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No Charges So Far Against Former Arizona Corrections Director After Boozy Standoff with Police

by Jo Ellen Nott

Before an armed standoff with Tempe police on January 6, 2022, former Arizona prisons chief Charles Ryan had been home drinking tequila. A lot of tequila. “Half a large bottle,” according to his wife. Then she heard a gunshot and found Ryan in the bathroom, bloodied and unable to tell her what had happened. She called cops and fled the house with the couple’s adult daughter.

An hours-long standoff ensued, during which police said Ryan did not respond to their questions and directives but opened the garage door and pointed a gun at officers crouched behind a SWAT vehicle outside. The police report noted his apparent intoxication: “While being given clear and concise commands Ryan seemed extremely dazed and confused and appeared to not know what was going on.”

Showing admirable restraint, none of the responding officers fired anything more lethal than a beanbag round at Ryan, who happens to be white. When he finally surrendered to negotiators in the wee hours of the next morning, police discovered that he had shot his bathroom sink, and the bloody wound his wife saw was caused by a flying shard of porcelain. He also had a blood-alcohol level of 0.105, well above the 0.08 legal standard for intoxication.

Ryan retired in 2019 from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) after what could most charitably be called a rocky tenure, including hundreds of employee arrests and settlement of a class-action suit over prisoner healthcare before finally concluding with a scandal over broken cell door locks, which prisoner funds were raided to repair. [See: PLN, Apr. 2015, p.20; Feb. 2016, p.56; and May 2020, p.54.] HRDC also sued him for censoring Prison Legal News, claiming it was “sexually explicit.” After prevailing at the district court level, the state appealed. That appeal remains pending. See: Prison Legal News v. Ryan, USDC (D. Az.), Case No. 2:15-CV-02245-BSB.

Inside his home after the standoff, police found two pistols, one of them lying in blood pooled from his wound caused by the bathroom sink fragment. They then confiscated 16 pistols and shotguns from the residence, leaving Ryan in his home instead of booking him into jail, though they recommended to Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel that Ryan be charged with aggravated assault against a police officer and unlawful discharge of a firearm. Adel, who herself has recently made headlines for drinking, is still considering those charges.

After a confrontation over her behavior with county Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, she told the Arizona Republic on February 1, 2022, “I continue to address my eating disorder and alcohol use.” Arizona continues to have troubled law enforcement officials.  

Sources: The Appeal, Arizona Republic, KNXV, KJZZ, KVOA

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Ryan