Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel has filed criminal charges against two Valley cops for allegedly abusing suspects sexually and physically, a move that comes amidst national upheaval over police brutality and calls to hold officers accountable for misconduct.
Phoenix Police Officer Sean Pena faces two counts of felony unlawful sexual conduct and one count of felony sexual assault for two separate incidents of alleged sexual misconduct while on-duty — including one in which a detained suspect says he sexually assaulted her.
On August 28, 2018, Pena arrested an adult female for an outstanding felony warrant after she was stopped in a city park after hours, according to court documents. The woman later reported to the Phoenix Police Department that Pena “forced oral (and) penile sex” while she was handcuffed in the back of his patrol car parked near railroad tracks. DNA evidence that was subsequently collected did not match Pena and the officer denied the allegations, claiming that the victim offered oral sex if he would release her.
Roughly a year later, a woman reported that Pena sexually abused her in June 2019, according to court records. The woman was contacted by Pena during a welfare check, and he allegedly “touched her breasts and had her masturbate his penis” when they were alone together after he transported her to a different location. A friend of the victim corroborated some of the details, and records from Pena’s vehicle showed that he was at the location of the alleged sexual misconduct for about 10 minutes. No “biological evidence” was found in the vehicle, and Pena similarly denied the allegations.
Sergeant Tommy Thompson, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, told New Times that, after conducting an investigation into Pena’s conduct, the department “submitted the charges to the county attorney.” He added that Pena, who has been with the department for three years, is still employed with the agency, but a termination hearing is being scheduled.
The Mesa police officer, Nathan Chisler, faces one count of felony aggravated assault stemming from a December shooting of an unarmed man outside of a Mesa bar. The victim reportedly did not comply when responding officers attempted to detain him, and Chisler fired one round with his handgun into the victim’s “lower left leg and buttocks area,” court documents state. He is being charged with aggravated assault, a class 3 felony. The victim was transported to the hospital and survived.
Detective Nik Rasheta, a spokesman for the Mesa Police Department, told New Times that Chisler, who has been with the department for 12 years, has been on administrative leave since the shooting incident. A hearing was held on June 22 where he was informed that, after an internal investigation, the department concluded that he should be fired. He still has time to appeal that decision. The department did not recommend specific criminal charges to the county attorney in its investigation, Rasheta said.
Neither of the charged officers have been arrested, Maricopa County Attorney spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer told New Times. Instead, they both received a summons to appear in court.
“To ensure that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is best able to protect victim’s rights and hold criminals accountable in the pursuit of justice, it is important that this agency has a collaborative, working relationship with public safety professionals,” Adel said in a statement released on June 24. “However, this partnership will not impact charging decisions when it is necessary to hold those in the public safety profession accountable for their actions. The alleged criminal acts in both cases were committed by individuals who are sworn to protect and serve their community. I am committed to ensuring that we will hold individuals who commit crimes accountable, regardless of their profession or relationship with this office.”