Arizona Skinhead Scene Suffering from Detective Matt Browning’s Investigations
Matt Browning spent years in undercover work targeting violent racists. The Arizona Skinhead scene has yet to recover.
by Susy Buchanan
Trouble at River City
It was on Oct. 16, 2002, that Cole Bailey Jr, a slight, white 20-year-old stopped by the River City pool hall in North Phoenix to drop off an employment application. After filling it out, he headed back into the street to wait for a taxi.
As Bailey came and went, according to witness statements and police reports, a group of Skinheads, including Unit 88 members Sammy Compton, Chris Whitley and Justin LaRue, had been inside playing pool and drinking while two of their girlfriends, Cassandra Woods and Kelly Coffman, looked on.
Soon enough, there was trouble -- bad trouble. Woods accused a young woman in the bar of flirting with Compton, her boyfriend. The two women began to fight.
When a bouncer stepped in, Compton, Whitley and others joined in the brawl, breaking a pool cue over the bouncer's back, knocking him to the ground and kicking him.
A female bartender was kicked in the head until the blood vessels in her eyes burst.
At one point, Whitley ripped off his shirt and screamed out his name and prison identification number. "Does anybody want a piece of me?" he roared.
Eventually, the bouncers got control of the skins and tossed them out of the pool hall. A few feet away, Cole Bailey was waiting for his ride.
Compton, jacked up on beer and adrenaline, goose-stepped around the parking lot yelling, "White power! White pride!" Bailey couldn't help but look.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Compton bellowed.
"Nothing, I'm just waiting for a cab," Bailey replied.
Compton allegedly slammed Bailey between the eyes with a pair of brass knuckles. Bailey's glasses went flying and he crumpled to the ground. He struggled up and tried to run. But within seconds, the pack of Skinheads was on him.
They kicked him repeatedly, yelling, "Beat the nigger," as their steel-toed boots crushed his jaw, nose and eye sockets into the pavement.
The Skinheads fled. By the time a pool hall bouncer got to Bailey's side, the boy was so badly beaten that the man couldn't tell what race he was. Soon, Cole Bailey was dead.
Breaking the Bailey Case
Skinheads had been relatively quiet in the area for years, and nobody in law enforcement outside Matt Browning had taken much of an interest in them.
But that October night, everything changed.
"The secret and key to working Skinheads is gathering intelligence, knowing who they are, what they drive, where they live and who they associate with," Browning says. The information Browning had been gathering was about to pay off.
Within hours of the Cole Bailey murder, Browning got a call from the Phoenix Police Department. "They asked me if I knew Chris Whitley and I said I did," Browning recalls. Whitley was "CRACKER," the Skinhead that Browning had sat behind at the National Alliance meeting in August.
That wasn't all he knew. Browning had met with Harbin just three days before the murder, and the Alliance leader had asked him to take over the Unit 88 crew. "Harbin told me I was to run the Skinheads through Whitley and Fiedler," Browning remembers.
"The Phoenix detectives asked me who are these guys, and I start giving them names. Then they asked me where I thought these guys might be," Browning says. "At this point, I could really think like a Skinhead: If I killed a person in North Phoenix, where would I go?"
He gave them the name and address of the home of a Skinhead in Apache Junction, far enough away, he reasoned, for them to feel safe. "Sure enough, after we caught one of the suspects and interviewed him, that's where they went. At that point, people started paying attention to what I had to say."
All three fugitives were eventually arrested. Browning played a central part in the investigation, but he can't talk about his role publicly until the charges are resolved in court. Whitley, Compton and LaRue could face the death penalty if they are convicted at trial later this year.
The Cole Bailey case and its incredible brutality riveted the Phoenix area as details unfolded in local news accounts. But it turned out that this wasn't the only murder case that went back to Josh Fiedler's Unit 88.