Family claims Paradise Valley fatality investigation was mishandled; influenced by elected official

 A police photograph of the car that struck Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown. (PVPD photograph)

A police photograph of the car that struck Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown. (PVPD photograph)

The family of a Paradise Valley man hit and killed while walking his dog in the community last year intends to sue the Paradise Valley Police Department and two town residents, one of whom is an elected official, for the alleged mishandling of a fatal accident investigation.

At 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015 Paige Dembow struck and killed Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown while he was walking his dog, police reports show. Ms. Dembow is the daughter of Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow.

Timothy Casey, an attorney with the Phoenix-based Schmitt Schneck Smyth Casey & Even law firm, claims Ms. Dembow was given preferential treatment by the local police department due to the stature of her father in the local community — a charge steadfastly denied by the town’s police chief.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

“First of all, this has nothing to do with who her father is,” Paradise Valley Police Chief Wingert said in a March 29 phone interview.

The police report obtained by the Independent states Ms. Dembow was allowed to leave the scene of the accident with her father, was not subject to a sobriety test or requested to provide blood or breath samples.

The report shows Ms. Dembow showed no signs of impairment.

According to the report, about two hours after the accident Paradise Valley police officers went to Mr. Dembow’s residence to interview his daughter. The report says they were unable to speak to Ms. Dembow.

Mr. Casey, the Brown family attorney, contends Ms. Dembow should not have been allowed to leave the scene without submitting to a blood or breath sobriety test and providing police with official statements regarding the accident.

Mr. Casey claims the car was equipped with a DUI interlock device and is registered to Ms. Dembow but insured under the name of a boyfriend.

“We intend to conduct a full discovery so the Brown family knows that justice is not based on the fact you are the daughter of an elected official,” he said in a March 29 phone interview. “You look at the fundamental stuff you would expect to find in a serious injury accident file and it is not correct — there is just something odd about all of this.”

Councilman Dembow contends he did nothing wrong and was simply behaving as any caring father would. He has offered condolences to the Brown family over the tragic incident.

“We’re very sorry about the Brown family loss,” he said in a March 28 written statement.

“Because Paige is my daughter, the PVPD wanted to avoid a conflict of interest so they turned it over to the Scottsdale Police Department for an independent investigation. It is my understanding they have concluded that this was an unavoidable accident. Our family is sorry for the Brown family’s loss.”

The accident

The Independent on Tuesday, March 22, requested any and all investigative records and accident reports regarding the Nov. 15 incident. The Paradise Valley Police Department provided 10 pages of police reports regarding the incident and a compact disc containing photographs taken at the scene of the accident.

The Independent was not charged for the records. The Scottsdale Police Department has yet to respond to an identical public records request.

Paradise Valley Police Officer Steve Hovorka was the first officer on the scene of the accident. The accident occurred in the area of north Invergordon Road and east Horseshoe Lane in the Town of Paradise Valley, police reports show.

“Upon my arrival I observed a male lying in the southbound bike lane; this subject, later (was) identified as Mr. Howard Brown, had visible severe bleeding on the head and facial area,” he said in his Nov. 15 report.

The Scottsdale Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after Officer Hovorka when it was determined Mr. Brown’s injuries were life-threatening. He was transported to Scottsdale Osborn Hospital, according to the report.

Officer Hovorka was then approached by Paradise Valley resident Ernie Markle who claimed to have witnessed the accident in a car traveling behind Ms. Dembow prior to the collision. Mr. Markle says he saw Mr. Brown walking his dog across Invergordon Road from east to west at Horseshoe Lane.

“Mr. Markle said the pedestrian did not look any direction but straight ahead of himself,” Officer Hovorka said. “Mr. Markle also said that he did not see the car brake or swerve.”

In his Nov. 15 written statement Mr. Markle recalled a calm scene prior to collision.

“The moment the pedestrian stepped into the roadway, my attention was immediately focused on the car and pedestrian because it looked like the collision was unavoidable.

The pedestrian did not look any direction but straight ahead of himself, and I did not see the car brake or swerve,” he said in the report.

“Both the pedestrian and driver seemed to be so calm and collected under the circumstances that I felt certain my depth perception must have been off. The dog cleared the car, and just as I thought everything was OK, the car struck the pedestrian sending him head over heels over the right side of the car itself.”

Police reports state the roadway was wet and the weather was overcast at the time of the accident. Mr. Markle said he was traveling about 40 mph.

Officer Hovorka says he spoke with Ms. Dembow after his conversation with Mr. Markle and said she was extremely distraught and upset, did not immediately know which way Mr. Howard was coming from but did not show any signs of impairment.

“While talking to Paige I did not detect any visible impairment,” he said. “There was no odor of an alcoholic beverage upon her breath nor she appeared to be under any type of drugs or medication.”

In his report, Officer Hovorka said Ms. Dembow said she tried to stop but due to the wet roadway she “skidded, hitting Mr. Brown and then coming to a rest about 25 feet south of where the pedestrian, Mr. Brown, had been laying.”

According to his report, Councilman Dembow arrived when Officer Hovorka was speaking with the councilman’s daughter.

“Mr. Dembow, Paige’s father, had arrived and asked if they were able to leave,” he said. “I said they could go and that someone would be in contact with them soon.”

Officer Hovorka states after Ms. Dembow was released from the scene he checked her vehicle for registration papers and, “again, I could not locate any type of open containers of alcohol or prescription medication.”

At 6 p.m. later that day, Paradise Valley Det. Houk and Cpl. Mark Garrity went to the Dembow residence to further interview Ms. Dembow, Cpl. Garrity’s Nov. 15 report states.

“Her parents answered the door and stated that Paige was extremely distraught over the incident, was not home at the time, and that they had contacted an attorney and would request that she be interviewed at a later date with him present,” he said.

“Detective Houk and I then returned to the accident scene. Oncoming PVPD shift supervisor Sgt. Nigel Williams had responded to the accident scene and I briefed him on what has transpired and Scottsdale PD would be on scene handling the investigation.”

Notice of claim

“We have not filed a notice of claim yet, but we will be doing so before the deadline expires at 180 days,” said Mr. Casey, the Brown family’s legal representation in the matter.

“We will certainly be adding the town in this claim. The Paradise Valley Police Department made a determination for whatever reason to farm out this investigation. Paradise Valley police made the decision to allow the bullet-vehicle driver go. They claim there were no signs of impairment, but we will never know.”

Mr. Casey claims the investigation was compromised because the incident involved the daughter of an elected official.

“When you have the (then) vice mayor of Paradise Valley showing up to what is a serious injury and a fatal accident scene and putting that implied pressure to his employees to release his daughter to him — we think the evidence is going to show that this was a horrible abuse of process.”

Mr. Casey claims Ms. Dembow should have undergone some kind of sobriety test while still at the scene of the accident.

“The question I have, is you have a serious personal-injury collision and there was no drug testing not even questions?” he said. “The idea that she was allowed to leave the scene without a DUI test or something is absurd.”

Peter Wingert

Peter Wingert

Chief Wingert says the responding officer had no just cause to keep Ms. Dembow at the scene of the accident.

“After the initial interview by the officer, he did not have reasonable suspicion to detain Ms. Dembow any longer,” he said. “He explained to her that he would need to follow up with her later in the evening. She was very upset and emotional due to the nature of the event.”

Without any visible signs of impairment, Chief Wingert says no probable cause exists for police to request blood or breath samples to test sobriety.

“The officer did not have reasonable suspicion to request that blood be submitted by Ms. Dembow,” he said. “Ms. Dembow had just been through a traumatic event but she did not display any signs of impairment of intoxicants.”

Police photographs show Ms. Dembow’s car was equipped with a DUI interlock device.

“Ms. Dembow was the only person in the vehicle at the time of the collision. Ms. Dembow stated that she started the vehicle,” Chief Wingert said. “In order to start the vehicle, she had to provide a sample in the interlock device, meaning that she was not impaired by alcohol at the time the vehicle started.”

While Chief Wingert was never at the accident scene, he says some things should have been done that were not.

“I was notified shortly after the collision occurred and requested that Scottsdale Police Department accident investigation team be requested due to their experience, training and equipment in processing serious bodily injury traffic collisions. That team has access to specialized equipment that we do not possess,” he said.

“The report leaves questions in your mind, which is something that no investigative report should do. As we go forward, I would want to make sure that our reports answer all the questions to a layman who was not present at the scene.

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