PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is opposing a request to make him testify at a deposition in a false-arrest lawsuit filed by a man once charged in some of the freeway shootings that set metro Phoenix on edge for weeks during the summer of 2015.
The request marks the second time that the governor has been asked to participate in a deposition in a case involving Leslie Merritt Jr., who last year unsuccessfully sought Ducey’s testimony in his now-dismissed criminal case.
Authorities had said Merritt was tied to the four of the shootings through ballistic evidence. But his charges were later dropped after an expert said an Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab incorrectly concluded that ballistic evidence linked Merritt’s handgun to the shootings. Merritt, who has insisted he was innocent, spent seven months in jail before his release.
Merritt lawyers say Ducey inserted himself into the case when the governor triumphantly tweeted, “We got him!” five minutes after the landscaper was arrested in mid-September 2015. Merritt’s attorneys also said Ducey and his staff had meetings with law enforcement officials about the case and provided funding to investigate the shootings.
“The circumstances of how the governor became aware of the arrest are most certainly at issue,” Merritt attorney Jason Lamm wrote in court records.
Brett Johnson, an attorney representing Ducey, said in court records last week that the governor doesn’t get involved in law enforcement decision-making and pointed out that Ducey wasn’t sued as part of Merritt’s lawsuit.
Johnson said the Department of Public Safety simply kept Ducey posted on developments in the case, but let investigators and prosecutors do their jobs.
“The plaintiff has not alleged, and cannot allege, that the governor participated in the investigation, the collection, gathering, or analyzing of the evidence or in the plaintiff’s arrest,” Johnson wrote.
The lawsuit accuses state crime lab workers of assuring detectives that they were sure Merritt’s handgun was used in four of the shootings. It also alleges that prosecutors misled grand jurors about the reliability of the ballistics evidence.
Attorneys for the state, Maricopa County and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery have denied those allegations.
A total of 11 shootings occurred on Phoenix-area freeways in late August and early September of 2015.
No one was seriously injured when eight cars were hit with bullets and three others were struck with projectiles such as BBs or pellets. The only injury occurred when the ear of a 13-year-old girl was cut by glass.
No one else has been arrested in the case, and an investigation remains open.