(UPDATE: July 7 — Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has asked the FBI for an independent civil-rights review of this case. See her full statement following the article.)
Video of a fatal shooting of a suspect by Phoenix police in Maryvale on July 4 has prompted a second day of protesting amid ongoing national upheaval over police brutality.
Taken by a bystander, the video circulated widely on social media only supports a portion of the police account of the incident — mainly the fact that they shot the man while he was inside a parked car. Other details, including the man's name, have not yet been confirmed by police. [See update below.] A Phoenix city council member identified him as James "Jay" Garcia.
Phoenix police said in an official statement that around 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, officers responded to a 911 caller who claimed that a man had tried to kill him a week ago, and that the man had returned with a knife and was threatening him.
When responding officers approached a home where the victim told them that the suspect was located, they found a man sitting in the driver's seat of a car parked in the driveway and started talking to him about their investigation. They reportedly instructed the man to exit the vehicle, at which point the man refused, rolled up his window, and armed himself with a handgun, police said.
"The male began displaying the handgun and telling the officer to shoot him," according to police. The officers told the man to drop the gun, after which he pointed the firearm at the officers. One of the officers broke the passenger side window of the vehicle with a metal bar to "distract the suspect," and two other officers fired at the man.
He was transported to a hospital where he died. No officers or other members of the public were harmed during the incident. Police would not confirm if the man who was shot was the subject of the 911 call.
In the bystander's footage of the shooting, four Phoenix police officers can be seen surrounding a vehicle parked in a driveway with their guns drawn. One officer is heard yelling, "Stop fucking moving. I will fucking shoot you." Seconds later, a volley of gunfire can be heard.
Attempts by Phoenix New Times to contact the person who took the footage were unsuccessful. The W.E. Rising Project, the organization behind the account that posted the footage at about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, is a Phoenix-based anti-police brutality group.
The Phoenix Police Department did not respond to New Times' requests for the victim's name, the names of the involved officers, or visual evidence of the firearm that he reportedly pointed at officers. When asked for the agency's timeline for releasing body camera footage from the incident, department spokeswoman Sergeant Mercedes Fortune wrote in an email: "We will begin the process of putting our transparency Critical Incident Briefing Video together." (The agency sometimes provides an in-depth look at use-of-force incidents in the briefing videos, which began last year as part of a public transparency push.)
The shooting has generated backlash from the community as well as national media coverage. On Sunday night, protesters of the shooting gathered near Encanto Boulevard and 67th Avenue in Phoenix. One person who claimed to be the victim's friend told Fox 10 Phoenix that the suspect was unarmed when the police shot him. And Poder in Action, a local civil-rights group, is promoting a vigil and march for the victim tonight at 6:00 p.m. in Maryvale.
Phoenix City Councilmember Carlos Garcia, who led the charge on establishing the city's first police civilian oversight office, also condemned the shooting in a statement posted on Facebook on Sunday, where he claimed the victim's name is "James 'Jay' Garcia," and said that the department's initial news release left out important facts.
"It does not shock us that despite all the scrutiny from community Phoenix PD continues to respond violently to calls. But, we must all continue to ask for transparency and accountability," Garcia wrote. "The department also issued a premature statement leaving out facts about the case. We cannot allow for dishonest narratives to be built by violent departments. We will continue to call for independent investigations into officer involved shootings."
Garcia told New Times that the fact that it's still unclear whether the victim was involved in the incident originally reported to 911 makes the department's initial statement about the shooting "premature."
"It was premature and made it seem like the person who ended up in this incident was actually who they were looking for," he said. "It sounds more like excusing what they did."
In a statement, Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) President Michael “Britt” London slammed Garcia for his comments and defended the officers involved in the shooting.
"In circumstances where police officers are threatened with deadly force, our officers try to deescalate the situation but must also defend themselves," he said. "It is premature for Phoenix City Councilmember Carlos Garcia and other elected officials to jump to conclusions about the situation and make inflammatory comments about Phoenix Police Officers without all of the facts. This hurtful rhetoric is creating more division and distrust within our community, and is significantly impacting morale within the Phoenix Police Department. This is not a time for political gamesmanship."
UPDATE: Minutes after publication of this article, Phoenix police released a statement with video about the incident. Below is Phoenix PD's complete statement:
"The attached body worn video clip captures the moment when the handgun is removed from the suspect's lap. Investigators are in the process of collecting evidence and completing interviews of everyone who was involved in this critical incident. A determination as to whether the actions of the officers are within policy will not be made until the investigation is complete and all the facts are known. We are sharing this video in an effort to address some misinformation about this incident on social media. Here are the links to our CIB video and a link to the raw video which was used in the CIB."
"The suspect has been identified as 28 year old James Porter Garcia."
UPDATE: July 7 — Statement from Chief Jeri Williams:
"This is a critical time in our country and our local community is not immune from challenges. As expectations placed on police agencies evolve, we know we need to evolve with it. We are an organization committed to growing and becoming better every day. There are many aspects to this evolution. For example, increasing our transparency efforts to be more proactive in releasing video of critical incidents and seeking support from outside agencies to assist in conducting investigations into some of these incidents. I’ve said before and will say again that I don’t fear civilian oversight or investigation of our practices from outside agencies. While I’m confident in the investigative work done by my team, I recognize the value of an unbiased outside agency in strengthening the public trust into an investigation.
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"With that in mind, I am announcing today that I have asked the FBI to conduct an independent civil rights review into the July 4, 2020 officer involved shooting at 56th Avenue & Glenrosa. This incident has gained wide-spread attention within our community and across the country. The Phoenix Police Department Professional Standards Bureau will conduct an internal investigation, Homicide will conduct a criminal investigation and the FBI will conduct their independent civil rights investigation. I am taking this step in the best interest of my employees, my department, and the city. I recognize this is a time of community distrust. I hope this step will allow our community to feel confident in the findings.
"This incident also highlights a need in our community to release body-worn camera footage and other audio or video on critical incidents in a more timely manner. Last fall, as part of our commitment to transparency, we set a goal to release this information and video within 45 days of a critical incident. To meet the needs of our community and build trust, we will move that timeline up, releasing available body-worn video within a 10 to 14-day window. We hope this commitment to transparency will help rebuild the trust that is so essential for the safety of our community.
"I support the efforts of our officers and believe in the quality work they do day after day. These are challenging times but we have never shied away from difficulty and will give our full effort and commitment as a department to strengthen the fabric of a safe and secure community."
Staff writer Erasmus Baxter contributed reporting to this story.