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Frances Salazar

Other Maricopa, Arizona exonerations
At about 4 a.m. on December 31, 2013, Phoenix police officers Anthony Armour Jr. and Keith Backhaus pulled over a gold-colored Jaguar. Armour later said that although the Jaguar was headed in the opposite direction, he stuck his head out of the window and saw there was no license plate on the car.

Armour said he saw a temporary tag in the upper right corner of the rear window, but could not read it. Upon stopping the car, Armour saw that the temporary tag had expired 13 days earlier.

After determining that the driver, Rodney McCullough, and the passenger, 51-year-old Frances Salazar, were not carrying any identification, Armour wrote down their names. He and Backhaus went to their patrol car to run a name check. Armour said he saw Salazar moving as if she was placing something toward the center console of the car.

After determining that both McCullough’s and Salazar’s driver’s licenses were suspended, the officers ordered them out of the car because it had to be impounded. McCullough was arrested for driving on a suspended license. Armour then searched the car and reported that he found a glass crack pipe “sticking up vertically” from between the center console and front passenger seat. The pipe appeared to be filled with crack cocaine.

Armour wrote in his report that he gave a Miranda warning to Salazar and then asked her about the crack pipe. His report said, “Frances admitted the substance inside the pipe being crack. Frances then tried to recant her statement and claim that someone else must have left the crack pipe and drugs there, but that she would ‘take responsibility for it.’”

Salazar, who had several prior convictions for drug possession, was arrested on charges of possession of crack cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

On August 9, 2016, Salazar went to trial in Maricopa County Superior Court. Armour testified for the first time that Salazar had admitted the pipe containing cocaine was hers.

Antonio Harris testified for the defense that the car belonged to him and that he had lent it to McCullough. Harris said the crack pipe was his and that it was wedged between the seat and center console next to the gear shift. “No one would know it was there unless you got in and felt for it,” Harris testified. He said that when he loaned the car to McCullough, the crack pipe was not visible.

McCullough testified that he borrowed the car so that he and Salazar could go shopping. He said that at 4 a.m., Salazar said she needed to go to an automated teller machine to withdraw money for a disabled woman Salazar helped out from time to time. McCullough said Salazar was asleep when they were stopped by the officers. He said she kept her hands on the dashboard and made no motions toward the console.

McCullough said Armour first confronted him after finding the pipe. McCullough said Armour told him, “I’m not after you. I’m after her. Because she is not being cooperative.”

On August 16, 2016, the jury convicted Salazar of possession of narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia. She was sentenced to six years in prison.

On February 22, 2017, the prosecutor in the case, Elizabeth Lake, filed a one-paragraph document that went only into the criminal case file, but was not sent to Salazar or her attorney. The document said that the “state has disclosed newly discovered evidence…pertaining to the state’s witness, Officer Anthony Armour, Jr.”

Salazar’s defense attorney did not learn of the filing until December 14, 2017—two days after the Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed Salazar’s convictions.

The defense learned that the “newly discovered evidence” related to an incident in November 2015—several months prior to Salazar’s trial. Armour arrested a woman after a search of her apartment revealed a man who was the subject of a domestic relations complaint.

An internal police investigation revealed that Armour had lied about the circumstances of his arrest, filed a false report about what happened at the woman’s apartment, and then disobeyed a superior officer’s order to release the woman without booking her.

A formal complaint had been filed against Armour accusing him of “unlawful entrance of a private residence, false arrest of a citizen, providing false testimony in a verbal report to a supervising officer, providing false information in an incident report and disobeying a lawful order given by a supervising officer.”

On April 16, 2016—four months before Salazar’s trial—the Phoenix Police Department’s Professional Standards Bureau sustained all of the accusations and concluded that Armour’s actions constituted “intentional abuse of police powers, authority, and privileges.” The Bureau said that Armour “knowingly submitted a criminal with false information.” Salazar was suspended for 80 hours.

In March 2018, Salazar’s attorney filed a motion for new trial based on the prosecution’s failure to disclose the information about Amour’s discipline. In June 2018, the prosecution conceded a failure to disclose the information.

On July 20, 2018, a judge granted the motion to vacate Salazar’s convictions, noting the prosecution’s failure to disclose the information regarding Armour “whose credibility was critical to the conviction.”

On July 25, 2018, the charges were dismissed and Salazar was released.

In 2019, Salazar filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for her wrongful conviction. She settled the lawsuit in 2024 for $650,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/7/2020
Last Updated: 4/8/2024
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:6 years
Age at the date of reported crime:51
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No