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Former Arizona Corrections Chief Indicted After Drunken Armed Standoff with Tempe Police

by Jo Ellen Nott

In Phoenix on April 26, 2022, the Maricopa County State Attorney’s Office indicted Charles Lee Ryan, former Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, on two felony charges stemming from an armed standoff with Tempe police officers on January 6, 2022, after which Ryan admitted he had been drinking tequila for hours. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.42.]

Charging documents recount how Ryan pointed his gun at the cops and refused to drop it during the standoff, which eventually included a tactical armored vehicle, a SWAT team, negotiators, and a robot. After three-and-a-half hours, and seven neighboring homes had been evacuated, Ryan surrendered.

Interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said Ryan was indicted on one count of disorderly conduct involving weapons, plus an additional count of unlawful discharge of a weapon, both class 6 dangerous felony offenses. Tempe Police had recommended that Ryan be charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and one count of unlawful discharge of a firearm. When the county attorney neglected to follow that recommendation, Maricopa County deputy public defender Katie Gipson McLean cried foul.

“There’s just no way that any other person—literally any other person—who, if they even survived an incident like this, would be charged in the way that Mr. Ryan is,” McLean said.

Retired Pima County public defender Abigail Jensen also found the indictment surprising, since prosecuting attorneys are usually invested in protecting police officers. In her 20 years of representing defendants, Jensen reported that anytime someone pointed a gun at an officer, he or she was charged with dangerous aggravated assault.  

Marysa Leyva, who marched with a sign during a 2020 protest and was charged with a Class 2 felony of aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon, voiced concerns that Rachel Mitchell will perpetuate the harm that began under former County Attorney Allister Adel. Phoenix Police dropped all charges against Leyva and fellow protestors in 2021.

Ryan’s arraignment was scheduled for May 26, 2022. The former prisons director could serve prison time of 18 months to three years for the charges in the indictment. See: Arizona v. Ryan, Ariz. Super. (Maricopa Cty.), Case No. CR 2on-D01491. 


Additional sources: Arizona Republic, KSAZ


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Related legal case

Arizona v. Ryan