The Phoenix Police Department Disciplinary Review Board is suggesting that Sergeant Percy Dupra — the officer who fatally shot Michelle Cusseaux during a routine court-mandated mental health pickup order last year — be demoted for his actions, and Cusseaux’s family and friends are furious.
“[The] decision not to recommend termination for Percy Dupra only serves to amplify the pain, frustration, and mistrust my family and community has for the city of Phoenix, our elected leaders, and police force,” Fran Garrett, Cusseaux’s mother, wrote in a statement.
“We are not satisfied [and] we will continue to demand justice for Michelle,” she added.
The Disciplinary Review Board made its suggestion on Tuesday evening following a determination last month by the Use of Force Board that Dupra violated PPD policy by shooting Cusseaux, and now, Trent Crump of the PPD explains, the punitive decision is in the hands of Police Chief Joe Yahner.
On August 14, 2014, a group of Phoenix officers were dispatched to Cusseaux’s West Phoenix apartment and instructed to take her to a mental-health facility. According to the police report, tensions escalated when Cusseaux refused to leave her home.
Sergeant Dupra was called in as backup, and as Garrett explained to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now: “[Dupra] overstepped his boundaries. He pried open Michelle’s door. He allegedly said she came at him with a hammer. And he shot her at close range once in the heart.”
Many in the community continue to be skeptical of Dupra’s account, saying he should have been more sensitive to her mental-health needs.
The shooting, which came days after Michael Brown was fatally shot in Missouri, sparked outrage and protests across Phoenix and was instrumental in the PPD’s decision to begin a mental-health crisis-intervention squad.
But while many applaud the new squad — though critics point out that it is unfeasible for the seven appointed officers to handle the 40,000 mental-health pickup orders the PPD must respond to annually — they are still demanding “justice for Michelle.”
Earlier this year, an investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office found Dupra had not acted illegally and therefore would not be charged with misconduct, which is why for many in the community, the punishment ordered by the PPD and city carry so much weight.
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The Disciplinary Review Board comprises two Phoenix residents, two peer PPD employees, and two Police Commanders. After reviewing details of the case and the Use of Force Board’s findings, the six members of the board had three options: demote, fire, or suspend Dupra.
“Anything other than Percy Dupra’s termination is unacceptable,” local civil rights leader Reverend Jarrette Maupin says. “[The PPD’s] own review board has acknowledged the unethical and irresponsible actions that led to Michelle’s death. Certainly they cannot stand by such outrageous behavior.”
According to Crump, Chief Yahner is out of town but is expected to make a decision later the week he returns.
**Editor's note: an earlier version of this story said that Chief Yahner and city officials would decide Dupra's fate, but that is incorrect. The final decision rests with Yahner, though Dupra is able to appeal to the Civil Service Board if he is unhappy with the results.