Overwhelming odor in Apache Junction
By Laurie Roberts
Nov. 16, 2002
"I don't want to see anybody ruined, but I'll tell you what, I don't think the man ought to be carrying a weapon. I think he is unstable, and I have told other people that."
So went the warning about Sgt. Robert "Woody" Haywood from the doctor who looks after the Apache Junction SWAT team. Dr. James Walker discussed his "grave concerns" about Haywood with the city's human resources director on April 11, 2001.
Eight days later, Ali Altug lay dead on his kitchen floor.
The 16-year-old is one in a virtual parade of people killed by police in this state. Until last week, when a Chandler officer was arrested, not a single one of those shootings was ever labeled anything other than justified. After seeing how this case was handled, I'm not surprised.
Now that Apache Junction's stinking secret is out - with a little help from a Superior Court judge - the entire debacle leaves me wondering not only whether police departments can investigate themselves but also whether they can investigate each other.
One thing is clear though: An industrial-strength odor-eater needs to be installed at Apache Junction City Hall, where some top people knew about Haywood's background and did nothing to get him off the streets, while others hid it, going so far as to pay $1.65 million to Altug's parents to make sure the information never saw the light.
The stench is almost overwhelming.
Clearly, it began wafting through the place months before Altug died when SWAT officers began expressing concern about Haywood's behavior. How he shot up a door at a meth lab bust, blasting away until there was nothing left when he could have simply broken a window and unlocked it. How he panicked during a barricade situation, claiming the gunman took aim at him when the sniper assigned to watch the gunman said it never happened.
According to the city records, released this week only because Judge Roger Kaufman ordered it, things got so bad that Police Chief Ron Warner was asked to remove Haywood from the SWAT team. "If something isn't done in a timely manner, the likelihood of a civilian or a team member death or serious injury greatly increases," SWAT Sgt. Rick Salmon wrote on Dec. 21, 2000.
Haywood was removed from the SWAT team in January 2001. And put on the streets. Warner told me he never would have done so had Haywood posed a danger. In fact, Warner said, a psychiatrist deemed him fit for duty.
And yet on April 11, 2001, the SWAT doctor warned Human Resources Director Sue Stalcup that Haywood was unstable.
Eight days later, a suicidal Altug was shot by Haywood as he walked across the kitchen with a knife. Altug's father said his son had the knife to his own arm. Haywood said the boy was attacking him, the knife flailing in his upraised hand.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety was called in to investigate and within hours, Haywood told DPS that his psychiatrist had put him on Klonopin, a drug for panic disorders.
Strangely, DPS investigators never followed up to find out why a cop prone to panic attacks was on the street with a gun. Or tested a urine sample taken that night to see if he had taken his medication (he hadn't). Or even asked why he left the SWAT team (and there's certainly no evidence that Apache Junction volunteered the information).
In fact, DPS investigators sent their report to the Pinal County attorney, who promptly labeled the shooting justified, without even reconstructing the shooting. Had they done so, maybe they could have explained how it was that Altug was shot through the back of the hand holding the knife.
Almost as if he was holding it to his own arm.
Reach Roberts at email@example.com or at (602) 444-8635.