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Friday, October 22, 2010

Arizona Police Officer Charged with Murder

Phoenix police officer charged with murder
The Associated Press by Bob Christie - October 15, 2010

PHOENIX, AZ - A Phoenix police officer has been indicted on a second-degree murder charge for the on-duty shooting of an unarmed suspect during a violent encounter in which he also shocked the victim with a stun gun and killed his dog, officials said Thursday. Officer Richard Chrisman was served a summons on the indictment and was not taken into custody, said his defense attorney Craig Mehrens. The indictment also charged him with aggravated assault and misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said at a press conference that Chrisman will remain free on $150,000 bail he posted after his initial arrest on an aggravated assault charge last week. His arraignment is set for Oct. 21. Chrisman allegedly pulled his pistol, put it against 29-year-old Danny Frank Rodriguez's head and told him he didn't need a warrant when Rodriguez ordered him out of his house on Oct. 5. During the next few minutes, Chrisman shocked Rodriguez with a stun gun, shot his pit bull, then fatally shot Rodriguez, according to a court document. Records show another officer told investigators he saw no reason for Chrisman to shoot. Mehrens said his client was justified in shooting Rodriguez and did not put his gun against his head as the other officer reportedly said. In announcing the charges, Romley said he's supported and stood by law enforcement officers throughout his career, grieving with them when one is killed or injured. "But we as citizens put our trust and our lives in their hands, and when one violates and abuses that trust, we must hold them accountable to the community for that breach," he said. "We must assure the victims and the community that the criminal justice process will be fair, transparent, and objective. And when justice is done, we must heal and move on."

In the past year, officers in the South Mountain precinct where the shooting happened have been accused of excessive force and racial profiling. Police chief Jack Harris met with community leaders several times since the shooting to assure them the department was vigorously investigating the case. Protesters gathered daily in front of police headquarters. "If it was my neighbor, if it was my relative, I would be upset, angered and outraged as well," Harris said. Harris said Thursday that he had notified Chrisman he would use an expedited process to fire him from his job of nine years. The officer will have a chance to try to persuade Harris not to fire him at a meeting next week. Chrisman, 36, and officer Sergio Virgillo had been called to a Phoenix mobile home by Rodriguez's mother, according to a court document. Elvira Fernandez told officers she had been arguing with her son who had damaged property inside the trailer and that she left because she was afraid he would assault her. A police probable cause statement showed the officers had difficulty controlling Rodriguez, with both firing their stun guns on the suspect to little effect. Chrisman then used pepper spray on Rodriguez and shot a dog in the living room, Virgillo told investigators. Virgillo said the dog was not threatening them and he saw no reason why Chrisman would shoot it. Virgillo said he tried to calm Rodriguez down and talk him into stepping outside. The police document said Rodriguez told the officers he was leaving with his bicycle, but Virgillo moved to block the door and Chrisman began struggling with Rodriguez over the handlebars. Chrisman then allegedly pulled out his handgun and shot Rodriguez more than once. Rodriguez died at the scene. Chrisman was arrested about five hours after the shooting and freed on bail the following day. Mehrens said he and an expert he hired interviewed Chrisman for several hours earlier this week. He said he offered to allow the expert and Chrisman testify in front of a grand jury, but he never got a response from Romley. "They didn't want to hear his side of the story," Mehrens said. Romley disagreed. "That's for a court proceeding," he said. "Grand juries are not a courtroom where a trial occurs." A lawyer for Rodriguez's mother said he was gratified with the charges, but said she will probably be upset the officer was not re-arrested. "The indictment was the first step towards justice," said Sabinus Megwa.

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