Got'em

GITEM, the state's $12 million antigang task force, storms Casa Grande and shoots a smalltime scofflaw in the back

Larson, Campbell's attorney, says Jo Dean Freese shot a fleeing felon, and he says the video proves it.

"All I can say is, thank God we've got that video," he says. "You watch that thing and you know, you know that this was a bad shooting.

"It kinda makes you wonder how many Glen Campbells there are out there."
In the few seconds before Freese fires, Campbell can be seen twisting his trunk around and extending his pocketknife at his pursuers before facing forward again and continuing to stride away.

The flash of Freese's weapon appears just as Campbell has turned almost halfway around for a second time, his right arm extended outward, the knife in his hand.

"You can see that the direction of [Campbell's] feet never changes," Larson says. "If he's lunging . . . wouldn't he at least have to stop walking to turn around?"

A report prepared by DPS Officer J.T. Johnson, who conducted an internal investigation into the shooting, says much the same thing: "Prior to being struck by the bullet, the suspect continued to walk, turning his body slightly to the left."

Yet Johnson concluded that the shooting was justified because Freese "feared for his safety and the safety of the other officers and reacted accordingly."

Johnson based his conclusion on interviews conducted in his presence by Casa Grande police detectives William Lebbs and Jesse Ybarra.

In cases involving the use of deadly force, DPS policy--and the policies of most police departments--dictates that an outside agency conducts the investigation. According to the common wisdom, the result is an investigation free of internal bias.

Policy, as spelled out in DPS' own manual, also requires that officers involved in shootings be immediately separated and removed to neutral locations.

However, none of the DPS reports obtained by New Times indicates whether Freese or any of the other officers involved were separated.

On the contrary, in his report for DPS, Johnson notes that when he arrived at the DPS substation in Casa Grande around 12:30 a.m--nearly two hours after the shooting--he saw "numerous DPS and GITEM officers in and around the office."

And it wasn't until an hour later that Casa Grande detectives Lebbs and Ybarra were called to begin their investigation.

Larson believes the importance of those three hours cannot be overstated, because they gave everyone a chance to discuss his experiences, Larson says. He notes that, in criminal cases, one of the first things police do is separate suspects to prevent them from corroborating stories.

In Lebbs' own report, he notes that two of his superiors, a Casa Grande lieutenant and a sergeant, briefed him on what had happened when he arrived at the DPS substation. Lebbs wrote: "One of the officers of the GITEM squad had shot a suspect after the suspect had threatened him and other officers with a knife. I was then assigned to investigate the incident."

A statement like that leads Larson to infer that Lebbs had reached critical conclusions before his probe even began. Indeed, Lebbs' ensuing line of leading, softball questioning would seem more at home on Larry King Live than in a police interrogation room:

Lebbs: "Did you feel he was gonna turn around and come at you with the knife?"

Freese: "Yes, I did . . ."
Lebbs: "Okay. You felt he was gonna come at you with the knife?"
Freese: "I felt that he was gonna come at me or the other officers."

Of Scott Armstrong, who was next to Freese when the shot was fired, Lebbs asked: "Okay. Now, when he turned around at you, did you feel threatened at that time?"

Armstrong: "Oh, yeah."
Armstrong told Lebbs that his finger was on the trigger of his weapon all along, and that he was so scared he would have fired if Freese hadn't.

However, in a separate interview later that night, Armstrong told DPS' Johnson he hadn't shot because "the only target I had was the suspect's back."

Campbell's attorney wonders just how threatened Freese, Armstrong or the other four officers involved in the pursuit really felt.

"There's six of them, okay?" Larson says. "They've all got bulletproof vests on. They've all got batons. They've all got cans of pepper spray, and there's a helicopter circling above.

"Are we really supposed to believe they felt threatened by a guy running around out there with a pocketknife?"

Larson may soon put those questions to a jury. Last month, he filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against DPS and Pinal County, claiming Campbell's civil rights were violated on the night of the shooting.

"The fact is, these were just cops who messed up, and then were less than truthful about it," he says. "I'm not so sure that what they did was really so unusual, aside from the fact that we can watch it on TV."

Pat Dickson, who defended Campbell in the criminal case, calls the GITEM members "John Wayne wanna-bes who watched way too many cop shows when they were growing up."

Dickson says he gave a copy of the video to the judge and asked him to dismiss the case on the grounds of "outrageous police misconduct." His motion was rejected.

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