Federal Judge Gives Paul Babeu's Deputy a Pass on Killing Unarmed, Surrendering Man

One sentence in federal Judge Susan R. Bolton's recent decision in the 2014 shooting death of Manuel Longoria by Pinal County Sheriff's Deputy Heath Rankin neatly sums up the circumstances of Longoria's unnecessary killing.

Halfway through her 11-page order granting summary judgment in favor of Rankin, Pinal County, and Rankin's boss, Sheriff Paul Babeu, Bolton succinctly writes:

"Mr. Longoria then turns with his hands above his head and is shot twice."

That is, indeed, what viewers saw in cell-phone video of the incident, captured by a resident, as Eloy police incapacitated the car Longoria had been driving, after pursuing him on a low-speed chase through the town on January 12, 2014.
Initially, Longoria emerged from his car, did not comply with officers' commands, and was shot with non-lethal beanbag rounds and Tasered.

Longoria then raises his empty hands in surrender and is shot in the back twice by an AR-15 rifle fired by Rankin, a PCSO deputy who responded to the scene despite the PCSO's ordering its officers to stand down and wait for Eloy PD to resolve the issue.

Surprisingly, Bolton, known for her 2010 decision enjoining most of Arizona's anti-immigrant law, Senate Bill 1070, determines that Rankin was "justified in his use of deadly force."

Longoria's constitutional rights were not violated, Bolton argues, in part because Longoria had committed a felony in stealing his roommate's car to begin with, and had informed police throughout the pursuit that he was armed and that the officers would have to kill him.

Seems Longoria, distraught over a dispute with his girlfriend, wanted to commit suicide by cop, and PCSO deputy Rankin obliged him. 
Longoria-family lawyer Joel Robbins expressed disappointment with Bolton's reasoning in her decision, and vowed an appeal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

"The Ninth Circuit's pretty good about calling them right," Robbins told New Times. "I feel like the judge cherry picked a couple of facts."

The attorney, who specializes in wrongful-death suits, noted that the Eloy Police Department sergeant in charge of the scene had called for the use of "non-lethal force," i.e., bean bags and Taser rounds.

When these were used, it was evident to the Eloy officers present that Longoria was not armed, though moments earlier, he had held one arm behind his back, as if hiding something. 

A defense statement of facts quotes Eloy cops deposed for the case as saying that they could see Longoria did not have a weapon on him once the bean bags started hitting him.
The Eloy cops present, though they had drawn their weapons and had them pointed at Longoria, did not fire. 
Rather, it was Rankin who fired from a distance of about 30 feet, though he also should have been able to see that Longoria was not armed, according to Robbins.

Rankin claimed that he saw Longoria point an object out of his vehicle earlier, but according to court documents, Rankin was the only one who witnessed this alleged display.

Nevertheless, this fact is cited by Bolton in her reasoning. 

"I think the judge kind of put herself [in this frame of mind] that Longoria's asking for it, running around, causing danger," Robbins observed. "But that's not the way you apply [the law]."

Ironically, Rankin, the nephew of Florence mayor Tom Rankin, whose town's police force was the subject of a three-part 2013 New Times investigative series, should not have been on the scene when he shot Longoria in the middle of the street that day.

Though the PCSO had been called off the pursuit earlier, Deputy Rankin claimed to have not heard the order, just as he claimed to have not heard the later order to use less-than-lethal force.
Judge Bolton's Decision in Longoria Case

According to a news report, this wasn't the first time Rankin was involved in a questionable, violent incident.

In 2011, Rankin participated in a high-speed chase through Casa Grande that "hit speeds of 100 mph," according to the Eloy Enterprise, and ended with Rankin's punching the suspect so hard that Rankin broke bones in his own hand. 

A previous New Times item on the Longoria shooting notes that deputy Rankin "was once ordered by the court to obtain anger-management counseling in connection with a domestic-violence incident that involved assault and disorderly conduct."
Judge Bolton's Decision in Longoria Case

All the same, Sheriff Babeu has been aggressive in his defense of Rankin, telling local media that given Longoria's behavior and Longoria's claim to other law enforcement officers that he was armed, he (Babeu) would have "shot sooner" than his deputy.

Robbins admits that Longoria was no saint.

"There are a lot of things he did wrong," Robbins explained. "But none of it was death penalty-worthy."

Nor should Longoria's actions erase all civil responsibility for Longoria's death from Rankin and Pinal County, insists the attorney..

"I think Manny probably ... was distraught and wanted to die," Robbins admitted. "But that doesn't mean [the cops] had to kill him."
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons