No Charges for Officer Who Allegedly Threatened to Shoot Phoenix Mayor

No Charges for Officer Who Allegedly Threatened to Shoot Phoenix Mayor

Thalia M. España/Cronkite News

By Bree Burkitt, Associated Press

January 6, 2021

A Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokesperson said it “cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer’s statements constituted a ‘true threat.’

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that it won’t file criminal charges against a Phoenix police officer who allegedly threatened to shoot the city’s mayor.

Mayor Kate Gallego was given additional law enforcement protection after the alleged threat became public in October and the Tempe Police Department was asked to investigate.

A subsequent police report said Steve Poulos reportedly made the threat while on-duty and in uniform during a meeting with six other Phoenix police officers.

Gallego has pushed for police reforms and Poulos, a 22-year veteran, reportedly was upset about a possible defunding of the police force and threatened to shoot the mayor if she did so. 

According to the report, Poulos backtracked after the meeting and said his comment about harming Gallego was made in jest.

A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said it “cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Poulos’ statements constituted a ‘true threat’ as defined by Arizona law. While the statements are inexcusable, legal precedent prevents a reasonable likelihood of conviction at trial, and therefore, we are declining to file criminal charges in this case.”

A spokesman for Gallego said the mayor was disappointed, but “hopes this decision won’t discourage anyone from reporting a threat.”

Calls to Phoenix police and Poulos’ attorney for comment weren’t immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Poulos is still undergoing an administrative investigation to determine whether his actions violated department policy. It’s not clear when that will be completed. Poulos is likely eligible to retire with a full pension at this time. The Arizona Republic reported that the city’s police pension board approved a deferred retirement plan for him, which means he’s accumulating monthly retirement payments now that will be paid as a lump sum when he retires. 

READ MORE: Seven Months After George Floyd’s Killing — Has Policing Really Changed in Arizona?

The Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel has faced repeat criticism from police reform advocates for declining to charge officers in connection with on-duty offenses.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged a Mesa police officer with aggravated assault for shooting an unarmed man for the first time since 2016 — only the second time in nearly a decade. But the charges were ultimately dropped after a judge said the case lacked sufficient evidence to move forward. 

Adel opted not to file charges against a Hispanic Department of Public Safety trooper who shot and killed Dion Johnson — an unarmed Black man — while parked on a highway. Adel said the trooper shot Johnson because he was in fear for his life when Johnson allegedly reached for his duty weapon during a struggle. 

The office also decided not to charge former Tempe Police Officer Joseph Jaen for fatally shooting 14-year-old Antonio Arce as he ran from the officer while clutching a replica model airsoft gun.   This isn’t unique to Adel, either. Past county attorney’s also declined to charge officers for on-duty shootings. Only one officer faced charges from 2011 to 2019 — former Mesa Police Officer Philip Brailsford in the shooting of Daniel Shaver. He was ultimately acquitted by a jury.


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