04/10/2009

Ariz. blogger critical of cops says he's now a target

By Amanda Lee Myers
Associated Press


Blogger Jeffrey Pataky, who has been critical of the Phoenix Police Department on his Web site, poses for a photo in front of the downtown skyline Wednesday, April 8, 2009, in Phoenix. Pataky says police raided his home in retaliation and is suing the city for civil rights violations.
(AP Photo)
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PHOENIX — Blogger Jeffrey Pataky is dedicated to ranting about crime - so long as it involves the Phoenix police department.

He's posted about one officer's drunken driving arrest and another's arrest for investigation of sexual exploitation of a minor. He's also blogged about allegations of racism, corruption and ineptitude.

"Do you have some dirt on the Phoenix PD?" reads one of his blog posts. "Perhaps you have a voicemail or a recording you made of someone in management covering up, lying or trying to cover their ass? Then we want it!"

Now, Pataky says, he's paying for his public criticism.

Phoenix police raided Pataky's home last month, seizing computers, electronic records and storage devices. A warrant says Pataky is suspected of felony computer tampering and misdemeanor property theft.

He has another take: "In a nutshell, it was to silence me," Pataky, a former software executive, told The Associated Press.

Phoenix police won't comment on the content of the Web site or address Pataky's allegations, citing an ongoing investigation.

"The department's stance is we don't have enough particulars to do an interview," said Officer James Holmes, a department spokesman. "Because the only thing we'd be saying is, 'I don't know. We don't have a comment.'"

The affidavit for the warrant, which would explain the charges, has been sealed.

Pataky, 41, started his blog - called Bad Phoenix Cops - last April "as a personal rant" to vent about the way police handled accusations against him by his ex-wife.

He said he continues to runs the site to expose what he calls corruption and mismanagement on the part of Chief Jack Harris and other department leaders.

Pataky routinely insults individual officers and has bestowed the nickname of "Mr. Potato Head" on one detective he particularly despises, accusing him of cover-ups and racism.

Pataky also has boasted about getting his hands on an internal memo from the city attorney concerning his case and crowed recently that he got a stack of officers' disciplinary records.

Harris, the chief, is his No. 1 target. "Corruption and Cover-ups are rampant among his Assistant Chiefs and Commanders," he wrote at one point. "Sexual Liaisons, Drunks, Suicides & Sexual Harassment - all get hidden and 'swept-under-the-rug' in Jack Harris' office. His own Police Union thinks he is inept."

Pataky said he gets tips and internal memos and critical comments from 50 to 100 former and current officers who support him, and he solicits more.

Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a police union, said the blog is providing an outlet for rank-and-file officers to air frustrations with upper-level mismanagement.

"I think the owner of the Web site is just being honest," Spencer said. "He feels like he's been treated unfairly."

Pataky's anger with Phoenix police began in 2007 when he was listed as a suspect in complaints filed by his ex-wife, Julie Cioppa.

During their messy divorce and child support and custody battle over their two sons, Cioppa alleged that Pataky had stalked and harassed her, videotaped her at home and at the children's schools and told their children, "Mommy is going to die soon."

Pataky denies the allegations. He said in court records that Cioppa was "crazed and bitter and will continually stalk, harass and abuse me."

Pataky was charged with aggravated harassment and domestic violence after Cioppa said he called her 33 times in violation of an order of protection. A judge dismissed the charges during a trial last May.

Pataky sued Harris, Phoenix police, the city and the mayor in federal court on March 16 because of that investigation. The lawsuit alleges detectives relied on false phone records given to them by Cioppa, rather than certified copies provided by the phone company, in pressing the charges against him.

The lawsuit accuses defendants of malicious prosecution, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation of character. He's seeking unspecified damages.

Police searched Pataky's home four days before the lawsuit was filed. While Pataky was away, police handcuffed his roommate and drove Pataky's youngest son to school, according to court records.

"They're basically on a witch hunt," Pataky said. "All of a sudden my life is turned upside down and in turmoil. With the raid, when they took my laptops and all my back-ups, they took my entire life. It's been an emotional toll on me."

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said her organization is going to look into Pataky's claims.

"It does certainly set a bad precedent if these actions were based on retaliation," she said. "It creates a tremendous chilling effect for people who share information online. Hopefully that's not the case, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was."

Pataky's blog: http://badphoenixcops.blogspot.com/

Phoenix police: http://www.phoenix.gov/Police/

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