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Corruption Alleged in Small-Town Arizona

PHOENIX (CN) - A mayor under investigation for theft started a bogus investigation of his town's former police chief to disrupt his own criminal prosecution and destroy the chief's credibility, the policeman claims in court.

Scott Gillen sued Arizona, the Town of Hayden, Hayden Mayor Charles Vega, and six police officers on March 13 in Federal Court.

Hayden, pop. 652, is in Gila and Pinal counties about 90 miles southeast of Phoenix.

Gillen claims that when he was chief of police he arrested Vega - then the town's fire chief - for the alleged theft of funds from the fire department's New Years' Eve celebration, and receiving stolen property.

Vega was then elected mayor while the criminal charges were pending.

While Vega was mayor, Gillen arrested Vega's cousin on murder charges, the lawsuit states.

Gillen claims that Vega then took action to "derail his own felony prosecution and the murder prosecution" of his cousin, by weakening Gillen and the Hayden Police Department.

"Vega started by facilitating the dismissal of several Hayden Police officers who had been hired by Gillen and had participated in the investigation, arrest and prosecution of Vega" and his cousin, the complaint states.

Gillen says he wrote to the Gila County Attorney's Office, "reporting that Vega was using his official position as the mayor to undermine and destroy" the attorney's office's prosecution.

After that memo, Vega "orchestrated Gillen's dismissal in a vote of the Town Council in August 2013," the lawsuit states.

"After Gillen's departure Mayor Vega, then out on bail, was frequently seen in Gillen's old office," looking at confidential criminal files, the complaint states.

Gillen claims that at some point, two pistols on his former desk disappeared. He says he left the pistols behind when he was dismissed because he had been working to find out when they were obtained by a police officer and whether they were evidence.

Vega hired Michael Haddad, a detective with a "checkered past," and ordered him to investigate the missing pistols, the complaint states. Meanwhile, Gillen took over as police chief of nearby Miami, Ariz.

"Three months later, and after interviewing several co-workers at the Hayden Police Department, Haddad telephoned a Maricopa County commissioner and obtained a warrant to search Chief Gillen's home, [his wife] Veronica Gillen's home, and Chief Gillen's office in the Miami Police Department for the two weapons on one warrant," the complaint states.

The only evidence listed as support for the warrant was that someone saw Gillen handle the pistols 17 months before, and that Gillen had been the subject of an administrative investigation about evidence handling five years ago, according to the complaint.

"Haddad requested the DPS SWAT team assist in executing the search warrant," Gillen says. "Haddad facilitated an unnecessary and over-the-top display of force by DPS designed to ruin Chief Gillen's credibility should he testify at trial, destroy his standing within the law enforcement community, and with his employer."

On March 20, 2014, 24 SWAT officers "in full tactical gear, a DPS helicopter, two armored vehicles and a bomb-detecting robot descended upon Chief Gillen's home," the complaint states.

Gillen says the officers were ordered to conduct a "high risk traffic stop" when he returned home.

"DPS SWAT officers dressed in black tactical gear, body armor and helmets stopped Chief Gillen and ordered him from his vehicle at gunpoint," the lawsuit states. "DPS Sgt. White barked orders while DPS Officer Engwis trained an automatic assault weapon on Chief Gillen."

Gillen says he was arrested, his personal belongings were seized, and he was searched, but nothing incriminating was found in his home, his wife's home, or in his office.

Gillen says his neighbors thought that a large drug raid had taken place and that he was a perpetrator, and he was placed on administrative leave by the Town of Miami.

The Gila County Attorney's Office was not pleased with the raid, the complaint states, and asked Haddad to explain his actions.

"When investigators asked whether the search yielded any weapons, Haddad's response was, '[n]o and that he didn't expect to [find weapons],'" the lawsuit states. (Brackets in complaint.)

Haddad also allegedly admitted to the Miami town manager that the investigation was "purely 'political.'"

In June 2014, Vega pleaded guilty to felony charges and was removed from office, according to the complaint.

His cousin was convicted of murder and sentenced to 38 years in prison, the complaint states.

The Gillens seek compensatory, consequential, special, and punitive damages for civil rights violations. They are represented by Martin Bihn with Bihn & McDaniel, of Phoenix.


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