever came of the threat investigation, but Richard convinced Siah to plead guilty to the drug charges. A judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

In the years since, Richard made a brief stint as a public defense attorney before joining the Phoenix Police Department as a civilian legal adviser.

He worked his way up the ranks of the agency and ultimately became an administrative director, which is essentially at the level of assistant police chief.

During that time, Richard earned a reputation in as a level-headed leader.

Paul Charlton, the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, remembers a moment in 2001, shortly after the September terrorist attacks, when Richard stood out as a clear thinker.

"Everyone was afraid of subsequent terrorist attacks," Charlton said. When the World Series was played that November in Phoenix, many worried it would be the next target.

In one scenario, a group of law enforcement bigwigs imagined what they would do if somebody was seen dumping a powder into the crowd. Many thought police should shoot the person right off, no matter the circumstance, Charlton said. But Richard called him with a different perspective: remain calm.

It struck Charlton, a Republican and Bush appointee, as almost zen-like.

"With all the hyperbole and some of the exaggerated concerns that other people had, Gerald was able to remove himself from it," Charlton said.

In the end, though no attack took place, the memory stuck with Charlton. He has since endorsed Richard for county attorney. "It was clear that this guy was a pro," Charlton said.

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