Death by Electrocutioner

In a worst-case scenario for stun guns, a Phoenix cop kills a suspect with an 84-second tasing

Back in Arizona, Graff found work here and there, including a gig at a computer store.

But his attraction to methamphetamine had become the dominating force in his life.

In September 2002, Graff spent time in jail after Glendale police found meth-making materials in his apartment. Court records show that, after his release, he neither reported to the probation office as ordered nor completed any of his mandated community-service work.

The lay of the land at the Bellridge Apartments in a  police photo taken shortly after the Graff incident.
The lay of the land at the Bellridge Apartments in a police photo taken shortly after the Graff incident.
It was here, just outside the apartment where Keith Graff was staying, that a Phoenix cop deployed his Taser for 84 seconds.
It was here, just outside the apartment where Keith Graff was staying, that a Phoenix cop deployed his Taser for 84 seconds.

Terry Graff says he told his son that a sad fate awaited him if he didn't pull it together.

"He was not this bad kid who went around sticking people up so he could get his drugs," his dad says. "But he did have problems with that stuff, and it really affected his life."

Keith was in and out of jail for the rest of his life, including a months-long stretch in late 2004 and early 2005 on charges of carrying a concealed knife, possessing meth, and violating his probation.

Shortly before his release in February 2005, Keith wrote to his father from the Maricopa County Jail. The letter said, in part, "I am at a fork in my life right now, and I know whatever I decide, I'll be good at it. I don't like jail . . . Now I know how I want to live and how I want to be."

Those sentiments turned out to be so much talk.

Keith again failed all his legal obligations, and a judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest in early March. He split from his grandmother's house, where he'd been staying, and for the last two months of his life, he stayed wherever he could find a place to crash.

On April 17, 2005, Graff was hanging out at an apartment on 11th Avenue and Bell Road when he had his first interaction — it turned out to be a momentous one — with Officer Carla Williams.

Officer Williams wouldn't speak with New Times for this story, so it's uncertain why she decided to become a cop in 2002 at age 38. Court records indicate that the mother of two was married at the time to an Air Force officer.

During Williams' first year-and-a-half on the Phoenix force, she earned good ratings from superiors and seemed to be adapting well to the rigors of her new job.

Then a problem arose. Late one night in February 2004, she arrested a shoplifting suspect at a Circle K on West Hatcher Road. She handcuffed the man and put him in the back seat of her patrol car.

The suspect complained of having sore ribs, and Williams let him get out of the car to stretch. Still cuffed, he split on foot, evading capture for several hours until a K-9 unit tracked him down.

Williams received a written reprimand.

"This escape is clearly the result of poor tactics on her part rather than a training issue," a police sergeant wrote. "Prisoner control is a critical aspect of a police officer's responsibility, and Officer Williams could have done a better job even without the assistance of a backup."

The similarities between that incident and Williams' first run-in with Keith Graff are obvious. After the 84-second Tasing, she told a sergeant from the agency's Professional Standards Bureau (a fancy title for internal affairs) about that first clash.

Williams said a neighbor called in about possible trespassers inside one of the apartments, and she'd gone there by herself to see what was up. Three people were in that apartment, but the man who opened the door insisted they had permission to be there. Williams said she returned to her police car to check out his identification and to wait for backup.

She soon learned that the man who had answered the door was wanted on a felony arrest warrant. She didn't know Graff's name then, so she couldn't run him on her police computer.

Though no other officers were immediately available to assist her, Williams returned to the apartment anyway. But the man with the warrant already had sneaked out.

Standing in a doorway, Officer Williams asked the two people remaining in the apartment for their IDs. The man, whose nickname was "K.G." or "Cage," bolted for the door.

"Pushes me into the door and out and takes off," she later told an investigator. "By the time I get down the stairs, he's gone."

Williams gave chase, but Keith Graff would be on the loose until he died just three weeks later.

This time, Williams had lost two more potential prisoners.

During the next few weeks, Officers Anderson and another squad mate, Matt Makinster, scoured their beat in north Phoenix for the men.

Police tactical expert Ron McCarthy later concluded that Graff's run-in with Williams "had taken on a level of significance with Officers Anderson and Williams that is inconsistent with the incident itself. Suspects routinely run from the police. The shoving of Officer Williams that caused no injury was obviously an effort to flee, not an attack on the officer."

McCarthy wrote that months before New Times learned through public records that Chuck Anderson and Carla Williams were a couple. This may go far in explaining the "level of significance" of the shove that McCarthy referred to.

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