Federal officials will investigate the fatal shooting last month of a suspect by a Pinal County Sheriff's deputy after the man led law enforcement officers on a nearly hour-long car chase.
Manuel Longoria, shot in the street on January 14, wouldn't obey officers' commands at the scene. He told police he had a gun, although one was never found.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has said his deputy, identified by New Times sources and other media outlets as Heath Rankin, was justified in the shooting.
A PCSO spokesman previously told us he couldn't confirm or deny whether Rankin was the shooter because of threats that have been made to the deputy's life.
The Sheriff's Office will conduct two investigations into the incident -- first a criminal investigation and, when that's complete, a professional-standards investigation, says Tim Gaffney, a PCSO spokesman.
Gaffney says the criminal investigation of the deputy involving the shooting of suspect Longoria will be submitted to the Pinal County Attorney's Office for review.
"We have been in contact with the FBI and they will be reviewing our deputy involved shooting, once the investigation has been completed. In society, law enforcement holds a sacred trust with the public that must be safeguarded. We welcome this review of lethal force by the FBI," Sheriff Babeu said in a statement.
Babeu's public statements justifying the shooting were complicated after video of the incident, including the shooting, taken by bystanders was aired. It showed the suspect with his hands in the air when the deputy fired his fatal shots.
The Eloy police officers who were involved in the chase and at the scene didn't fire their weapons.
They "acted appropriately" during the incident, says Bill Pitman, Eloy police chief for 13 years. Eloy officers fired bean-bag rounds and used a Taser in attempts to subdue Longoria.
"We don't consider this a successful outcome because someone lost their life," Pitman says. "That's not to say it wasn't justified, but that's not what police set out to do."
Babeu, in Washington, D.C. at the time of the shooting, defended his deputy's actions, and said publicly that he would have shot the suspect sooner.
Keep in mind that "sooner" -- right before the fatal shots were fired -- the Eloy police officers on the scene, just feet away from the suspect, opted for non-lethal means to gain control of the situation.
CBS 5 reporter Morgan Loew first aired the video taken by nearby residents who watched the drama unfold just outside their front yards.
That video shows that Longoria had his hands in the air when he was shot by the PCSO deputy. The news station also obtained radio traffic from the day of the shooting, in which the deputies were told to back off the car chase.
The deputy who fired his gun apparently didn't.
"It's inside the Eloy PD," the commander said, according to tapes of police radio traffic. "That's their area. If they choose to continue, that's fine. But we're going to go ahead and back out at this point."
Gaffney said the PCSO was called to assist Eloy with the pursuit of a stolen vehicle. He reported that the suspect said he had a gun and wouldn't be taken alive, and also rammed three patrol vehicles with his auto during the pursuit.
"At one point, a PCSO lieutenant told all of our deputies to terminate the pursuit and stage in the city of Eloy so they could assist when the pursuit ended," Gaffney says. "All but one of our deputies went to a corner, stopped and waited with a PCSO sergeant until the pursuit ended. The one deputy who did not stop was in an unmarked PCSO vehicle and was on the Eloy Police frequency when the order was given; therefore he didn't hear it."
What's troubled some observers is that Babeu's office is investigating its own -- even after the sheriff clearly reached the conclusion that his officer was justified in the shooting.
Retired Mesa police officer Bill Richardson shared his views on the incident in the East Valley Tribune:
It's not the sheriff's job to take sides when there's an officer involved shooting, nor is it his place to improperly influence the outcome of an investigation by his deputies with his public proclamations.
Having investigated officer-involved shootings and homicides, I can assure you they're best done with the precision of a surgery, and when all the facts are in before a decision is made whether or not the shooting was legal and within departmental policy.
The final determination of whether or not this Rankin's was legal and justified is reserved for Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, not Babeu.
Babeu would do well to return to having outside investigations into shootings involving his deputies, especially after his rush to judgment regarding Rankin's actions and the newly found evidence that Longoria may have been surrendering when killed.
Having Voyles involved doesn't inspire confidence given that he and Babeu share a special political bond.
One criminal defense attorney, Matt Brown, posed this question in a blog post on santanvalley.com: "Do you really think that Voyles is going to do a damn thing to one of Babeu's precious deputies? Voyles and Babeu were, after all, part of the Law & Order Team. Just look at how adorable they look together!"
And about Rankin ... Rankin was once ordered by the court to obtain anger-management counseling in connection to a domestic-violence incident that involved assault and disorderly conduct. He reached a plea agreement in that 2011 case in which the court said the "complaint will be dismissed upon proof of completion of counseling."
Rankin also was involved in a high-speed chase with a suspect (see page 3) who Rankin punched in the face with such force that he snapped the bones in his hand.
Heath Rankin comes from an interesting line of law enforcement characters.
He is the nephew of Florence Mayor Tom Rankin, the former police chief of the town. Read about his dealings in "Rankin's Law," one part in a series about the inept policing in Florence.
In 2008, the Coolidge Examiner published blurbs about the new cadets joining PCSO.
Then-Deputy Cadet Heath Rankin had been a "civilian observer since he was 16 with PCSO and the Florence and Coolidge police departments. Cadet Rankin completed a three-month internship with PCSO in summer 2007. He also has a bachelor's of science in criminal justice from Minot State University in North Dakota."
Rankin, who was brought in by Babeu's predecessor, Sheriff Chris Vasquez, said in the 2008 article that "over the years I have watched my brother, Sgt. Hunter Rankin 696, have a positive and rewarding career with the sheriff's office. During my internship I was able to obtain a lot of information about the department."
From the article:
Cadet Rankin, who lives in Florence, plans to have a long, safe, happy, rewarding and positive career with PCSO. He also hopes to promote through the ranks and someday become a supervisor.
"I believe PCSO made a positive choice by selecting me for the position of deputy. I believe Sheriff Vasquez, the administration and the entire sheriff's office will benefit by having an employee like me," he said.
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