Richardson: Officers using deadly force leads to rush judgements - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Richardson: Officers using deadly force leads to rush judgements

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Saturday, February 1, 2014 10:48 am

“If officer-involved shootings are not investigated and handled correctly and thoroughly, the involved agency, individual officer(s), and entire criminal justice system will likely face severe criticism, loss of public trust and confidence.” -- Crime Scene Handbook, by Dr. Henry Lee, Ph.D., the former director of the Connecticut State Police Crime Lab and a world-renowned forensic scientist.

Only a police officer has the governmental authority to use deadly force without prior judicial approval. It’s an awesome power the people give to the police to take a human life. A power the police must have in order to protect the community. It’s a power that must be reserved for only those situations where the police have no other alternative than to kill.

When the police must take a life or use deadly force that injures a criminal, or even an innocent citizen caught in the line of fire, the people must be able to trust the officer’s decision to use their powers to take a life.

The recent conviction of ex-Phoenix police officer Richard Chrisman for manslaughter and aggravated assault in the on-duty killing of Daniel Rodriguez showed everyone the police aren’t always justified in the use of deadly force. Chrisman is only the second police officer in recent times to be charged with a crime in an on-duty shooting. Fired Chandler police officer Dan Lovelace was tried and found not guilty in the 2002 killing of the unarmed Dawn Nelson at a drug store who was attempting to illegally obtain prescription drugs. Lovelace was found not guilty of murder but the City of Chandler paid out millions due to Lovelace’s misconduct.

In every police shooting the public is dependent on the police investigation, usually done by the involved department, to decide whether or not they believe the shooting was justified and if their trust in the police is intact or further diminished?

Following the January 14, 2014 shooting of Manuel Longoria in Eloy by Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Rankin, it was obvious from the comments made by Sheriff Paul Babeu he believes the death of Longoria was justified. It’s not the sheriff’s job to take sides when there’s an officer involved shooting, nor is it his place to improperly influence the outcome of an investigation by his deputies with his public proclamations.

Having investigated officer involved shootings and homicides, I can assure you they’re best done with the precision of a surgery, and when all the facts are in before a decision is made whether or not the shooting was legal and within departmental policy.

The final determination of whether or not this Rankin’s was legal and justified is reserved for Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, not Babeu.

Following the rush to justify Rankin’s actions KPHO News has shown videos of the of the shooting that show Longoria’s hands over his head when he was shot twice. It appears there are facts that have yet to be discovered by Rankin’s co-workers who are investigating his actions.

Pinal County residents were treated to same kind of rush to judgment by Babeu when he proclaimed now fired deputy Louie Puroll a hero after he claimed he’d been shot by drug smugglers west of Casa Grande in 2009. Later it was proven Puroll’s claims didn’t match the physical evidence but that didn’t change Babeu’s mind. In the Puroll case Babeu broke with past protocol where his predecessors used an outside agency to investigate officer involved shootings to inside objectivity and to show the public the department was open to outside and independent examination.

Babeu would do well to return to having outside investigations into shootings involving his deputies, especially after his rush to judgment regarding Rankin’s actions and the newly found evidence that Longoria may have been surrendering when killed.

Dr. Lee is 100% right in his comments regarding police shootings, a bad police shooting hurts all law enforcement agencies and their employees.

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