On Monday, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill fired officer Daniel Pantaleo, five years after he choked Eric Garner to death. Garner's death — and the city's refusal to discipline the officer who killed him — ignited nationwide protests against police brutality and the lack of accountability for police officers who use lethal force. Pantaleo's termination was seen by many as long overdue.
But it is not unusual for police officers involved in high-profile use-of-force incidents to face no consequences.
In a 2008 case that made headlines at the time, Scottsdale police sergeants James Dorer and Rich Slavin shot a mentally ill man in the back, paralyzing him and causing him to drop his baby and fracture her skull, which sparked a lawsuit against the city by the man's parents.
Neither Slavin nor Dorer were ever disciplined for their actions, Scottsdale police confirmed last week. Yet those actions led to a $10 million out-of-court settlement, which was previously reported by the Scottsdale Independent.
The settlement received no attention by other media outlets, and the Independent said the officers involved were no longer with the department. But as Phoenix New Times has learned, the multimillion-dollar payout in the case didn't set anyone's career back. Slavin rose through the ranks, and was promoted to assistant chief of Scottsdale police in 2018. Dorer retired from the force of his own accord, and is now the chief security officer for the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD), where he has worked since at least 2012.
Every five days, police in Arizona shoot someone, an investigation by the Arizona Republic found this year. From 2011 to 2018, police shot at 627 people, killing more than half of them. Every single officer was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing — except for Mesa cop Philip Brailsford, who shot Daniel Shaver in a hotel hallway as the 26-year-old cried and begged for his life.
Brailsford was prosecuted, but ultimately, a jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter. Brailsford was fired in 2016, but he has since been briefly rehired by the Mesa Police Department so he could apply for his monthly pension.
Though Pantaleo was finally fired on Monday for killing Garner with a chokehold long banned by the NYPD, he has largely evaded any consequences for his actions. After a grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo, resulting in protest marches in major cities throughout the country, he continued to work for the department for the next five years and collected a pension. Both the local district attorney and the Justice Department declined to pursue criminal charges against him.
“Pantaleo, you may have lost your job, but I lost a son,” said Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, at a press conference yesterday.
Slavin and Dorer did not respond when contacted by New Times. Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell also did not comment on the fact that his officers had been promoted after a shooting that left a mentally ill man paralyzed and cost the city at least $2 million.
As the facts in the case showed, on November 7, 2008, shortly after leaving his psychiatrist's office and returning with his parents to their home in Scottsdale, David Hulstedt called 911 and demanded to meet with then-Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. Hulstedt, who was 35 at the time and being treated for paranoid schizophrenia, said there was a crisis, though he did not say what the crisis was.
The dispatcher heard Hulstedt's 2-year-old daughter crying in the background, so she sent police to Hulstedt's home. Once there, officers surrounded the house and ordered Hulstedt's parents to leave. Hulstedt refused to leave the house, fearing that police would shoot him if he did.
Police attempted to negotiate with Hulstedt, even calling his psychiatrist at some point, who offered to speak with Hulstedt to calm him down, but they ultimately never spoke. At one point, police say, Hulstedt threatened to "pile drive" his child if police didn't sent his brother into the house.
When Hulstedt finally walked outside, unarmed and holding his daughter, police yelled conflicting commands. They told Hulstedt to put his hands up but his child down. So he turned back around and starting walking toward the door, holding his baby above his head.
Two of the officers surrounding Hulsted's house were Slavin and Dorer, then both sergeants with Scottsdale PD.
Slavin yelled at Hulstedt, "Put that child down!"
Seconds later, Dorer fired two shots into the small of Hulstedt's back. Slavin fired two shots as well. Three of the bullets hit Hulstedt, paralyzing him and causing him to drop his daughter. She fell face first into the concrete and fractured her skull.
Police rushed over, handcuffed Hulstedt, and dragged him nearly 400 feet, ripping the skin off of Hulstedt's knees. He was later charged with child abuse and kidnapping. Hulstedt eventually took a plea deal and pleaded guilty to child abuse. He was sentenced to one year of probation.
Hulstedt's parents later filed a federal lawsuit against Scottsdale, Slavin, Dorer, and others, alleging that the officers used excessive force against their son. The case resulted in a settlement of just under $10 million, of which city taxpayers paid $2 million (the rest was apparently picked up by insurance).
As the chief security officer for SUSD, Dorer is responsible for keeping safe the 23,000-plus students that attend Scottsdale schools. It's an interesting move for Dorer, who acted as "no reasonable officer" would in allegedly trying to keep the toddler girl safe, according to the judge in the civil case.
“The officers fired at an unarmed man who was walking away from them,” Arizona U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow wrote in a ruling. “By shooting David, the officers caused the very harm that a reasonable officer could believe that David posed to [his daughter]. Considering ‘the totality of the facts and circumstances in the particular case,’ no reasonable officer could have believed that shooting David without warning, while he calmly walked back towards his house with [his daughter] over his head, was a proper means of protecting [his daughter's] safety.”
Snow found that Dorer and Slavin's actions that day caused Hulstedt's 2-year-old daughter to be injured. But the day of the shooting, another Scottsdale police officer, Daniel Greene, lied about what happened, case records shows, and a spokesperson for SPD at the time even repeated the officer's false claims to the media.
On the day of the shooting, Greene told fellow officers who interviewed him that he saw blood flowing from the 2-year-old's ear while she was still in Hulstedt's arms. He said it appeared that Hulstedt had "smashed her face" and that "her left side of her face was deformed."
But a video of the incident filmed by Hulstedt's neighbor clearly contradicted Greene's claims.
"Making false statements in an official departmental interview in order to implicate the innocent, which incidentally impedes medical treatment to an injured child, is 'utterly intolerable in a civilized society.'" Snow wrote, referencing another court opinion.
Greene also still works for the Scottsdale Police Department as a detective. Although Greene lied to his fellow officers, he is not on the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady List, a list of police officers who are so notoriously unreliable and dishonest that prosecutors must disclose the officer's reputation to defense lawyers.
"Dorer and Slavin were not confronted with a prison riot, or a high speed chase," Snow wrote. "They were faced with an unarmed emotionally disturbed man securely holding his child atop his head, as he tried to walk up the street to the police command post while surrounded, in broad daylight by not less than 32 officers."