In a statement released by Speaker Rusty Bowers-R and House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez, they addressed the investigation of former Representative David Stringer:
“While we disagree on matters of policy every day, each of us regards our colleagues as friends and family. The shock and horror we felt when we learned the details in this report are indescribable, not just as elected officials but as parents. This is not about politics, it's about the safety and security of children. It will not be easy, but for the sake of our state, for children, and for this institution that we love, we must resolve to move forward from this. The public must know that we hold each other to the highest standards of character, and that they are safe and protected in the Arizona House of Representatives.”
Earlier, Bowers released a statement on his own, stating:
“While I was not directly involved with the House Ethics Committee’s investigation, as the presiding officer of the House I received regular updates. Shortly after the investigators from the House Ethics Committee obtained the police report from Mr. Stringer’s arrest in 1983 through a public records request, it was shown to me due to the magnitude of its content.”
“The behavior described in Mr. Stringer’s arrest report is absolutely appalling and sickening. I confronted Mr. Stringer with the information on Wednesday afternoon and again asked him to resign, which he finally did.”
About the Ethics Committee Document
There are 426 pages in the document released by the Ethics Committee Friday afternoon. You can view the entire report - all 426 pages of it. Of that, about 14 pages consist of police reports regarding an arrest from 1983. The rest contains mostly correspondence between Stringers’ attorney, Carmen Chenal, and the attorney for the Ethics Committee. Additionally, there are pages from constituents that disliked Stringer, or felt that he had been disrespectful in some way.
The most damning documents, of course, are those police arrest reports from 1983, which allege that Stringer participated in sexual acts with a 15-year-old boy and a boy that was 4 years younger who was also mentally incapacitated.
Stringer never pled guilty to those charges. He never spent a night in jail over those charges. If Stringer has been consistent about anything at all, it is that he has always claimed the charges were false and he is innocent.
About Police Reports
Legally, police reports are considered to be hearsay. They aren’t used as sole evidence in a court of law. They are simply a report of what a police officer was told or observed and subsequently chose to write down at a later time.
Carmen Chenal is Stringer’s attorney. She explained that, in the past, she worked in the Attorney General’s Office for a number of years. When asked for the difference between being arrested and being convicted, she explained that as a prosecutor, “You get the police report, and then the prosecutor takes a look at it… The police report, it’s not meaningless, but the police report is not evidence of facts… The police report is not the end-all, whatsoever.” In other words, the police report is just the beginning of the investigative process.
Chenal gives an example of a domestic abuse call to the police. The subsequent police report can say that the husband claims his wife attacked him. Then it can say the wife states that the husband attacked her. Just because both statements are in one police report, it doesn’t mean both or either statements are true.
“The police report goes to the prosecuting office,” Chenal continued. "Then they may or may not prosecute… Then there’s more investigation of disclosures between the defense attorney and the prosecutor. It is the prosecutor, with the defense attorney, that work out a plea agreement, and then they go to the judge. It doesn’t matter about the judges’ bias. Because it’s not the judge, it’s the prosecutor and defense attorneys that decide the plea deal.”
The police reports provided in the Ethics Committee document do not show any investigation other than the interview with one of the boys. These police reports apparently were provided to the Ethics Committee from Peter Spaulding of Spaulding Security & Investigations.
Nowhere are the police reports in the Ethics Committee document officially marked certified or stamped. Spaulding does not state in his email how he obtained the reports. There is no receipt provided as there would be if he obtained the reports from the Maryland Court system.
In this case, was Stringer ever found guilty of any crimes? Chenal is adamant. “Nope. Not convicted of any crime.”
Not a Legal Process, Only a Political Process = No Due Process
Remember back in 1991 when we first heard these words by US House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Washington? "We have no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, but the seriousness of the allegations and the weight of circumstantial information compel an effort to establish the facts."
Fast forward to 2019, and the words we hear are even more chilling, this time from Republicans. It is almost as if they are focusing on "...the seriousness of the allegations…” but then they stop, making no effort to establish the facts.
In Stringer’s case, allegations are immediately equated with absolute guilt. Apparently that was the plan decided upon several weeks ago by the Ethics Committee.
According to a March 6 article from AZCapitolTimes.com, Ethics Committee Chairman TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, said, “... he does not believe Stringer is entitled to a full-blown hearing where he would be allowed to present and examine evidence, cross-examine witnesses and be represented by counsel before any potential action to expel him… Whether Stringer is entitled to a hearing before judgement day comes boils down to a question of whether expelling a member of the Legislature is a legal issue or a political one…”
So, when did Stringer and his attorney first see the Ethics Committee document? The same time everyone else did: When it was released publicly Friday afternoon.
When were they given an opportunity to respond to the document? Never.
“We asked for all the documents that the Ethics Committee had. We didn’t get one piece of paper,” Chenal said.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
One of the most important foundations of the United States legal system is that we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Stringer was never proven guilty in a court of law. He never even stood trial. As for the Ethics Committee investigation, Stringer was not proven guilty there, either. Rather, he was assumed to be guilty.
Proving Stringer guilty of the charges in this situation would be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
- The original arrest took place about 35 years ago.
- There is no court record of evidence, because there was never a trial.
- Stringer never went to court, except once to agree to a plea deal, which did not require him to plead guilty, but to fulfill certain terms of probation.
- After those terms were met, Stringer was given an Order for Expungement of Police and Court Records and Certificate of Compliance.
- Three years after that, the files were shredded.
Completely exonerating him now in 2019 would be equally difficult for the same reasons.
Shortly after this incident occurred, the Washington, D.C. Bar Association conducted an investigation of its own. That’s probably the closest contemporaneous report available. While the investigation itself is unattainable, there is a letter summarizing their findings. The letter was shown to the Arizona Bar, but has since been sealed by Judge O’Neill of the Arizona Supreme Court, because Bar proceedings are typically done in strict confidence. However, the D.C letter was the basis for the Arizona Bar Association to clear Stringer this month in their own related investigation.
For background information, the Bar in Arizona is under the State Supreme Court. In the Washington D.C. Bar, the Columbia Court of Appeals has oversight for Bar matters.
According to Chenal, a portion of the letter from the D.C. Bar Counsel, dated May 29, 1984, reads,
“Our review of the transcripts… leads to the conclusion that in the facts and circumstances of this case, there is no involvement of moral turpitude such as would adversely affect your fitness to practice law. The Court, in fact, entered Probation before Judgment, agreed to expunge the record upon completion of the probation period. Accordingly, the complaint, docketed against you, on February 16, 1984, of which it had been made aware by receipt of orders of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, has been dismissed. Sincerely, The Bar Counsel for the Washington, D.C. Bar."
Chenal also added, that in 35 years, Stringer does not have one Bar complaint on his record.
When asked if the Courts would have allowed a Probation Before Judgment plea if they really thought Stringer could be guilty of the charges listed in the Police Report, Chenal responded, “Not humanly possible, no. It doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen.”
To Sum Up
- Stringer was arrested in 1983 - 35 years ago in Baltimore on alleged sexual conduct with a minor charges. He never pled guilty, and was never tried in a Court of Law. He accepted a Probation without Judgment plea in order to resolve the allegations and get on with his career.
- The record was later expunged by the Maryland Courts. The Washington, D.C. Bar investigated and found him to be clear of “moral turpitude”.
- He was never arrested again for any charges.
- Stringer has made statements in the public that many consider to be racist and insensitive.
- In January an Ethics Committee was formed to investigate Stringer’s comments and also the 1983 arrest.
- Also in January, the Arizona Bar opened an investigation into whether he had been honest when applying to the Bar.
- Upon reviewing the little information they had, and the letter from the Washington, D.C. the Arizona State Bar dismissed their complaint.
- During their investigation, the House Ethics Committee obtained a police report presumably from the 1983 investigation, with more detailed allegations. These were allegations, not convictions. These police reports contained a report of an interview with one of the alleged victims, but no further investigative information or corroborating evidence.
- The House Ethics Committee determined that there was no need for due process since this was a “political proceeding," not a "legal proceeding."
- On March 27, after a meeting with Arizona Speaker Rusty Bowers, Stringer agreed to resign his seat from the House of Representatives to end the Ethics Committee hearing.
- On March 29, the Ethics Committee released the documents they had gathered during the investigation of Representative Stringer. Speaker Rusty Bowers-R and House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez expressed their shock and horror at the information in the police reports.
- David Stringer has always maintained that the charges were false and that he was entirely innocent of all charges. Furthermore, he has never been convicted of any crime whatsoever.
Right now, in Maryland, Stringer is considered a completely innocent man, free and clear of any record, despite his arrest 35 years ago in Baltimore.
But in Arizona, Stringer has been publicly disgraced and shamed, despite the fact that his record was expunged 35 years ago and that he was never convicted of, or ever found guilty of, any crime.
It seems to come down to whether the “seriousness of the charges” outweighs “innocent until proven guilty.” And that is something each person must determine for themselves.
Note from the Editor:
In full disclosure, David Stringer is an investor in Specialized Publishing, the parent company of Prescott eNews. However, he has no input in the editorial content of this publication.
We will not try to defend the circumstances leading to a 35 year-old arrest record (especially one that was expunged by the courts) or justify comments that some may interpret as being racist. We do defend David Stringer's civil liberties and his right to utilize free speech. He will pay the consequences of his words and actions on his own.
Finally, we will always stand up for the Constitutional provisions of due process and presumption of innocence before guilt. Denial of these important bedrock principles taints any outcome that may be obtained.