Rumain Brisbon and family.
Rumain Brisbon and family.
Courtesy of Brisbon Family

Phoenix to Pay $1.5 Million to Family of Rumain Brisbon, Unarmed Black Man Shot by Police

Rumain Brisbon had just pulled into the parking lot of his North Phoenix apartment complex on a December day in 2014 and gotten out of the car when a police officer confronted him.

What happened next is disputed. The Phoenix officer, Mark Rine, has claimed that Brisbon reached for his waistband after being told to put his hands up, then started to run away. A struggle ensued, and Rine, who said that he thought that he felt a gun in Brisbon's pocket, fired two shots in self-defense.

Two witnesses — Brisbon's friend Brandon Dickerson, who'd been sitting in his car, and Dana Klinger, his girlfriend — tell a different story, which was reflected in a lawsuit filed in May 2015. It argued that Rine had no probable cause to detain or arrest Brisbon, who had gone out to pick up food at McDonald's for his girlfriend and their 18-month-old daughter.

Brisbon had "exercised his constitutional right to keep walking without engaging in conversation with defendant Rine," the lawsuit noted. In response, Rine "initiated a confrontation with Rumain Brisbon by charging after him and forcing him to retreat to the doorway."

Regardless, the end result was the same: Brisbon was shot in the back at point-blank range in front of his girlfriend and toddler daughter. The "gun" Rine thought he had felt turned out to be a vial of Oxycodone pills. Brisbon was black and Rine is white.

Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council approved a $1.5 million payment to Brisbon's family, settling claims filed on behalf of his mother, girlfriend, and children.

Representatives for the Brisbon family couldn't immediately be reached to comment on the settlement on Wednesday afternoon.

The Phoenix Police Department declined to comment, but confirmed that Rine remains employed with no restrictions on his duty status.

Two City Council members, Jim Waring and Sal DiCiccio, voted against approving the payment. DiCiccio argued that the settlement would set a bad precedent, as the officer, in DiCiccio's opinion, had done nothing wrong. 

Brisbon's death in 2014 led to numerous protests and a larger conversation about racially discriminatory policing in Phoenix, which ranked second in the nation for the number of police-involved shootings at the time. Nonetheless, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to press charges against Rine.

In an unusual move, PLEA, the Phoenix police union, issued a three-page statement after the shooting, which stated, "Mr. Brisbon had the choice to live that evening."

Representatives for PLEA declined immediate comment on the settlement. 

Jarret Maupin, who helped organize the demonstrations after Brisbon's death, described the settlement as "another example of the city of Phoenix paying significant sums of money to the families of people of color that did not have to die."

"While the settlement funds, without doubt, help to ease the suffering and provide a sliver of hope for some kind of a future for these families," he said, "the need for meaningful police policy and training reforms and prosecutions of police who violate — fatally or violently — people's civil rights is critical."

In particular, officers on the Brady List should be fired, body cameras should be mandatory, and recruiting more black and Latino officers should be a top priority, Maupin said.

"Until systemic and institutional racism is rooted out of the Phoenix Police Department, taxpayers can rest assured that they will continue to pay millions of dollars to the families of people officers needlessly kill or injure or harass."

The case brought forward by Brisbon's family was "murky at best," Maupin added.

"The fact that the city of Phoenix paid out this sum on such a weak case shows me that they are very vulnerable to almost any similar litigation because of their poorly enforced policies and procedures."

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