Former Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan pleaded no contest Tuesday to a disorderly conduct charge for an encounter in which police say he fired a gun inside his Tempe home in early 2022 and pointed a firearm at two officers during a three-hour standoff.
The maximum sentence Ryan, who retired as corrections director in September 2019, could receive is two years in prison. Ryan’s trial on charges of unlawful discharge of a firearm and disorderly conduct had been scheduled for Nov. 20. Sentencing is set for Jan. 11.
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 found during surgery.
Ryan also was 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 say 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 toward a police negotiator, did not know why officers were at his home, or know what happened to his injured hand.
Ryan also 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.
Outside of court, Ryan declined to comment on his plea.
Craig Penrod, attorney for Ryan, told the judge during the hearing that the no-contest plea was in the public’s best interest. “He has no specific recollection of the events,” Penrod said.
According to police reports, Ryan’s wife called police because of the cut to his forehead. Police said Ryan told hospital staff that the cut was the result of an earlier fall, though the injury looked fresh.
Ryan was never booked into jail after eventually surrendering to police and being taken to the hospital. Officers seized about 15 guns from his home.
Ryan’s tenure as corrections 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 previously criticized after the 2009 heat-related death of a 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 after being left alone with a prisoner who was a sex offender. The teacher said Ryan allowed lax training, staffing shortages, and poor security at the prison.
Later in Ryan's 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.