Scottsdale police set out to “incite” Randon Miller into breaking the law.

It worked. Twice.

What follows is an incredible story of a Scottsdale restaurant who owner became a police target—and how the city court system rubber-stamped his outrageous treatment. It’s the latest report in a series by Goldwater Institute National Investigative Reporter Mark Flatten, who has examined how city courts are subject to city council influence, and the resulting pernicious impact on society.

The parking lot outside Randon Miller’s restaurant had become a popular spot for police to conduct traffic stops—much to Miller’s chagrin, since this police activity was hurting business in his restaurant. Starting in 2011, he began complaining to the Scottsdale police chief, and to a member of the city council, but to no avail. In response to Miller’s aggressive complaints, Scottsdale police targeted him for arrest in two separate operations one year apart.

First, in January 2013, police set up a bogus traffic stop in the restaurant parking lot in an attempt to “incite” him into losing his temper. After coming out of his restaurant and shouting to the officers that they were on private property, police swarmed him, tackled him to the ground, and arrested him. Then, nearly one year later to the day, police targeted him again. Officers approached Miller, who was at his restaurant but not working at the time, announced they were there to conduct a liquor inspection, demanded his identification, and started asking him questions. Miller’s presence was not required for police to conduct a liquor inspection. So after several minutes of contentious conversation, he stood up, told the officers to speak to the manager on duty, and began to leave. He was arrested again.

Miller was hit with more than a dozen criminal misdemeanor charges between the two police operations—with all of the charges going to Scottsdale city court. Miller’s defense lawyers argued that targeting the business owner for arrest because he’d complained about police operations on his property violated his First Amendment rights and amounted to “outrageous” government conduct. Judge Monte Morgan found nothing wrong with the staged police operations, concluding there was no police misconduct or retaliation against Miller in either case. Morgan found Miller guilty of various charges that included disorderly conduct, failure to obey police, and refusal to provide his name. Miller was hit with jail time and fines, not to mention additional surcharges and court fees—which added up to just a fraction of what he’d already spent on lawyers to help fight the charges.

“Miller’s case shows the close relationship that exists between police, prosecutors and judges on city courts, which makes it hard for anyone to get an impartial hearing,” Flatten explained. “They are all city employees who work closely together. And ultimately they answer to the same bosses: the city council and not the people.”

The cozy relationship that can exist between city court judges and city council is not just a Scottsdale problem or an Arizona problem. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri found that the Ferguson city judge was pressured by city officials to raise revenue—which could only be raised through more convictions and abusive fine and collection practices. “Ferguson is a perfect example of how city courts can fail to be an effective check on improper and illegal police conduct—and how that can have terrible consequences,” Flatten said. “Unless city courts are accountable to the public instead of political officials, they can’t be truly independent and immune to outside pressures.”

Check out Flatten’s new report, City Court: “Outrageous” Police Conduct Not a Concern for Scottsdale Judge, here.

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