Not Again: Unarmed Black Fatally Shot By Cop, Who Mistook Pill Bottle For Weapon
PHOENIX (AP) — A Phoenix, Ariz. police officer shot and killed an unarmed Black man earlier this week after mistaking a bottle of prescription pills for a gun.
The shooting occurred Tuesday while officers were investigating a burglary complaint about 6 p.m., and the resident of a nearby apartment complex reported a drug deal inside a parked Cadillac SUV, the Arizona Republic reports.
Officers approached the driver, later identified as Rumain Brisbon (pictured), 34, who appeared to be removing something from the rear of the vehicle upon exiting. Police ordered him to show his hands, but they said Brisbon instead stuffed his hands into his waistband. A struggle ensued.
Phoenix police say the officer, who is White, feared Brisbon was armed during their struggle, but some critics say the officer went too far. Despite the department’s efforts to be transparent with information, protesters marched Thursday night.
About 150 marched through the streets of downtown Phoenix to police headquarters, while calling for an end to what they say is a nationwide epidemic of police brutality.
Brisbon’s mother and girlfriend said they do not want the incident to become about race.
“This had nothing to do with race,” Nora Brisbon told The Arizona Republic when talking about her son’s death. “This is about Rumain and the wrong that was done to him, and I want people to focus on that. If they want to rally, let’s support him positively.”
Brisbon’s girlfriend, Dana Klinger, who is White, said people should focus on who Brisbon was as a father and son. Brisbon had four daughters, including an 18-month-old with Klinger.
“He took really good care of me. He checked on me every day. I don’t know what I’m going to tell my daughter when it’s time to tell her,” Klinger told the newspaper.
Klinger and Brisbon’s mother also criticized media and police for highlighting his prior criminal record. Court records show Brisbon had convictions dating back to 1999 that included aggravated DUI, burglary and marijuana.
“Of course he did a few bad things here and there, but they’ve been taken care of,” Nora Brisbon said. “He was not just some raggedy thug out there on the street. He made a difference in everybody’s life that he touched.”
The police chief and top prosecutor in metro Phoenix met with the president of the NAACP’s Maricopa County Branch and other civil rights leaders in the hours after the incident, which came as emotions are running high in New York, Missouri and elsewhere over what protesters call heavy-handed law enforcement efforts.
The NAACP official, the Rev. Oscar Tillman, said he cautioned Brisbon’s family and friends about channeling their anger as the investigation into the shooting unfolds.
“I told them not to be openly explosive or whatever because the fact is … as you can see what happened toMichael Brown‘s (stepfather) now. They’re talking about going after him. I said, `Just be very careful,’ ” Tillman said.
Sgt. Trent Crump said the officer responded Tuesday to reports of someone selling drugs out of a Cadillac SUV. The officer ordered Brisbon, the sole occupant, to show his hands.
Authorities say Brisbon ran inside an apartment building and then got into a struggle with the officer. Brisbon put his hand in his pocket, and when the officer grabbed the hand, he thought he felt the handle of a gun through Brisbon’s pants, police said.
Police say the officer repeatedly told Brisbon to keep his hand in his pocket, then shot him twice when he didn’t.
Brisbon was hit in the torso and later pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators recovered a semi-automatic handgun and a jar of marijuana from his SUV.
An internal investigation is underway, Crump said Thursday. Prosecutors will determine whether the officer will face criminal charges. Police did not identify the 30-year-old officer but said he is a seven-year veteran of the department.
Marci Kratter, an attorney representing Brisbon’s family, did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
Days after the shooting, police in a Phoenix suburb postponed a “Run From the Cops 5K” fun run scheduled for Saturday. Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff says the annual event is intended to bring police and the community together, but the event’s name could be misinterpreted to mean the opposite.
The Phoenix shooting occurred the day before a grand jury in New York City decided not to indictOfficer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. Dozens of protesters were arrested on New York streets Wednesday, police said.
It followed a grand jury decision Nov. 24 not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown, who was Black, and unarmed. The decision sparked violent protests, lootings and the destruction of several businesses.
Gerald Richard, an assistant to the Phoenix police chief who oversees police-community relations, said he began reaching out to community leaders after Brisbon was killed, but not because of the events in Missouri, he said.
“It is better for individuals to know the facts as opposed to be going off of rumors and hunches,” Richard said.
Tillman said he appreciated getting a meeting with Chief Daniel Garcia and a call from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
“That says something in a community when you’re able to, bright and early less than 12 hours after it happened, sit down with the police chief and his top staff and communicate with the county attorney,” Tillman said.
However, he called on the Phoenix mayor and other officials also to start a dialogue with black community members. He said he is hoping to speak with witnesses to decide whether he thinks the shooting was justified.
“That’s what needs to be done, because the fact is, as we can see across this country, if we don’t deal with it, we’re going to keep dealing with it,” Tillman said.