Phoenix Police Department Keeps Officer Clint Brookins on Patrol as Family of Victim Files Suit
The late Zach Pithan with his mom Cleo Daily, in a photo taken during their last Christmas together, December 2012.
Courtesy of Cleo Daily
So here's a joke that was, until just recently, on the public Facebook page for Phoenix Police Officer Clint Brookins:
"How many cops does it take to get a suspect downstairs?"
"None, he fell."
The joke could be written off as dark humor, as could many of Brookins' other posts from 2010 to 2013.
From Brookins' disabled Facebook account...
"Tired as a motherfucker," he posted August 14, 2010. "Hope no one pushes my buttons. LMAO."
Earlier that year, the Iraq War veteran mentioned: "I woke up today having flashbacks. I was sweating, felt horrible. It hasn't affected me in a long time."
On September 15, 2010, he wrote: "What a nice day . . . I should kill something."
Brookins also admitted in the posts to not getting enough sleep and to anger issues. "Have you ever just wanted to slap a bitch???" he wondered one day, later noting that "my woman calmed me down."
He stated that he was a sniper while in the Army. He also discussed being an avid hunter and posted a photo of himself in the wilderness with the body of a bighorn sheep he apparently had just killed.
In one post, he offered what you could call the sniper's version of the "serenity prayer":
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot shoot, the courage to shoot the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the rest."
A dark cop joke...
On their own, Brookins' casual references to violence are disturbing for someone who regularly interacts with the public while on patrol.
They are even more disturbing given that on April 20, 2013, Brookins shot and killed 22-year-old Zachariah Pithan as Pithan struggled with three other officers on the floor of his Phoenix apartment.
Brookins told investigators that Pithan had been raising a wooden stick at one of the other officers. Fearing for the safety of his colleague, he utilized deadly force, shooting Pithan twice at close range, killing him instantly.
In the police report, released about a month after the incident, the other officers present did not mention a stick in Pithan's hand.
There were wooden spindles on the floor of the apartment. In photos taken of them by Phoenix police, they do not look particularly menacing.
Two officers initially believed that Brookins had deployed his Taser. One officer actually yelled in surprise when he heard the gunshots.
The cops were present because there had been reports of a "possible fight" and erratic behavior on Pithan's part, of him threatening neighbors and kicking apartment doors, spouting bizarre non sequiturs.
When the cops went to his door, which was open, Pithan supposedly stuck his arm out, and one of the officers grabbed it. The cops say Pithan pulled the officer into the apartment, and the struggle ensued.
Three officers had their hands on Pithan when Brookins fired the fatal shots. The incident now is the subject of a federal lawsuit, brought by Pithan's mom, Cleo Daily, and his father, Tracy Pithan.
The lawsuit alleges that the Phoenix Police Department ignored red flags associated with Brookins and that Brookins was involved in other questionable uses of force.
For instance, the suit claims that, according to the PPD's own records, "Officer Brookins failed a psychological exam in connection with his application to become a police officer at another police department in Arizona."
Filed a couple of days before the one-year anniversary of Pithan's killing, the complaint does not cite Brookins' Facebook rants.
I found those on my own, but the attorney for Pithan's parents knows of them, and I believe the PPD has been aware of them. Or should have been.
Indeed, Brookins complains about a "rat" in one post and of having to deal with an "NOI," which could be read as a Notice of Investigation.
An NOI is what a police officer receives when he or she is under investigation by the department.
Spokesmen for the Phoenix Police Department would not comment on any internal investigations that have been done or are in progress over the Pithan shooting or over these Facebook posts.
I reached out to Brookins both through Facebook and via phone. He did not reply directly, but I received an indirect reply from PPD spokesman Steve Martos, who e-mailed me, saying he had been "advised you've made several attempts to talk with Brookins by phone and Facebook."
Martos informed me that neither Brookins nor anyone else at the department would comment on the issues I raised.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed that Brookins' Facebook page had been disabled.
The PPD did, however, confirm that Brookins, a police officer since 2008, remains assigned to regular patrol duties.
My question is simple: Given Brookins' posts, the nature of Pithan's death, and the other allegations in the complaint, why is this?
It's only the latest in a string of questions I've had about this case since the first press release the PPD put out a year ago.
All four Phoenix cops involved were listed in the release as "victims" of "aggravated assault/police officer." A couple of them had minor injuries sustained while struggling with Pithan.
Their status as "victims" apparently allowed the PPD to withhold their names. I did not learn Brookins' entire name until after Pithan's parents' claim was filed in federal court.
When the police report was released about a month after the shooting, it declared the kill to be a "justifiable homicide."
Nevertheless, Brookins' name -- alone of all the cops' names -- was redacted from the report, save for one or two spots in the text where the person doing the redacting missed an "Officer Brookins."
Why this continued secrecy? Perhaps because Brookins still was under investigation by the Professional Standards Bureau. He may still be. The PPD will not say.
As for officer-involved shootings in general, PPD spokesman James Holmes told me:
"The officer is immediately put on administrative leave. Both criminal and internal investigations are initiated. The incident is reviewed and, if there are no immediate circumstances dictating otherwise, the officer is returned to duty."
Thing is, the safety of the community might dictate otherwise.
The lawsuit alleges that PPD records show "multiple investigations into Officer Brookins," which reveal "a pattern of prior excessive force."
It claims that "Brookins was investigated for excessive force when he placed a citizen who was already in custody and handcuffed in a choke-type hold."
This incident is the subject of a separate complaint against the city recently filed in federal court and involves other officers. The suspect, who allegedly was Tased by another officer, died in custody.
I do not yet have the police reports dealing with this and another incident of alleged excessive use of force by Brookins.
The Pithan family's lawsuit alleges that PPD brass "did not take any disciplinary or remedial action with Brookins" regarding any of these incidents, including the Pithan shooting.
Again, the PPD declined to comment on the allegations.
The complaint describes Zach Pithan as having been diagnosed with "serious mental illness." Specifically, he suffered from bipolar disorder, according a notice of claim sent to the city by his mom's lawyer last year.
He did have a prior conviction -- for possession of marijuana, for which he was sentenced to probation and fined.
The sniper's version of the "serenity prayer"...
In the court record from this conviction, Pithan's lawyer describes his client as exhibiting signs of "mental instability" and states that Pithan was "undergoing mental health treatment."
Pithan recently had admitted experiencing "delusions" to his mother's fiancé, per the police report.
The autopsy performed by the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner found Pithan's blood positive for a "trace amount" of diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl.
His urine was positive for both cocaine and diphenhydramine.
The autopsy also pegs him as 5-feet-10 and somewhat overweight, at 189 pounds. You would think four cops could've handled him.
Interestingly, the Phoenix PD had visited Pithan's apartment earlier that day at the behest of his roommate, who said Zach had flooded their apartment by leaving the bathtub running all night long.
The responding cops asked Pithan if he needed help. He acted angry and irrationally toward them but denied he needed help. And they soon left.
Ironically, a law passed by the Legislature this year makes it easier for police to take people suspected of mental problems into custody for psychiatric evaluation.
In any case, when police paid another visit that evening to Pithan's apartment because of the 911 calls of neighbors, things went bad very quickly.
The police report of the fatal encounter notes that one of the cops who struggled with Pithan, Officer Andrew Williams, estimated that from the time Pithan supposedly pulled him into the apartment to the time Brookins killed Pithan, "approximately 30 seconds had passed."
None of the officers deployed pepper spray or a Taser. In a photo of Brookins taken at the scene, his yellow Taser gun is snugly in its holster.
Pithan was beloved of his family and friends. And his mother's grief is palpable, both on her Facebook page and on Zach's, which she maintains.
"You are on my mind," she wrote recently on his Facebook timeline. "I miss you more than words can say. Wish you were here with us."
Zach did not need to die that day. That should be evident.
To those who are always in the "he deserved it" camp, I would remind you there is no death penalty for having mental issues or using cocaine.
Officer Brookins served this nation abroad, in a country the United States never should have invaded. For that we owe him respect, sympathy.
But should the Phoenix PD have him assigned to patrol still?
Given the facts, the PPD's decision to do this gives me serious pause.
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