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Report On Arizona Hostage Crisis May Never Be Released

A report on the 2004 hostage crisis at the Arizona Prison Complex-Lewis took hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and more than three months to produce. But thanks to partisan politics and bureaucratic infighting, the report may never be released.

On January 18, 2004, two prisoners seized control of an armed surveillance tower at the complex and took two guards hostage. Two females--a civilian kitchen worker and one of the hostages--were allegedly raped in the first hours of the takeover. The other hostage, a male, was severely injured. Both hostages were eventually released. The pair surrendered peacefully on February 1. The 15-day ordeal was the longest prison hostage standoff in U.S. history.

Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano quickly assembled a "blue-ribbon" panel to investigate. Fearing a biased investigation, Republican legislators appointed Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a Napolitano rival and possible 2006 gubernatorial candidate, to lead an independent grand jury investigation. In turn, Romley, seeking to distance himself from the potential fallout, appointed former U.S. attorney Mel McDonald as a special county attorney to head the inquiry.

The state responded by petitioning a judge to quash the investigation. Although the judge allowed the grand jury to continue, he did limit the scope of the inquiry to a criminal investigation and told McDonald he would need special permission to conduct an administrative review.

But McDonald continued unfazed, never seeking that permission. The grand jury ultimately produced a 181-page report on the standoff, but made no criminal indictments. On May 29, McDonald requested that the report be made public.

The state immediately objected. The Attorney General's Office, representing the state, requested time to review the report and, if necessary, draft a response. The Associated Press and the Arizona Republic moved to intervene, asking the judge to publicly release the report as well as all supporting documents, testimony, and transcripts.

On June 3, 2004, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell held a closed hearing to examine the legal issues surrounding the report's release, but resolution may not come quickly. According to J.W. Brown, the court communications director, "There is no deadline.... [Judge Campbell] has advised it is going to be a little while before there is a decision on this."

Some legislators now regret their decision to investigate the standoff through a grand jury, and thus have it subjected to grand jury secrecy. "I am totally dumbfounded at this point," said Sen. Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, on June 8. "The taxpayers paid for a product that hasn't been released."

Former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods said he believes McDonald abused the grand jury process and should be censured, but he thinks the report should still be made public, with a state response if necessary. "It is obvious that the process was misused, but given the amount of public dollars spent on it, it is difficult to rationalize not releasing the report to the public," he said.

No matter what the outcome, the report has been a boon to McDonald. Through April 2004, he and his law firm had been paid $260,000.

Source: The Arizona Republic

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