Marana Police Department employees expressed shock and dismay after learning a fellow officer with a sterling record had been arrested by Tucson police and charged with third degree burglary Oct. 7.
MPD officer Frank Moreno, 31, was found by Tucson officers sitting shirtless and shoeless inside a car belonging to a resident who had called police to report a prowler outside her eastside Tucson home, according to a Tucson Police Department report.
Moreno, who had worked for MPD since December 1998, was charged with one count of third degree burglary after he reportedly opened the resident's vehicle as he was being questioned by police and tried to use a cell phone that had been on the passenger seat. The police report indicated the arresting officers suspected Moreno was intoxicated.
Tucson police detectives who arrived after Moreno was arrested called one of Moreno's coworkers who confirmed Moreno had been off duty and drinking with friends that night. The coworker said Moreno had left in a cab from his home, according to the police report.
"It was just the usual group of friends that sometimes hang out at my house," said Officer Roberto Jimenez, an MPD spokesman, and the officer who put Moreno in the cab. "Nobody expected this to happen. Frank was a really good officer and no one expected this problem at all."
Jimenez declined any further comment because the case was still under investigation.
Employees said the MPD grapevine lit up immediately after the arrest and the shock was seemingly unanimous in the 69-member department.
Two officers who were interviewed for this story asked not to be identified because Marana's Police Chief David Smith forbids all MPD employees except his designated public information officers from speaking to reporters.
Both officers cited Moreno's commendable record in law enforcement, his placid demeanor and their total disbelief that he was up on a burglary charge.
"More than anything, it's just sad. He was one of the good ones and it shouldn't have happened to him," said one MPD officer.
"Nobody, I mean nobody, expected this from Frank. He was an excellent officer, but he broke the rules, and we get paid to enforce the rules," said another officer.
Moreno, who was suspended from his duties without pay, could not be reached for comment.
Moreno's personnel file and an inspection of MPD internal investigations dating back to the beginning of 1999 confirmed his coworkers' assertions that he had not received any significant disciplinary actions during the three years he worked for Marana.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, who employed Moreno for seven years before he went to the MPD, said Moreno had a "great" record while he worked for his 41-member department.
"It just doesn't match up to the kind of officer he was here. He's not a burglar. There must have been some kind of underlying problem. We've heard in the reports that he may have been drinking," Estrada said.
According to the TPD police report, the call came into Tucson police dispatch shortly after 11 p.m. of a prowler outside a home in the 7000 block of East Camino Valle Verde in Tucson.
The homeowner had seen a man looking over her backyard wall and yelled at him. The man, whose description TPD detectives later matched to Moreno, ran off.
When the first Tucson officer arrived, he found Moreno, reportedly glassy eyed and smelling of alcohol, sitting in the passenger seat of the homeowner's 1988 Lincoln Mark V.
When the TPD officer asked him for his identification, he observed a MPD identification card in Moreno's wallet.
"Where's your gun?," was one of the first questions asked by the Tucson officer.
"In one of these cars," Moreno said, waving to the two cars parked in front of the house, both of which belonged to the homeowner.
The police report did not indicate that Moreno's weapon was located.
During the questioning, the report indicated Moreno suddenly became aggressive.
"Who are you? Billy bad-ass?" Moreno asked the TPD cop, as he stepped forward and reportedly clenched his fists.
The TPD officer's response was to step back and reach for the pepper spray on his belt.
A second TPD officer arrived at the scene, and Moreno backed off.
"I don't mean to disrespect you. I just had a few beers," Moreno reportedly told the officers.
Some Marana officers expressed concern that Moreno's next action should not have garnered him a felony burglary charge.
"I got to call the old lady," Moreno reportedly said, as he swung open the door of the homeowner's car, reached in and grabbed the homeowner's cell phone off the seat.
"I've got a problem with that," said MPD Detective Terry Evans. "I mean, he was standing with the officers right there when he took the phone. He didn't even know what he was doing. I'm really hoping this gets knocked down to misdemeanor criminal trespass. This isn't a burglary."
A burglary conviction would significantly increase the chance Moreno could be fired by MPD or get his police officer certification pulled by a Arizona Police Officers and Standards and Training compliance board.
Evans is president of the Marana Police Officer's Association, the union formed 10 months ago and that has yet to be recognized as a joint bargaining entity by the town of Marana. But Evans said his role as president of the union isn't the only reason he was quick to jump to Moreno's defense.
"I watched Frank grow up. I was a detective in South Tucson when he was an explorer in the same department," Evans said, referring to the Police Explorer program that gives young people a look at law enforcement careers. "I've known Frank for years. He made a huge mistake. He and his wife had just had a baby the week before and I don't know if that added to his stress, but he was an excellent cop."
In his first stint at police work, Moreno worked narcotics investigations as a member of the Santa Cruz County Metropolitan Narcotics Task force, Estrada said.
In Marana he worked patrol and served as a firearms instructor, Evans said.
Moreno has only popped up in internal investigations twice, according to MPD records.
Moreno's first internal investigation was was actually a standard shooting review board conducted by MPD and the Pima County Attorney's Office.
In November 1999, MPD officers responded to a report of a man with a gun at the New West/Gotham nightclub, 4385 W. Ina Road.
The man, 19-year-old Alex Betancourt, had pointed the gun at patrons of the nightclub, witnesses said. When officers working off duty at the club told Betancourt to drop the gun, he fled in his vehicle.
Detective Sgt. Danny Bourland and Officer Mark Bailer dove into the open windows of the car to stop him. Bailer dropped off the speeding car, but Bourland held on to the car's window frame until Betancourt struck a concrete pole, according to the report.
Moreno and Officer Keith Kline shot at Betancourt after the car came to a halt, striking him several times. He survived, and was later convicted and sentenced to prison. Kline and Moreno were cleared in the shooting.
The second internal investigation also came in 1999 after Moreno issued a man a ticket for a broken tail light. The man was busy the day his court date arrived and asked Moreno if he would show the magistrate a photo of the repaired light. Moreno reportedly said he would, then neglected to do so. The man filed a complaint against Moreno.
The report said Smith declared Moreno "exonerated" after the investigation.
As of Oct. 12, Moreno's future with MPD was still uncertain. The burglary charge for grabbing the homeowner's cell phone remained in place and Smith was reportedly waiting to see which way the charges would fall before deciding whether to fire Moreno or not.
"If the charges are substantiated, he'll most likely be terminated," said Bill Derfus, another MPD spokesman.
Smith was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment.