Phoenix Police Kill Elderly Man in Latest Officer Shooting

Phoenix police shot and killed Anthony Castro on March 6 after reports that he stabbed two women.
Phoenix police shot and killed Anthony Castro on March 6 after reports that he stabbed two women. Phoenix Police Department
The Phoenix Police Department shot and killed a 76-year-old man on Saturday, marking the seventh fatal shooting by the department so far this year.

While information so far about the shooting is limited, police said Dwight Cornwell discharged a handgun into the air before an officer shot and killed him.

The shooting came after the Phoenix Police Department released body camera footage in a series of police shootings in February and March, providing new details about a deadly spring for the agency.

The videos — Phoenix police call them "critical incident briefings" — provide edited compilations of body camera footage, dispatch audio, and other evidence that the agency provides to the public after police shootings or in-custody deaths. The briefings offer new details about what has been a bloody spring for the agency.

Two of the videos present information about police killings on March 5 and March 6. Another recent video, which was released on March 10, gave a summary of the events that led to a police killing during a DUI investigation on February 25.

While critical incident briefings often provide supplementary details to preliminary statements from the department, they do not show the full picture of the incident. Additionally, the agency frequently takes months to respond to records requests for the footage. The practice has drawn criticism from activists.

So far in 2023, Phoenix police officers have shot and killed seven people, and an eighth died after officers knelt on him as he was handcuffed. The people police killed are all men and range in age from 36 to 76. In 2022, Phoenix officers shot and killed 10 people and six in 2021.

Officers Kill Elderly Man at Apartment Complex

The latest fatal police shooting occurred on Saturday about 8:45 p.m. at an apartment complex at 14th Street and Bell Road in north Phoenix.

Police have not yet released body camera footage or other details about the shooting. The agency generally releases limited body camera footage from police killings two weeks after a death, which means that in this case, the footage is expected around April 15.

According to the department, officers responded to the apartment complex when a woman called and said a man was trying to break into her home. When officers arrived, they encountered Cornwell in the parking lot. It is not clear if he was involved in the apparent burglary.

Police said Cornwell pulled out a handgun and fired it into the air. Officers then tried to disarm him with less lethal means, though police did not say what device was used. Then officers shot him.

DUI Investigation Turns Deadly

In the February 25 incident, the new body camera footage showed the moments that led up to the death of 36-year-old Matthew Sansotta. Officers were dispatched that afternoon when a man called 911 to report that a driver was speeding and swerving on the road, according to Phoenix police.

By the time officers arrived, Sansotta had parked in front of an apartment complex near 9th Street and Union Hills Drive in north Phoenix and was reclining in his car. Body camera footage shows that one of the two officers who responded approached Sansotta and knocked on the driver's door.

Sansotta complied with the officers' request and got out of the vehicle, but he denied having weapons on him.  However, the officers noted that there was a gun in the driver's side door of the car when Sansotta exited the vehicle. They did not immediately move the gun nor shut the open car door.

Bodycam footage shows Sansotta moving slowly toward the driver's side door and grabbing the gun as one of the officers returned to the patrol car to run a records check. The officer with Sansotta tackled him and attempted to wrestle the gun from his hand. At that point, the other officer left his patrol car and shot Sansotta.

Footage also released last month showed similar struggles in the March 5 and March 6 killings.

In the March 5 incident, video shows officers attempting to arrest James Saucedo, 42, who they believed had just shot a woman. He grabbed a handgun from his waistband as several officers struggled with him on the ground, the video shows, and one of them shot and killed him.

A day later, on March 6, officers encountered 40-year-old Anthony Castro on 41st Drive and Alta Vista Road after multiple reports that he stabbed two women. When the officers arrived on the scene, they found an elderly woman with stab wounds on the lawn. Another woman was inside with Castro — she also had suffered stab wounds.

After Castro ignored commands from officers, one of them shot him in a doorway. Audio from the bodycam footage indicates that five shots were fired. Castro was pronounced dead on the scene, and one of his victims died later at a hospital.

City Won’t Release Details in QuikTrip Death

On March 14, Phoenix said that a man had died that morning after barricading himself inside a convenience store.

Officers began chasing Daniel Parra, 37, when they saw him walking in the HOV lane on Interstate 17, according to a press release. Parra ran from officers and into a QuikTrip, where he barricaded himself in a storage room and set a fire, police said.

The Phoenix Police Department's Special Assignments Unit — the agency's SWAT team — responded in an attempt to remove Parra from the storage room. Officers broke into the room where Parra was found unresponsive and pronounced dead.

Sgt. Brian Bower, a Phoenix police spokesperson, wrote in an email that the department would not be releasing body camera footage from the incident. Bower also did not elaborate on Parra's cause of death.

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner is investigating Parra's death, records show, but the cause and manner of death are still listed as undetermined.

Growing Death Toll

So far in 2023, Phoenix police officers have been involved in at least eight deaths, including seven fatal shootings. Another person died during a shootout with police, and a man died as police attempted to remove him from a QuikTrip.
  • January 3: Officers shot and killed Cosme Medina Núñez, a 46-year-old man who was holding a pair of scissors. His family in Mexico has been struggling to get his body back to his home country.

  • January 7: Officers shot and killed Kenneth Hearne, 37, who was armed with a handgun. Hearne shot a Scottsdale police officer the day prior.

  • February 11: Bryan Funk, a 40-year-old man who had just been released from prison, died after multiple officers pinned him to the ground, knelt on his back, and restrained his legs during an arrest. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

  • February 22: Derin Holmes, 41, died of a gunshot wound. Although officers fired at Holmes, the agency has said the preliminary investigation shows that the fatal wound was self-inflicted.

  • February 22: Officers shot and killed Jason Resendez, 47, who had pulled out a gun as officers approached him.

  • February 25: Officers shot and killed Matthew Anthony Sansotta, 36, during a DUI investigation.

  • March 5: Officers shot and killed James Saucedo, 42. Officers said Saucedo shot a woman and then pulled a gun on officers when they arrived.

  • March 6: Officers shot and killed Anthony Castro, 40. Officers said Castro was stabbing a woman when he was shot.

  • March 14: Police said Daniel Parra, 37, fled when officers tried to stop him as he walked in an HOV lane on Interstate 17. Officers chased him to a QuikTrip near Cactus Road, where he brandished a knife and barricaded himself in a storage room and set it afire, police said. When SWAT officers entered the room, they said Parra was dead.

  • April 1: Officers shot and killed Dwight Cornwell, 76, after police said he shot a handgun into the air while they were investigating reports of attempted burglary at an apartment complex.

On March 16, Phoenix police Chief Michael Sullivan spoke with ABC15 about the spate of police killings, blaming them on illegal firearm possession by people officers were encountering. "We don't want to see officers have to be involved in these situations. We don't want communities and families to have to endure this," he said.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk

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