Phoenix police turn foot chase into 12th deadly shooting in 2023 | Phoenix New Times


Phoenix police turn foot chase into target practice, kill 12th man

Alton Tungovia refused to stop for Phoenix police, who shot him with pepper balls before fatally shooting him.
Police responded to reports that Alton Tungovia had stabbed someone with a “metal stick” near 44th Street and McDowell Road on Dec. 16.
Police responded to reports that Alton Tungovia had stabbed someone with a “metal stick” near 44th Street and McDowell Road on Dec. 16. Phoenix Police Department
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The Phoenix Police Department has released body camera footage of officers shooting and killing 37-year-old Alton Tungovia in December.

Tungovia was the 12th and final person gunned down by Phoenix officers in 2023, a year that saw more deaths from police shootings than in 2022 despite the agency's efforts to reform its use of force policy and promote de-escalation.

On Dec. 16, police responded to reports that Tungovia stabbed someone with a “metal stick” near 44th Street and McDowell Road. After officers encountered Tungovia, they deployed pepper balls before shooting the man four times, according to video footage. Tungovia died from his wounds at a hospital later that day.

The video footage police released on Dec. 29 is part of the agency's “critical incident briefing," which is made public after any police shooting or in-custody death. The briefings are narrated by officers and include edited compilations of body camera footage, dispatch audio and other information regarding an incident.

In 2023, 18 people died during encounters with Phoenix police officers. In a handful of cases, the county medical examiner has yet to publicly release a cause of death.

‘Unknown trouble’ turns into violence

Phoenix dispatchers reported multiple calls about an “unknown trouble” in the area of 44th Street and McDowell Road on Dec. 16, according to the police briefing. One caller said that her boyfriend had been stabbed with a metal stick near a Jack in the Box.

Officers spotted Tungovia near 49th Street, five blocks away from the initial reported location of the stabbing. He was walking in and out of traffic. The released video footage shows police pulling up in vehicles to confront Tungovia. Before one officer exits his vehicle, he says, “He (Tungovia) is armed with a knife,” which contradicts a police dispatcher’s report that Tungovia was armed with a metal stick.

The officer can also be heard yelling, “Get your fucking hands up,” while pointing his gun at Tungovia.

The briefing shows that at least one of the officers ran toward Tungovia, who was walking on a sidewalk away from the officer. Tungovia then turned to face the officers before walking backward and away from them as they continued telling him, “Hands up!”

One officer fired pepper balls at Tungovia.

“Put a real round in my ass,” Tungovia said twice to the officer before turning around and continuing to walk away.

Body cam footage from two different officers shows that Tungovia was surrounded by at least five officers at this point. Tungovia continued to ignore commands from the officers to put his hands up.

One of the officers then fired three shots at Tungovia in rapid succession. Tungovia fell to the ground, and a fourth gunshot could be heard. Nothing appeared to be in Tungovia’s hand at the time he was shot by the officer. However, the briefing includes a still image of the cylindrical metal object that Tungovia allegedly was carrying during the altercation.

The alleged stabbing victim was treated for “serious but non-life-threatening injuries,” according to the agency. Police did not offer details of the incident or why Tungovia was considered a suspect.

Phoenix police said they will investigate internally whether the “actions of the officers are consistent with department policy.” The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will decide if criminal charges are filed against officers involved in the shooting death.

The Phoenix police department is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for its officers’ use of deadly force, among other concerns. The investigation has lasted nearly two and a half years. Chief Michael Sullivan was brought in to lead the department in September 2022 as it dealt with the probe.
click to enlarge Alton Tungovia, Phoenix Police Officers, Phoenix
An image of the metal object Alton Tungovia allegedly was carrying during a fatal police encounter on Dec. 16.
Phoenix Police Department

Phoenix police fatal encounters in 2023

Phoenix police officers shot and killed 12 people in 2023. Officers also were involved in six other fatal incidents. In some of those cases, the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner determined that the deaths were not caused by officers.
  • Jan. 3: Officers shot and killed Cosme Medina Núñez, a 46-year-old man who was holding a pair of scissors.

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

  • Feb. 11: Bryan Funk, a 40-year-old man who had just been released from prison, died after multiple officers pinned him to the ground and restrained his legs during an arrest. The medical examiner later determined that Funk's death was the result of meth intoxication and a heart condition.

  • Feb. 22: Derin Holmes, 41, died of a gunshot wound. Although officers fired at Holmes, Phoenix police said the fatal wound was self-inflicted. A subsequent investigation by the medical examiner also determined Holmes died by suicide.

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

  • Feb. 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 before they arrived. Body camera footage showed Saucedo grabbing his gun during a struggle with officers before he was fatally shot.

  • March 6: Officers shot and killed Anthony Castro, 40. Body camera footage showed that 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 Parra into a QuikTrip where he brandished a knife, barricaded himself in a storage room and set the room afire, police said. When SWAT officers entered the room, Parra was unresponsive. The medical examiner determined that Parra's primary cause of death was smoke inhalation.

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

  • June 19: Luis Mateo Jacobo Borja, 29, died after shooting at multiple police officers during a pursuit, sending two officers to the hospital. It's still unclear whether Borja died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or from an officer's rifle fire, police said. New Times has requested the medical examiner's report on his death.

  • June 28: Officers shot and killed Juan Reynoso, 26, who they claimed was holding a gun, which later turned out to be a replica. His family has called for justice for his death.

  • July 1: Officers shot and killed Raul Mendez, 35, while responding to a complaint about a burglary. They claimed Mendez tried to grab an officer's Taser during a struggle, although the available body camera footage does not show clearly what occurred.

  • July 17: Officers shot and killed Armando Reyes, 35, after responding to a call about a car that crashed into a streetlight. Reyes was armed with a handgun, body camera footage from the incident showed.

  • July 20: Javon Kevine, 44, died after being handcuffed by officers at a strip mall at 19th Avenue and Union Hills Drive. His cause of death was hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure, according to the medical examiner, which added that fentanyl and methamphetamine toxicity contributed to his death.

  • Sept 9: Robert Crockett, 26, was shot and killed by officers after allegedly committing grand theft auto with a handgun. Police said later the weapon was a pellet gun.

  • Nov. 29: Benjamin Austin, 58, was arrested and suffered what police called a “medical episode” while in custody before being hospitalized and dying the next day. As of Jan. 3, the medical examiner's report was still pending completion.

  • Dec. 16: Alton Tungovia, 37, was a suspect in a stabbing outside of a Jack in the Box. He was shot four times after refusing to obey officers' commands. Tungovia died from wounds in the hospital that day.
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