Phoenix PD's Shooting of Michelle Cusseaux to Be Investigated by DPS

A Phoenix police officer's fatal shooting of Phoenix resident Michelle Cusseaux will be investigated by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Cusseaux, 50, was fatally shot August 14 by Phoenix Police Officer Percy Dupra after, police say, she threatened officers with a hammer when they went to serve a court order to deliver Cusseaux to a mental-health facility. Family and activists demanded an external investigation of the shooting. This didn't happen -- until people marched outside City Hall with Cusseaux's body in a casket on Friday.

Police Chief Daniel Garcia initially had announced that the Phoenix PD would conduct the investigation, which would be subject to an independent review by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The people who brought Cusseaux's body to City Hall said that wasn't good enough, and a day later, Garcia announced that he asked DPS to investigate.

See also: -Body of Mentally Ill Woman Killed by Phoenix Police Brought to City Hall

Sabinus Megwa, an attorney for the family, said he feared the Maricopa County Attorney's Office would "basically rubber-stamp what [Phoenix PD's investigation has] found."

The County Attorney's Office will still review the DPS investigation.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery held a press conference today to describe his office's role in reviewing these cases, and denied a practice of rubber-stamping police department investigations of officer-involved shootings.

"When it comes to these certain situations, we're going to do the right thing," Montgomery said. "I'm not afraid of the truth."

Interestingly, the Arizona Republic this weekend ran a piece that asked two people what would have happened if Michael Brown -- the 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri, man whose shooting death has sparked protests there -- had been killed in Phoenix.

Retired Mesa police officer Bill Richardson replied, in part:

. . . I'd have to believe if Michael Brown were shot to death in Phoenix, the response would be somewhere between indifference and apathy.

The usual response to a law enforcement shooting in Maricopa County appears to be the same whether or not the person shot represented an immediate threat to an officer. The public as a whole, and that usually includes the media, accepts the prepackaged police version and predictable Maricopa County attorney's findings without question.

Richardson invoked an example: The 2013 death of Quentine Barksdale, who was shot by his neighbor, an off-duty law-enforcement officer for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Richardson wrote:

I recently reviewed the January 2013 Phoenix police homicide investigation of Quintine Barksdale, an unarmed Black man shot to death by an off-duty White police officer with a history of integrity and misconduct issues. Shortly after the shooting the officer was fired for unrelated serious misconduct.

Even though determining justification is the duty of the county attorney, Phoenix police concluded early on the shooting was a "justifiable homicide." Predictably, the county attorney quietly rubber-stamped the Police Department's misguided conclusion.

To this editorial, Montgomery replied, "One case does not make for a policy of rubber-stamping."

Montgomery pointed out that three police officers have been charged with criminal conduct since 2002 in use-of-force cases, and two were convicted. One was Richard Chrisman, a Phoenix police officer who shot and killed Phoenix resident Daniel Rodriguez in 2010, and eventually was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Montgomery added that 13 police officers have been charged with crimes in Maricopa County since 2013, and also walked reporters through how the County Attorney's Office does its independent investigations of such cases.

The county's top prosecutor also brought along some statistics on officer-involved shootings in Maricopa County:

  • There were 43 officer-involved shootings in 2011, and in 42 cases, the suspect had a weapon.
  • In 46 officer-involved shootings in 2012, 39 of the suspects had a weapon.
  • In 49 officer-involved shootings in 2013, 44 of the suspects had a weapon.
  • In 31 officer-involved shootings so far in 2014, 24 of the suspects had a weapon.
  • Of those nearly 170 cases, 12 of the suspects were reported to have some sort of mental illness.
Montgomery said he's having another press conference on Wednesday to discuss how his office handles mental-health issues.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley