Brown family makes million-dollar claim against the Town of Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Schmitt Schneck Smyth Casey & Even Attorneys at Law have filed a notice of claim against the Town of Paradise Valley alleging the municipality’s police department did not properly handle a fatal accident investigation involving the daughter of an elected leader of the community.

The notice of claim names the Town of Paradise Valley, Police Officer Steve Hovorka, Police Cpl. Mark Garrity and Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow and seeks a payout ranging from $3.8 million to $4.2 million.

The notice of claim, written on behalf of Judith V. Brown, states the Brown family will settle for $2.7 million if paid within 60 days of the April 26 notice. If payment is not received, the claim states the family will pursue claims alleging:

  • Gross negligence by the Paradise Valley Police Department;
  • Negligent interference/influence of a police investigation by Paul Dembow;
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress against PVPD and Paul Dembow.

According to police reports, at 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, Paige Dembow while driving her car struck and killed Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown while he was walking his dog. 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.

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.

The claim alleges a number of factors should have — but were not — taken into consideration by police before Ms. Dembow was allowed to leave the scene. Those factors, according to the lawsuit, include:

  • Ms. Dembow had a history of driving under the influence;
  • Ms. Dembow was on probation at the time of the accident;
  • Ms. Dembow had an interlock device on her car.

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

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 Independent on 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 by the Paradise Valley Police Department. An identical request was filed at the Scottsdale Police Department with records provided April 8 at a cost of $10.

Scene of the accident

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.

“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.”

 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)

New information comes to light

Scottsdale police reports show its accident investigative team arrived on the scene sometime after 5 p.m. as Officer K. Strohmeyer was contacted at 5 p.m. the day of the accident, his narrative report states.

“I spoke with Cpl. Garrity of the Paradise Valley Police Department. He advised that his department was not staffed to handle a collision of this type and asked us to complete the investigation,” Officer Strohmeyer said in his report. “Cpl. Garrity informed me that the fire department had washed the victim’s blood away before they left.”

In his report, Officer Strohmeyer says he instructed Paradise Valley officers to conduct a formal interview of Ms. Paige, which appears to be the catalyst for the early evening visit to the Dembow residence the day of the accident.

“I asked Cpl. Garrity where the driver of the vehicle currently was located and he advised me they had allowed her father to take her home,” he said. “I asked Cpl. Garrity to accompany Detective Houk to the residence to see if he could get a statement.”

In addition, the notice of claim alleges Officer Hovorka made determinations of Ms. Dembow’s role prior to conducting a thorough investigation. A transcript of audio from Officer Hovorka’s body camera when he spoke with Ms. Dembow states:

“Okay, you can come with me,” the notice of claim reads. “I’m not, I’m not, I am just, you know, trying to get each side of the story. You’re not going to jail for this or anything. I am just going to ask you what happened. I mean he is being transferred, he was obviously hit by your car, right? Do you have your DL? Your driver’s license on you?”

Officer Strohmeyer points out the witness — Mr. Markle — was also allowed to leave the scene before Scottsdale investigators arrived.

“There was a vehicle following the involved vehicle. It was driven by Ernie Markle,” he said. “He was not at the scene when I arrived. Cpl. Garrity said he was going to provide a statement at the PVPD station on 11/16/15.”

Andrea Ford, a Paradise Valley Police Department employee, provided the Independent and it appears legal representation of the Brown family — days after initial investigative files were disclosed and five months after the accident — a hand-written note penned by Mr. Markle to Ms. Dembow following the fatal accident.

The April 26 notice of claim makes reference to the nature of the note and points out the information was never disclosed in initial report gathering.

“I just wanted you to know that I am so sorry that you’re going through this,” he said in his Nov. 16 note. “If I can help you in any way, please contact me.”

Cpl. Garrity says the hand-written note was not included in the initial records disclosure because the note “contained nothing of evidentiary value” and he says he forgot about it until he was questioned by Paradise Valley command staff about the note.

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