End Police Brutality

by Kevin Heade

When Elvira Fernandez called the police on October 5, 2010, she couldn’t have known what was about to happen. Elvira was embroiled in a domestic dispute involving her 29-year-old son, Daniel Rodriguez but when she called on her local law enforcement to pacify the situation, the only “peace” the officers brought was the kind preceded by the words “Rest in . . . .”[1] Rather than quell the situation upon arriving at Fernandez’s home, Officer Richard Chrisman permanently ended the dispute by shooting and killing Daniel.[2] Officer Chrisman, who gained fame in 2005 when he was caught on video planting a crack-pipe on a homeless woman,[3] was the man responsible for pulling the trigger on the gun that ended Daniel’s life.[4] Chrisman is reported to have pepper-sprayed and Tasered Daniel, and then to have shot and killed the family dog for barking (but not attacking) before proceeding to pump two bullets into Daniel’s body.[5]

On the same day of this gruesome attack, Chrisman was charged by the Phoenix Police Department with aggravated assault[6] and a misdemeanor[7] charge of cruelty to animals.[8] Needless to say, the family of Daniel Rodriguez and the greater Phoenix community were outraged by the conduct of Officer Chrisman and appalled at the lenient charges the police officer was initially facing, prompting a week of protests outside of the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney Office.[9] Carlos Galindo, a local radio-show host, spearheaded the protests, demanding that Chrisman face murder charges.[10]

Murder charges against a police officer are rare in Arizona.[11] A short survey of the news in the past seven years will turn up several instances of the police killing civilians on calls for domestic violence, suicidal behavior, and other, more serious, crimes.[12] The Tucson Police Department is facing a $30 million lawsuit for the slaying of Randy Helton in 2005.[13] The Mesa Police Department recently reached a $3 million settlement over the shooting death of Mario Madrigal Jr. during a domestic violence incident in 2003 similar to the tragedy involving Daniel Rodriguez.[14] In both of these cases, the officers who shot the victims were not charged with any serious crime, let alone murder.[15]

The mainstream media has not covered these stories of police brutality effectively. Rather than report on the disconcerting implications of armed officers killing those they are meant to protect the media obfuscated the issue by relaying only the police version of the story[16] and by attacking the character of those who have spoken out.[17] For example, Carlos Galindo was recently interviewed by local news station, CBS Channel 5 News, KPHO, about a few anti-Semitic comments posted on his blog a few years ago.[18] Admittedly, Galindo’s comments were despicable and in bad taste,[19] but KPHO’s coverage was a distraction, taking attention away from the protestors demanding justice for Daniel Rodriguez. The piece only paid lip-service to the issue of police brutality and marginalized the issue because of the comments of one individual. The same day KPHO ran its hit-piece on Galindo, a man spat on a protestor.[20] Despite the presence of the police, no charges were brought against the man who assaulted the protestor by spitting on him, causing an uproar at the protest.[21] The incident only inflamed tensions and reinforced the sentiment that the Phoenix Police Department has an evidently partial vision of justice.[22]

After seven days of community protests, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley announced that he had presented charges to a grand jury and secured an indictment against Officer Chrisman for second-degree murder.[23] The protestors are pointing to those charges and claiming a victory.[24] However, it isn’t exactly clear why Romley took the extraordinary step of seeking murder charges against a police officer. It could have been the community pressure via protests, or it could have been the egregious circumstances of this individual case.[25] Regardless, one thing is clear; the police must be held accountable for misconduct.

Perhaps the creation of a Civilian Review Board can ensure that the people maintain control over the police in Phoenix and other municipalities of Arizona. Phoenix City Council member and former homicide detective, Michael Johnson, has been publicly calling for the creation of such a board since March, 2010.[26] Civilian Review Boards have grown in popularity in the last 30 years; nationally, as much as 80% of the population supports the implementation of these structures.[27] Civilian Review Boards typically investigate and hear complaints of abuse, make recommendations to the city, and raise awareness on issues regarding police brutality.[28] However, they do not have the authority to ensure that their recommendations are implemented, or to force the punishment of officers guilty of misconduct.[29] While it would be preferable to give real authority to a Civilian Review Board in Phoenix, the establishment of a board with these advisory powers seen elsewhere in the country would be a good first step to curbing police brutality.

However, we cannot make our communities safer without action from its members. The whole Phoenix-metro area should have been in an uproar over Daniel Rodriguez’s killing; yet, few people exerted the energy required to stand in solidarity with Daniel’s family at the protests.[30] Eradicating police brutality is necessary if we are to achieve any semblance of social justice in Arizona. It is a tragedy that it took the senseless death of Daniel Rodriguez to bring this issue to light, but it will be an inexcusable example of apathy and indifference if the lessons form Daniel’s death don’t compel us all to act now to end police brutality.


[1] Michael Ferraresi & Dennis Wagner, Officer Arrested in Fatal Shooting, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Oct. 7, 2010, 12:00 AM), http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/2010/10/07/20101007policeshooting1007.html?source=nletter-news.
[2] Id.
[3] Timothy Fitz, Phoenix Police Officer, Richard Chrisman, Accused of Murdering Unarmed Man, Also Planted Crack Pipe on Suspect, CHICAGO NEWS REPORT, (Oct. 14, 2010, 8:15 PM), http://www.chicagonewsreport.com/2010/10/phoenix-police-officer-richard-chrisman.html.
[4] Id.
[5] Stephen Lemons,
Richard Chrisman, Daniel Rodriguez’s Autopsy Report, and PLEA’s Spin, PHOENIX NEW TIMES, (Feb. 11, 2011) http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/bastard/2011/02/richard_chisman_daniel_rodrigu.php.
[6] Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §13-1204 (2010).
[7] Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §13-2910 (2010).
[8] Id.
[9]Stephanie Russo, Mom of Man Killed by Phoenix Police Asks for Non-Violent Support, AZCentral.com, (Oct. 14, 2010, 12:00 AM), http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/2010/10/14/20101014phoenix-officer-killing-family-protest.html.
[10] Amy Wang, Phoenix Police Shooting Protests Continue, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Oct. 9, 2010, 1:46 PM), http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/2010/10/09/20101009phoenix-police-shooting-protests-brk.html.
[11] Ferraresi, supra note 1.
[12] See William D’Uruso, Mesa Police Shoot, Kill Man Officer Say was Suicidal, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Oct. 07, 2010, 8:06 AM), http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/10/07/20101007mesa-police-shoot-kill-man.html; Jennifer Thomas, Phoenix Home Set on Fire During Burglary; Police Shoot, Kill 1 Suspect, AZFAMILY.COM, (April 23, 2010, 9:42 AM), http://www.azfamily.com/news/local/Suspects-break-into-home-set-it-on-fire-91826869.html; Donna Rossi, Police Shoot, Kill Man Wielding Knife, KPHO.COM, (April 7, 2010), http://www.kpho.com/news/23073292/detail.html; Associated Press, Phoenix Police Fatally Shoot Knife-Wielding Man, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Aug. 02, 2008), http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/08/02/20080802policeshooting-ON.html.
[13] Kim Smith, Suit Asks for $30M from City, Police, ARIZONA DAILY STAR, (Sept. 27, 2006), http://azstarnet.com/news/local/crime/article_d75d2188-e0b1-5851-a490-8e02bce1651c.html.
[14] Jim Walsh, Mesa to Pay $3 Million Over 2003 Police Shooting of Teen, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Jun. 11, 2009), http://www.azcentral.com/community/mesa/articles/2009/06/10/20090610madrigal0610-on.html.
[15] See Id.; Smith, supra note 13; Ferraresi, supra note 1 (explaining that a Phoenix area police officer has not faced criminal charges since 2002, when charges were filed against a Chandler Police officer).
[16] See D’Uruso, supra note 12; Thomas, supra note 12; Rossi, supra note 12 (where the tone of the “news” reflects the police accounts without demonstrating an independent review of the facts).
[17] Sarah Buduson, Latino Leader Made Anti-Semitic Comments: Galindo Refuses To Address Comments on his Blog, KPHO.COM, (Oct. 14, 2010), http://www.kpho.com/news/25385956/detail.html.
[18] Id.
[19] See Id. (quoting statements from Galindo’s blog claiming “’Americans kiss the Jews’ (expletive deleted)’”, and including an apology from Galindo for these and other comments).
[20] Lou Show, Day 7 Protest Against Judicial Leniency in the Death of Danny Rodriguez, TUSCON CITIZEN, (Oct. 13, 2010), http://tucsoncitizen.com/three-sonorans/tag/tazing.
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Michael Kiefer, Phoenix Police Officer Indicted in Fatal Shooting, AZCENTRAL.COM, (Oct. 14, 2010), http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/10/14/20101014phoenix-police-officer-shooting-arrest-prosecutor14-ON.html.
[24] Sonoran Hotdogs, Protest Victory! Phoenix Police Officer Chrisman Will Be Charged with Murder for Killing Unarmed  Latino Youth, TUSCON CITIZEN, (Oct. 14, 2010), http://tucsoncitizen.com/three-sonorans/2010/10/14/protest-victory-phoenix-police-officer-chrisman-will-be-charged-with-murder-for-killing-unarmed-latino-youth.
[25] See Kiefer, supra note 23 (detailing Chrisman’s past unethical conduct and the disturbing details of Rodriguez’s killing).
[26] Ferraresi, supra note 1.
[27] See Police Accountability and Citizen Review: A Project Response Publication, The International Association of Chiefs of Police, Nov. 2000, available at http://www.theiacp.org/PoliceServices/ExecutiveServices/ProfessionalAssistance/Ethics/ReportsResources/PoliceAccountabilityandCitizenReview/tabid/193/Default.aspx
[28] See Civilian Review Board Sample Model, ACLU.COM, http://www.aclufl.org/take_action/download_resources/civilian_review_model.cfm (last visited Oct. 15, 2010).
[29] Id.
[30] See Wang, supra note 10 (noting that only about 30 people attended the protest on Thursday, October 7, 2010).

8 thoughts on “End Police Brutality

  1. Since this timely article was written in the Fall of 2010, there has been intense pressure to have the charges modified. The charges were elevated to second degree murder and Chrisman was released from the Phoenix PD. His association for the low-grade police have held a picnic in support of the former officer. Here’s a link to a video from the approx. 10 hour protest we held against the picnic to support murder and animal cruelty by the police. http://on.fb.me/ePzWmV

  2. First, Kevin Heade deserve praise for writing this article. I was at the protest last week at PLEA (Phoenix Law Enforcement Association) headquarters in which Phoenix Police “officers” showed up in droves to support a murderer. The fact of the matter is, this killer, Richard Chrisman, will either be acquitted of all charges or serve less than six months in jail. Our country has legalized murder for individuals who go through a 12-16 week “academy” to earn the title of street judge, jury, and executioner.

    Mr. Oscar Grant was murdered ON TAPE by Bay Area Transit cop Johannes Mehserle on New Years Day 2009. Mehserle was sentenced to jail in October 2010, and will likely walk free sometime this summer. Mr. Baron Pikes died after being tasered 14 times in 9 minutes by Winnfield, LA cop Scott Nugent in January 2008. Though this was also caught on tape, and the coroner ruled the death a homicide, Nugent was acquitted of all charges. And now here in Phoenix, Chrisman’s (police) partner testified to the fact that Danny Rodriguez did nothing to deserve being gunned down in cold blood, and again, Chrisman will walk away virtually unscathed.

    Citizen oversight groups are absolutely necessary, but they would only be useful if they are bequeathed prosecutorial power. A repeal of the Eleventh Amendment’s qualified and absolute immunity clauses is the only semi-realistic way (more realistic than prosecutorial citizen oversight) to curtail all these murders by our alleged “police.” Police are rewarded with paid vacations every time they murder, which gives them that much more incentive (besides the fact they know they’ll get away with it).

    Though ‘black’ Americans are still the most victimized by these summary executions, and Latinos are close behind, this phenomenon has even started hitting ‘white’ America recently (see Tyler Heilman, Le Sueur Count, MN; James Ahern, Bella Vista, AR; and Mark Morse, who was tasered to death by Arizona DPS in Feb. 2010). We owe it to ourselves as Americans to reclaim our alienable rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; particularly our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the threat of being summarily executed by U.S. government officers.

  3. I agree with Brian; the biggest challenge we face now is how to bring bad cops to justice. While I think getting rid of the 11th Amendment would be a start, it’s not the end solution. Judges won’t deliver tough sentences in these high-profile cases unless and until the public demands them. Arizona being what it is, we have a significant subset of our population that cannot believe an officer would actually do the things that Officer Chrisman has done–they will always make excuses and justifications for cold-blooded murder. Three cheers for Kevin for raising awareness of what’s going on. Hopefully soon we will see a Civilian Review Board with some real power to issue subpoenas and haul the police force’s bad apples into court.

  4. We need more published articles like these to spread awareness of the absurd abuse of power, which law enforcement has pushed to become a social norm. Clearly, the list of these offenses could go on forever, and the media seems less than interested, as Heade stated. It is left up to us, conscientious thoughtful people to keep an overzealous police state from committing more heinous crimes against civilians.

  5. It is horrifying! I am doing research on police brutality,All of the things these police officers are doing; is what the guards of Hitler did to the Jewish people of the Holocaust. The police are working at taking our civil rights from us. They must be trying to take them, because they violate them all the time. Our law makers are to blame also, because they have given to much power over society, Just like Hitler he was given to much power too. And a lot of people can not be given that much power, because it goes to their head

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