Phoenix Police Department Releases Report on Shooting Death of Zachariah Pithan
The Phoenix Police Department released a report Wednesday on the shooting death of 22 year-old Zachariah Pithan by a Phoenix Police Officer on April 20, an incident the report characterizes as "justifiable homicide."
According to the report, four officers were on scene when the shooting occurred. They had responded to a report of fighting and of a door being kicked in at the Santa Fe Springs apartment complex on the west side, near 17th and Glendale Avenues.
Three, including the shooter, arrived around 9 p.m. that Sunday, and were directed to the third floor by a voice saying, "I'm up here."
Asked what the problem was, the voice, later identified as Pithan's, answered with a non sequitur "People keep breaking in."
The trio of officers approached Pithan's apartment, where the door was off its hinges. Pithan refused to come out of his apartment. As Pithan stood in his doorway, the officers tried to detain him.
Officer Andrew Williams grabbed one of Pithan's arms, and Pithan pulled him into the apartment, with the other two officers behind. A fourth officer would arrive just before the shooting.
There's a Rashomon element to the accounts of the incident from the various officers. The report describes several clubs or sticks on the floor of the apartment. The shooter tells investigators how he and Williams fought with Pithan.
"[The shooter] punched him in the face and he fell backwards," the report reads, paraphrasing the shooter's account. "Pithan picked up one of the `sticks' and started to come up. [The shooter] gave him a knee strike to the face at that time to drop the stick.
"Pithan picked up a second `stick' pointing straight up in the air and reared back toward him. He thought he was going to hit Williams or him in the face. As Pithan was coming up with the stick, [the shooter] pulled his gun and fired a shot. Pithan fell on his stomach. [The shooter] grabbed his right arm and handcuffed him."
Pithan actually took two bullets to the chest. The shooter could only recall one.
The shooter talks to his attorney before the interview ends, then adds this explanation:
"He did not use his Taser because Pithan was trying to kill them. He did not think the Taser would work in this situation."
Interestingly, Officer Emanuel Codreanu and Officer Christopher Joja, each of whom struggled with Pithan as well, believed that someone had deployed a Taser when they heard the "two pops" of their fellow officer's gun.
Joja "could not see anything in Pithan's hands," before he heard the pops. He was busy trying to restrain Pithan's legs.
Codreanu, who came in last, went to grab Pithan's legs as well, when he heard what he thought was "the muffled sound" of a Taser deployment. When he looked back, he saw the shooter holstering his gun.
Codreanu does not mention seeing anything in Pithan's hands. The report does not indicate that he was asked about this.
As Williams struggled with Pithan, they both fell to the ground. Williams remembers Pithan "on his knees, or on the ground on the left side of his body," and that, "the suspect was not able to get to stand up during the struggle."
Williams said that, "He did not know if the suspect was attempting to reach for a weapon."
He was not looking toward the shooter, and does not mention a stick in Pithan's hands.
Rather, he was "looking at the suspect's left shoulder," as the suspect attempted to get to his feet. That's when he heard "two gunshots coming from his right side (south), and the subject went limp."
The Fire Department was called, and Pithan was pronounced dead at 9:29 P.M.
The name of the shooter has been redacted. According to PPD spokesman James Holmes, the officer's name is redacted because an internal investigation into the incident is still pending.
However, there is an "Officer Brookins" mentioned as being present during the shooting as well, though his account of the incident apparently is not included in what I received.
At least not under that name.
I asked Holmes about this discrepancy, and about the name redaction.
"I can't override what has been redacted in a released report," he stated via email.
The autopsy and a toxicology report are also pending.
The maintenance manager of the apartments told the police that Pithan had only lived at the apartment complex for about one and a half weeks, and described him as exhibiting strange behavior in the days leading up to the shooting.
"He had shaved his head and would walk around the complex with [a] black cane, yelling to himself," the maintenance manager stated.
Other residents describe erratic, sometimes destructive and threatening behavior on Pithan's part.
He kicked at the door of one neighbor, and shouted threats to another. According to one woman, he called her and her friend "black whores," and threatened to bash their heads in.
"I'll fucking blind you," he allegedly told one resident.
Another saw him at the mail boxes, a glass pipe in his hand, "yelling at himself." Both his roommate and another resident describe him as possibly using drugs.
When the police went to inform Pithan's mother and her fiance of Pithan's death, she mentions that her son had been "diagnosed" with something, though the disease or condition is redacted.
The report further states that two days prior to the shooting, his mom's fiance took Pithan to get something to eat.
"Pithan told him he was having delusions," the report says.
In a statement from Pithan's family that I published in my last blog item on the subject, they acknowledge that, "Zach struggled for much of his life with mental illness."
A friend of Pithan's family has set up a memorial page, asking for donations to deal with expenses related to the young man's death.
"Any funds in excess of costs will be placed in a memorial fund for mental health awareness," reads the page.
The family also asked for the public and press to respect their privacy while they grieve.
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