[Hpn] Homeless death coverup in Arizona

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 07 Feb 2001 12:10:06 -0700


http://www.azcentral.com:80/news/0207frozen07.html

Drifter legend short on facts

Probe clears police in grim rumor

Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 7, 2001

Alfonsio Slaughter froze to death 11 years ago, leaving footprints in the
snow and a dark legend in the Verde Valley.

Slaughter's tracks stopped on a forest road near Cottonwood, where the
30-year-old transient's body was found. The story might have ended there,
too, if not for whispers that would not die: A homeless Black man, they
said, was sent to his doom by bigoted local police who, as a joke, gave him
wrong directions down a nowhere road.

No one can say how it started. But, over time, the rumor spread from
Cottonwood to Phoenix and back, passed on by law enforcement officers in
bull sessions. Some may have shrugged, but others were outraged. In 1999,
the tale reached a Yavapai County sheriff's detective, who was asked to
investigate. He could not resolve the questions that still persist: Who was
Alfonsio Slaughter? And how did he come to such a horrible demise?

It was Jan. 21, 1990.

Mike Chenowith and his pals had spent the day playing in snow on Mingus
Mountain after a wicked storm blew through. Heading home to Cottonwood that
afternoon, the young folks decided to take their four-wheel-drive vehicles
down a back route. Chenowith nearly ran over something big on Alan Springs
Road. He got out and discovered the corpse, frozen so solid that it cracked
and creaked when he moved it aside.

The dead man's shirt and jacket were unbuttoned, as if he'd suddenly felt
hot, maybe a symptom of hypothermia. But a serene dusting of frost softened
the image.

"It looked like he just laid down and went to sleep," Chenowith recalled.

Yavapai County sheriff's Deputy John F. Maddux hitched a ride to the scene
and filed a report on his findings: "The subject had his fist clenched up
close to his face and was laying with his knees bent, fully clothed, when
found by the witnesses. On the way up to the body I noticed . . . several
places where the subject sat or laid down in the snow."

Maddux, now a state Highway Patrol officer, says he never heard anything
about police sending Slaughter on a dead-end journey. Neither did the
medical examiner. An autopsy formalized the obvious. Cause of death:
exposure. Manner of death: accident. The death report makes no mention of
any contrary view.

The evidence

Most of the facts have melted away. Yet some details seem to fit the legend.

Witnesses agree that Slaughter's snowy footprints paused, as if he were
confused, in front of a sign with an arrow pointing toward Jerome. Chenowith
remembers it clearly: "He walked the opposite way."

Slaughter had stopped at the Cottonwood Police Department shortly before his
disappearance. On Jan. 17, a dispatcher remembered, the homeless man was
given a Christian benefit voucher for a $28 room at the Motel Sun Dial, a
few doors from the police station. A copy of that voucher, with Slaughter's
signature, is in the case file.

According to Maddux's report, "The last time Slaughter was seen was by the
motel clerk, who saw him walking toward Clarkdale."

That trek ended on Allen Springs Road, eight miles from Cottonwood, where
Slaughter's body was identified by items in his pocket: an Illinois ID and a
student card from a technical institute.

Deputies did not interview any family or friends, and none could be located
for this story. The Medical Examiner's Office and a funeral home director
could not even say where Slaughter's body is buried.

A second probe

Lt. Danny Scott of the Cottonwood Police Department, who was on duty that
night in 1990, makes it clear that he's sick of the whole thing.

Scott says the story about a wrong road is "all BS." He may have told
Slaughter how to get to Jerome, but certainly did not give him false
directions. Scott recalls giving a motel voucher to the homeless man in a
wool cap, an act of kindness that would contradict rumors of malevolence.
Besides, Scott noted, he answered all those questions last year when Yavapai
County sheriff's Lt. Ted Symonds dropped by to investigate.

Indeed, during April 1999, Symonds got a memo from the Gilbert Police
Department, where Detective Mike Bukowski, formerly a Cottonwood officer,
had been heard telling stories about the man who froze to death.

In an interview with Symonds, Bukowski said he heard about Slaughter's death
through the grapevine and was not personally involved. His understanding was
that Slaughter arrived in Cottonwood asking for directions to Jerome because
he wanted to sell artwork there.

"Bukowski stated emphatically that he did not say at any time that this
Black man was given wrong directions to Jerome by anyone that he was aware
of," Symonds noted in his report. "He also stated that he knows of no one at
that time that worked for Cottonwood PD that was a bigot and would give
anyone bogus directions because of his ethnic background."

Bukowski reiterated those points last month. He said he once mentioned
Slaughter's death to a Gilbert colleague and had a falling-out with that
fellow officer two years ago.

"I think he twisted it to try and get me into trouble," Bukowski added.

In police reports and news interviews, Cottonwood police personnel
unanimously declared that nobody gave Slaughter a bum steer and that no one
on the force was racially prejudiced. Symonds' report does not address why,
if there was no chicanery, the tale of Slaughter's death ever got on a
grapevine.

Case closed

On the other hand, Symonds said that some of Slaughter's behavior seems odd
in retrospect.

The police dispatcher, Kim Ferguson, was puzzled because Slaughter had
refused a voucher for free food. It was also strange that Slaughter did not
stay at the motel; a clerk remembered seeing him walk by that day, heading
out of town instead of checking in.

Finally, there's a question about how someone could get lost walking to
Jerome, which is visible from Cottonwood on the slopes of Mingus Mountain,
unless a blizzard smothered the view.

Symonds said that he has learned that people do quirky things for
unexplained reasons and that that seems like the best answer for what
happened to Alfonsio Slaughter. As for racism, wrong roads or police
misconduct, he added, "From everybody I talked to and the whole situation,
that's not what occurred."

A Yavapai County prosecutor reviewed the evidence and agreed.

Symonds' report of April 22, 1999, concludes: "This case will be closed with
no found or known criminal activity involved at the time the death
occurred."

Copyright 2000, azcentral.com


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