Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

River Rock Dodge-ball Chapter 2 (the update)

On February 20, 2018, we published an article titled “River Rock Dodge Ball” which profiled a use of force incident from December 26, 2015 when an officer and a sergeant from the Cactus Park Precinct confronted a violent adult male high on meth bent on causing destruction.  When the suspect felt the need to attack the officers by throwing a 1.5 lb river rock at them, the officer fired, striking the suspect which resulted in his death.  The officer who fired was also struck by the rock thrown by the suspect in the knuckles of his support hand, which was being used to grip his firearm when he fired.  

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

The officer in this incident fell prey to a flawed use of force decision that found him out of policy for defending himself and a fellow officer against an attack that had the capability of producing serious physical injury or death. In fact, that’s probably the same reason the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office didn’t file any criminal charges against the officer.   

PLEA made arrangements to meet with Chief Williams in an effort to have well reasoned discussion and lay out the facts and circumstances that we felt would lead any reasonable person to believe this use of force was not only justified but well within policy.  The Chief later told us she was upholding the decision of the Use of Force Board. Her reasoning: “I believe the officer could have chosen to move out of the path of the river rocks and cinder blocks thrown by the suspect.” 

This decision was unacceptable to us and we requested a meeting with City Manager Ed Zuercher on February 8, 2016.  The outcome of this meeting resulted in Chief Williams telling us she was going to punt and have the case reviewed by an outside agency (Tucson PD).  Although we disagreed with this course of action, she allowed us to attach a rebuttal document, which we did.

PLEA felt it would only be appropriate and fair to give the Tucson Police Officer’s Association a heads up to let them know what was about to land in their back yard.  If their chief happened to agree with Chief Williams decision, this would have the effect of setting a form of precedence on their department.  It’s something any labor group would want to be aware of.   They met with their Chief and asked him about whether he had been asked to evaluate a Phoenix use of force case.  Their Chief told them he wasn’t going to touch it. 

The Tucson Chief actually made a smart call.  Why would any police chief agree to evaluate a controversial use of force case from another jurisdiction?  There is a term for this. It’s called a No-Win situation.  If the Tucson Chief were to side with PLEA’s viewpoints he would be seen as taking sides with labor against one of his fellow Chiefs who also happens to be the Chief of the largest agency in the state.  If he were to side with the Chief’s opinion, then he risks incurring the wrath of the rank and file on his own department.

This raises some final questions:

  • Why does the Police Chief in the fifth largest city in America feel the need to shop around for second opinions on a use of force case? It’s a use of force case, not a cancer diagnosis.
  • Are we so lacking on tactical expertise and other related resources on the largest police department in Arizona that we need outside help?
  • If a major city chief feels the need to seek input and advice from smaller agencies when we should be the leader with regard to use of force issues, it begs the question: Is that chief really qualified for the job?