On a recent sunny Saturday in Phoenix, a group of church and community members gathered in an alley behind a convenience store at Adams Street and 21st Avenue to pray for a homeless man whose name they did not know.

"We come together at this time as witnesses," intoned Ian Danley, a pastor with Neighborhood Ministries, which does outreach to the poor and homeless. "Together, as one body, we witness the isolation, violence, and fear that has spread across our community."

Danley and the rest read together from scripture. Another pastor blessed the site with water. At one point, a cop car nosed into the alley, departing shortly thereafter, a reminder of the strong police presence necessitated in what is usually a rough patch of town.

Just west of the state Capitol, the neighborhood is called Capitol Addition by some, St. Matthew by others. In it, exists blight and crime — and some signs of renewal.

Drunkards loiter before pre-war bungalows. Drug houses share blocks with Victorian homes. And Craftsman-style structures are under repair or have been renovated by the owners.

Residents and property holders regularly discuss the latest stabbings right along with the merits or demerits of the light-rail extension, planned to barrel down Jefferson Street from Interstate 17, with construction scheduled to begin sometime in 2016.

Many of the property owners oppose the planned route. Bill Russell does not — he owns scores of properties in the neighborhood.

It just so happens that Russell shot the man for whom the group is bowing their heads today. Little has been written about the shooting since it occurred early on Sunday, March 27.

Initially, folks in the neighborhood believed the homeless man shot by Russell, 49, was killed. But police later informed them that the 52-year-old African-American had survived a bullet to the head.

Phoenix police informed one community member that his wound was similar to that sustained by Tucson Congresswoman Gabby Giffords during the attempt on her life earlier this year.

The Phoenix Police Department has refused to release the victim's identity, citing privacy concerns.

Nor has the PPD released the police report on the incident. Department spokesman Steve Martos told me the case has not yet been forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, as investigators still are waiting for some unspecified lab results.

Generally, Phoenix police have described the incident like this: There was a verbal altercation between Russell and the victim. The victim grabbed a device that Russell had used to pick up trash on his property and swung it at him. Russell was armed and shot the man in supposed fear for his life.

The case interests me for a couple of reasons. The first is the reticence of the PPD to release the victim's name. The second concerns issues surrounding use of force in Arizona, where guns are plentiful and an Old West mentality toward firearms is encouraged by the state Legislature.

The bare details immediately reminded me of the much-celebrated, in gun circles, case of Harold Fish, who had been hiking alone in the Coconino National Forest when, he says, a transient rushed him, forcing him to kill the man with his handgun.

The guy Fish shot was unarmed, though his dogs had rushed Fish before he killed the man. Fish was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. He spent three years in prison before his conviction was overturned by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, the Legislature passed a law placing the burden on the prosecution in so-called self-defense cases. Fish was never retried.

The Fish incident happened in 2004. In 2006, Phoenix storeowner Roger Garfield killed an unarmed homeless man who was advancing on him. (Garfield was the subject of "Shoot to Kill," a March 11, 2010, cover story by my colleague Ray Stern.)

Garfield, however, did not beat the rap, though he, too, claimed self-defense. He was convicted of manslaughter in 2009 and caught seven years in the pen in 2010.

Despite the similarities, in the Russell shooting, the homeless man — whose name I have learned is Percell Bagley — was swinging an object at Russell when Russell shot him.

This according to both Russell and at least one witness I've spoken to, Vyle Raven-Greyv, who manages properties for Russell and told me she had just rounded the corner of the alley on her bicycle when she saw the victim swinging at Russell.

According to both Raven-Greyv and Russell, the incident occurred a little farther down the alley from where the vigil was later held, on a vacant lot owned by Russell.

Russell said, unbeknownst to him, Bagley was sleeping in a rug on the ground, a rug Russell grabbed to throw into a nearby dumpster. That's when Bagley rolled out, jumped up, and proceeded to attack him.

"He grabbed [the stick] that I was picking up trash with and started swinging it at me," Russell told me. "I had a split-second decision to defend myself."

Bagley was "enraged" and "screaming" something at him, according to Russell, who said he feared for his life.

"I didn't know if he was a schizophrenic, a crazy man, or what the hell," Russell said. "It just happened in, like, two seconds. It was just a bad, unfortunate deal. I didn't want to shoot the guy . . . I was basically going on instinct."

Raven-Greyv said, when she finally got to where the two men were, Bagley was on his side, his leg twitching in what looked like a death rattle. She said Russell was attempting first aid, yelling to passersby for help.

"'We can save him, we can save him!' That's what I remember [Russell] saying,'" Raven-Greyv told me.

When police arrived, Russell was detained. Raven-Greyv and another man who'd seen the shooting were questioned. Russell's clothes and gun were confiscated, but he was neither formally arrested nor booked.

Russell readily admits to carrying a weapon for protection. He even admitted that he's pointed it at people in the past when he felt it necessary. And he confirmed that he's had arguments with others in the neighborhood.

The PPD has a report on file from 2010 in which one complainant alleged Russell pointed a gun at him. I've requested a copy of this report but have not received it yet.

"Mr. Russell's story is, the person was on his property and had been told several times not to return," Martos summarized via e-mail when I questioned him about it. "On the date of this incident, the person was once again on Mr. Russell's property. He was told to leave, but the person remained nearby.

Martos added, "Mr. Russell said he never pointed the gun at the victim but did reach for it."

Physically, Bagley is slightly bigger than Russell, according to the PPD's descriptions. Bagley is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. Russell is 6 feet, 200 pounds.

I have a mug shot of the man I believe to be Bagley, but police would only confirm that the man's age and name are correct.

They said the year of Bagley's birth is identical to that of the man in the mugshot, but that either the month or the day is off. They failed to give specifics and would only say they believed Bagley to be in "rehab," whatever this means.

Russell said he was "confident" the photo I have is of the man he shot. If it's the same Bagley, he has a prison record for narcotics and recently had been released from incarceration.

I called area hospitals. All said they did not have a Percell Bagley in their care. Some sources tell me Bagley has family, but I've not yet been able to make contact with them.

Obviously, there's more to find out about this incident, and the various issues in the neighborhood itself deserve further scrutiny.

Russell has many detractors in the St. Matthew area, but I can only be amazed at this point by how forthcoming he's been. And that he hasn't retained a criminal attorney.

Which is perhaps why I want to dig more and address more fully the incident — and the neighborhood divide it's exposed.

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23 comments
Frieda1889
Frieda1889

Sadly our goverment has let down many mentally ill people. I have seen it for myself, I worked with people with mental issues. A lot of the time the mental hospital will medicate them and once there better they release them out on the streets with little or no medication and no place to go. So once the medications are out of their bodies it's back to how it was in the first place. Also the goverment is cutting funds for the mentally ill. So their not getting proper treatment.

stan
stan

I carry a gun at work for protection, thank goodness I've never had to use but I do believe that carrying one has prevented at least a few confrontations. I know what it is like to have an unbalanced person, perhaps high on meth or pcp, yelling an threatening to harm you. Nobody knows what someone is capable of until they act it out. So, you saying that you've never had to carry a gun doesn't mean anything. Try saying that to innocent people who've been robbed or raped at knife or gun point. Bet they wished they had a weapon to defend themselves. Don't be so quick to judge a man because he defended himself. This homeless person was on Russell's property and threatening him. What if someone was in your house and started attacking you? Yea, I bet you wouldn't hesitate to defend yourself.

Bagley
Bagley

Maybe he should have used a similar weapon as Bagley and just beat his brains in with it. That would have been more humane/fair, right?

Nin
Nin

This article passes for news? It's as biased as any blog and certainly doesn't hold anymore credibility. It's nothing more than speculation on an incident with few facts, set up to "prove" a misinformed bias about the Arizona population. Since we're apparently nothing more than backward conservative gun-slinging hicks who need to saved from ourselves. As an independent and social liberal, I find myself butting heads with my neighbors on many occasions. But I understand and respect them, their viewpoints, and their rights. You apparently do not. Of course you're welcome to waste your time as long as you would like trying to convince Arizonans that we're a backward people reminiscent of our old west days. You might actually succeed with instilling more pride within us. This is Arizona, love it or leave it... pardner.

Wyo34
Wyo34

Most people who have HAD to carry firearms for a living - feel they're more of a burden than a joy to have lug around and not leave then hanging off the back of the crapper at the airport...Worry it will be under the seat of your just stolen vehicle as it heads south -

It's the wackjob Fish type who need to 'feel the power of the gun'!...The balance! The beauty of the cold steel! The fear turns into ego and self-confidence is restored!."ARE YOU TALKIN TO ME" ?

Arizona is chock-full of these clowns and that's why I carry one 24/7.

Desertgater
Desertgater

As for Ray Stern and Stephen Lemons, feel free to take your happy jack asses back to wherever it was you came from before slithering into AZ. Once again, the New Times has continued it yellow journalism by letting amateurs continue to write for their rag.

When I left military service in '82, I stopped carrying a weapon. In '92 because of the way the city was rapidly changing I purchased a handgun. Now, I do not leave home without one.

Because of people like Ray and Stephan, this city and state have changed dramatically and NOT for the better. Liberalism helped get that man shot. Because of the democratic liberals who have tried to take over this state, many ways of governing and of the sate assisting people has gone to hell in a hate (yes hate) basket. Greed by politicians has destroyed programs that might have helped the man who was homeless and now continues to fight for his life. Ignorance of proper governing response by law makers has caused people who normally wold not carry weapons to do so because of the games they still play. The open border is a prime example of this.

Not having been there, I cannot say what I would have done. But you can rest assured that any hint that my life is on the line, I will draw my weapon, knowing that as soon as it clears it's holster, I will defend my life and anyone else whose life may be in jeopardy by an attack. Otherwise, my weapon remains out of sight and hopefully will never be drawn in self defense again.

On the other hand, I know two pf the people that this article was written about. The primary, I would not trust to even have a handgun. His temper and past actions in community warrant someone finding out why he is even allowed to posses a weapon of any kind.

As for the witness, I have known her for many years and highly question her testimony. I know that she see things in her own individual way and while she means good, her actions can rarely be associated with a close connection to the truth as it really is in almost any manner. She has been let go from a position with the state because of her inability to maintain the difference of the truth and things which are untrue. If she was not wearing her glasses while riding her bicycle, many times like she does when driving her hearse or one of her military vehicles, then I highly doubt that she was able to see what she claims to have seen and that her comments were sided with the person who insures that she has a paycheck.

So many things wrong with this and still the author and his comrade in journalism truly need to find a state that aligns itself with their warped views of the truth.

Will
Will

What a biased crock of an article. Obviously Mr. Lemons(the author) is against any sort of firearm self defense. I wish that reporters would simply "report" the news instead of filling articles with worthless biased opinions instead of facts. I hope that someday he encounters a similar situation. If there is someone on my property violently attacking me or my family with a weapon you should have the right to use lethal force.

Jtinmke
Jtinmke

a garbage dump in this area would be an improvement

alan
alan

so the white guy should just let the black guy beat him senseless? this is clear cut self defense. the fact that the attacker was black is the only reason the "new times" is even writing about this incident.

grieving mother
grieving mother

Dear Mothernbennsonn... Thank You. I knew this call would come for years. But I did everything I could do to help him. He was mentally ill, and was trying to get himself off the streets. But you can't force someone to take meds, after they become of age. I responded to this article because, although the details differ, the end result is the same. A desperate struggling soul was shot, some ; like my son are dead.. Society sends it's resources to help strangers overseas, but ignore it's own. The resources in this country are thin, and the mental health system turns patients back out on the streets without the meds they were stabilized on in the hospital. I'm sure the man in this article who was shot had been a nuisance, but he was treated like scum, not like a hurting and lost soul. Which is what they all are. Personally, I am also sick of being hit up by homeless for change everywhere I go. And I rarely give money to anyone. But I will give them food. I usually have a powerbar or an apple or similar item in my bag. Not every situation is the same. Not everyone gets violent all the time. But we all have our limits. Everyone can be pushed and kicked down just so many times. I really want to see our ADVANCED SOCIETY show some compassion for people. Anyone in this world can find themselves down and out by any given number of reasons. And it just could be someone you love, and are unable to help. Everyone of those people out there has a family SOMEWHERE. I am not disclosing the particulars of my son's case, which is very recent. There is an ongoing investigation to be completed. My heart goes out to other mothers and relatives of the hundreds of thousands of kids on the streets, some may actually advance in age, some will not. Please think twice before you write a heartless comment. It could be someone you loveends up like this.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot

Parents of Murdered Children POMC®, provides the on-going emotional support needed to help parents and other survivors facilitate the reconstruction of a "new life" and to promote a healthy resolution. Not only does POMC help survivors deal with their acute grief but also helps with the criminal justice system.The staff of the National Headquarters of POMC will assist any survivor and if possible, link that survivor with others in the same vicinity who have survived their loved one's murder. In addition, the staff is available to provide individual assistance, support and advocacy. The staff will help interested parents or immediate family members form a chapter of POMC in their community.http://www.pomc.org/Toll Free: (888) 818-POMCPOMC Vision StatementTo provide support and assistance to all survivors of homicide victims while working to create a world free of murder.MembershipMembership is open to those who have been cruelly bereaved by the murder of a loved one. Professionals who are in frequent contact with grieving families are also welcome to join.

grieving mother
grieving mother

I'm hearing a repitition in stories of unarmed homeless men being shot dead. In all three instances, they were said to be the attacker. But they weren't the ones with the gun.Maybe there's a lot more to these stories than we're being told?One of these stories was of someone I knew. My son.

Wineswine99
Wineswine99

No this is not news, it is the New Times. Inspiring hippsters to think they have half a brain!

StephenLemons
StephenLemons

Yep, I'm a liberal, and proud of it, Jack. And it's a helluva lot more fun messing with the wingnuts in this state than being someplace lefty like Cali. Who would I argue with there?

I ain't going anywhere, BTW. So get used to it.

As for Ray, he can speak for himself, but I think he's more libertarian than anything else.

He sure ain't no liberal. And he's a big believer in the 2nd Amendment.

He and I disagree on many issues. But, hey, that's what made the U.S. great. That and immigration.

America, love it or leave it, pardner.

Dickganzert
Dickganzert

Your kids dead, because as a mother you didn't do your job.

Frieda1889
Frieda1889

I am deeply sorry for the loss of your son. You are in my prayers. I don't and can't have children so I can only imagine what your going through.There are to many untold stories and its not right. The homeless and mentally ill are forgottened. They are GODs children and they are loved.

JUST ANOTHER MOTHERNBENNSONN
JUST ANOTHER MOTHERNBENNSONN

MY HEART GOES OUT TO GRIEVING MOTHER. THAT IS THE BIGGEST FEAR I HAVE THAT ONE DAY I WILL GET A PHONE CALL OR A VISIT THAT I NEED TO COME IDENTIFY MY SONS BODY DUE TO SOME IDIOT THEY PERMIT TO OWN A FIREARM YES WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR SELVES BUT NOT AT THE PRICE OF OUR CHILDREN . DID YOU EVER THINK THAT IF THEY WOULD TAKE TIME AND HELP THERE HOMLESS HERE INSTEAD OF THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES THEY WOULD MAKE A BIG CHANGE MY SON IS ALSO HOMELESS HIS PROBLEM IS MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER WE HAVE NO INSURANCE AND IM UNABLE TO GET THE MEDS HE NEEDS. SO FROM TIME TO TIME I SIT UP EVERY NIGHT TERRIFIED I MIGHT BE THE GRIEVING MOTHER IT BREAKS MY HEART I WAS RAISED BELIEVING YOU TREAT OTHERS HOW YOU WANT TO BE TREATED

WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS WORLD

Truckwrangler0776
Truckwrangler0776

Armed or not they are still trespassing and are getting violent with armed citizens they got what they deserve.Its about time that hard working tax paying property owning citizens take back what belongs to them.These homeless most of the time crazy or drug addicts should think about what they are doing and realize that they dont have the right to violate other hard working citizens rights.I cant speak for everyone out there but i am tired of pulling up to a stop light and having a couple of bums or crackheads trying to beg money off of me and every one else in line.This needs to stop and if they did get violant whether they were armed or not they got what they deserved.

Frieda1889
Frieda1889

How dare you even say that to her, you have no fricken Idea what the hell happened so show some respect.

 
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