The bungled prosecution of Brandon Lee Lewis has raised a host of troubling questions about our courts — and the Payson Police Department.
Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill chastised prosecutors for mishandling the case by failing to either obtain — or disclose vital information. The failure of the Payson Police Department to provide key reports and accurate estimates further compounds the troubling questions raised.
The case goes back to October 2011, when a reportedly intoxicated Lewis ran his car into a retaining wall. Three police officers ultimately showed up and when one officer tried to administer a field sobriety test, Lewis resisted.
Lewis maintains the officers manhandled him, using excessive force. The officers’ reports indicate they used force only to control Lewis.
But the facts of the confrontation between the handcuffed Lewis and the three officers that left him injured and the hood of a squad car dented have taken a back seat to the conduct of the police and prosecutors at the trial.
Prosecutors failed to disclose crucial evidence, either through a deliberate win-at-any-price approach or through a series of mistakes and oversights. Judge Cahill, who has found himself in an increasingly confrontational relationship with Gila County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp and his prosecutors, concluded the errors were so egregious that it hardly mattered whether they were inadvertent. In total, the mistakes and omissions made it impossible to either uphold the guilty verdict or justify a second trial.
Certainly, the list of errors would give any fair-minded person pause. Between Payson Police and prosecutors, the state withheld “use of force” reports and a car repair estimate that constituted the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. They also failed to disclose past issues concerning testimony by one officer. Even more disturbing are the indications that prosecutors withdrew an offered plea deal after Lewis filed a civil suit against Payson Police. Since plea bargaining settles the vast majority of criminal cases, any manipulation of that system raises grave concerns.
The case crowns a disturbing year in which confrontations, blame-placing and grand-standing have dominated our courtrooms. We hope this case will serve to make all of the officers of the court take a deep breath, do some real soul searching and remember that they must seek justice — not victory — when they go through the doors of that courtroom.