Retired Arizona prisons boss sentenced to probation over armed 2022 standoff with police

PHOENIX (AP) — Former Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan was sentenced Friday to probation for his no-contest plea to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a 2022 armed standoff at his Tempe home during which police say he pointed a gun at officers. Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Fish decided against jailing the 73-year-old former prisons boss, citing Ryan’s lack of a prior criminal record, his age and the substance abuse counseling he has undergone since the encounter.

The judge ordered Ryan to pay $8,500 to cover the Tempe Police Department’s costs in conducting the investigation of the encounter and designated the offense as a felony, meaning Ryan's rights to vote, serve on a jury or possess a gun will be suspended, though those rights can be restored if he successfully completes probation.

“The designation of the felony in the court system is punishment enough,” Fish said.

Ryan, who blacked out during the encounter because he drank alcohol heavily and took sleep medication, told the judge he was remorseful, has apologized to police and neighbors, and has attended hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He also underscored his experience of working in the criminal justice system. “I fully realize the errors of my way, and I am ashamed and embarrassed about my behavior,” said Ryan, who retired as corrections director in September 2019. Police were called to the house on Jan. 6, 2022, on a report that Ryan had shot himself in the hand. It was later revealed by police that the hand injury was caused by a less-than-lethal projectile shot by police after Ryan pointed a handgun at officers. They say the projectile was revealed during surgery.

Ryan was also injured when he fired his gun before police arrived. He apparently suffered a cut to the forehead after a bullet hit a bathroom sink and sent a splinter of porcelain flying.

Police reports show Ryan had consumed a half-bottle of tequila by the time officers arrived at his property. Police say Ryan slurred his words and was antagonistic to a police negotiator, did not know why officers were at his home or what happened to his injured hand.

Ryan told police he didn’t remember pointing a gun at officers and acknowledged drinking tequila that evening, though he said he had just two shots.

In a memo to the judge, Ryan’s lawyer Craig Penrod said Ryan, for much of the encounter, was unable to understand what officers were saying because he is partially deaf.

While police say Ryan pointed a firearm at two officers, Penrod said his client didn’t threaten anyone with the gun.

Ryan was never booked into jail after eventually surrendering to police and being taken to the hospital.

His tenure as correction director was controversial.

A federal magistrate judge found him in contempt of court for not following through on promises in a legal settlement to improve health care for prisoners. He was criticized in the 2009 heat-related death of prisoner who was left for nearly four hours in an unshaded outdoor holding cell during triple-digit heat.

About five years later, prison officials were accused of botching the execution of Joseph Wood, who was given 15 doses of a two-drug combination over nearly two hours.

Ryan also came under criticism in 2014 by a prison teacher who was raped by an prisoner after being left alone with a sex offender. The teacher said Ryan allowed lax training, staffing shortages and poor security at the prison.

Later in his tenure, the corrections department was rocked by revelations that prisoners at the Lewis prison complex west of Phoenix were able to open their locked cell doors and attack corrections officers and other prisoners.