When I saw the Nov. 7 KPNX Channel 12 news story headlines, “Cop cover up? Did Chandler police officers tamper with evidence after a Mesa SWAT sergeant’s DUI?” I thought, not another dirty cop!
12 News reported Chandler police were launching an internal investigation thanks to reporter Wendy Halloran uncovering a Chandler sergeant who “may have covered up evidence” in a 2002 DUI case.
Halloran reported she “uncovered an unusual DUI case in Chandler” following a “tip” from a fired crime scene technician. Her tipster was fired in 2008 for unlawfully taking thousands of photographs of violent crime victims from police custody for own personal use. No criminal charges were filed against her. In June a federal appeals court upheld her firing. Halloran made the public records request days after her tipster lost her case.
Halloran wanted 32 specific investigations dating back 21 years and seven police chiefs ago. After her five-month investigation, paying for and reviewing 2,700 pages of reports, Halloran’s focus shifted away from Mesa and re-aimed at highly decorated undercover Chandler police Sgt. Keith Benjamin, who received the 2008 Top Cops Award from Parade Magazine. Halloran failed to mention his twice being named “Officer of the Year.”
Halloran reported that in August 2002 Chandler police arrested Mesa police officer Mike Beaton, not a SWAT sergeant as reported, for DUI following a one-car accident. Beaton admitted he’d been drinking and voluntarily took a blood test. His blood alcohol content was .16. Police had the evidence they needed to charge him. Benjamin made the decision to arrest and book Beaton into jail. DUI charges were brought but eventually dismissed because of prosecutorial errors.
Following Beaton’s arrest Mesa police started an internal investigation into his off-duty conduct. Beaton was suspended without pay for a week. He has since been promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and was awarded the department’s highest award for valor for the leading the 2010 hostage rescue of a girl who was kidnapped by a heavily armed gang member.
During the Mesa internal investigation, a rookie Chandler officer mentioned two empty beer cans in Beaton’s car and Benjamin disregarding his concern about the cans. That was enough for Halloran to go after him.
Halloran’s story zeroed in on Benjamin’s 11-year-old comments. Her portrayal of the incident easily led people to believe the sergeant’s handling of the beer can situation was an attempt to “cover up” evidence?
In my own experience and that of several veteran traffic enforcement officers I spoke with, beer cans in DUI arrests are inconsequential and not evidence.
Even though Benjamin works undercover, Halloran showed his photograph during the newscast.
What Halloran also failed to report was Mesa police internal affairs investigators and command staff reviewed the Beaton investigation and found no misconduct by Benjamin. If Mesa had detected any wrongdoing by the Chandler sergeant they were duty bound to report it immediately to his police chief.
Benjamin has yet to be proven guilty of any misconduct by his own department.
This isn’t the first time Halloran has shot from the hip when she didn’t have or report all the facts.
In 2010, Halloran reported New Times reporter Paul Rubin allegedly paid three world-class pathologists for their opinions in the case of Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Louie Puroll reportedly being shot by drug smugglers. Before the newscast was over Channel 12 felt compelled to issue a retraction about Halloran’s false accusation after being contacted by the New Times.
One can only wonder why Halloran didn’t ask the right questions and get all of the facts before pointing fingers?
Halloran’s report made a negative impact on how the public sees the police.
Being a cop is tough enough without the public’s attitude being misshaped by an errant reporter who doesn’t get all of the facts before dragging good cops names through the mud on TV.
• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.