One investigation is underway and two more are in the works in the wake of the fatal shooting of a truck driver in Nogales last week.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety is conducting a criminal investigation of the May 24 incident, according to a letter sent by the Nogales Police Department. Bart Graves, a DPS spokesman, said the investigation will look at the sequence of events that led up to the shooting.
Separately, NPD asked the Oro Valley Police Department to carry out an “administrative review” of the incident. That review will start after the DPS investigation concludes, according to OVPD. It won’t address legal issues surrounding the incident, but will look at officers’ actions in light of NPD policy.
“Since we have a number of our officers involved in this incident, I find it best to request an outside agency to conduct the administrative portion of this investigation, to prevent any perceived conflict of interest in this matter,” NPD Chief Roy Bermudez wrote in a May 27 letter to OVPD.
A spokesman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said the department wasn’t seeking outside help for an administrative investigation, but would conduct its own administrative review of the incident.
The investigations may help explain what led to the dramatic confrontation that began in Rio Rico and ended in a barrage of police gunfire on Grand Avenue in Nogales. They could also answer questions about what prompted officers to use deadly force against the truck driver, 39-year-old Glen Ray Cockrum, Jr., and whether the shooting was justified.
But the different investigations highlight the mix of standards that govern use of force by law enforcement officers.
State and federal laws establish legal restrictions on officers’ use of force. But individual agencies also develop their own policies, which can include protocols as well as limitations on force.
Use of force policies
“Each agency can establish a policy that is more restrictive than state or federal law allows, but it cannot establish a policy that is less restrictive,” said Michael S. Scott, a former police officer and current professor at the school of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University.
In an email to the NI, Scott pointed to two sections of the Arizona Revised Statutes that deal with arrests and use of force.
ARS 13-3881 provides that: “No unnecessary or unreasonable force shall be used in making an arrest, and the person arrested shall not be subjected to any greater restraint than necessary for his detention.” ARS 13-409 and ARS 13-410 list circumstances under which officers may use force, including deadly force, against a suspect or an escapee.
Scott also noted that some – but not all – police departments explicitly require officers to use the least amount of force necessary to make an arrest, or completely prohibit officers from shooting at or from moving vehicles.
In their policies, both NPD and the Sheriff’s Office include some language effectively instructing officers to use the least force required and stating that deadly force should be used only in cases where a suspect is deemed to be a threat to an officer or others.
On engagement with vehicles, the departments differ. NPD’s policy doesn’t say anything about vehicles in motion. The Sheriff’s Office policy states officers are prohibited from firing at or from a moving vehicle except in specific circumstances, including if the driver of a vehicle is trying to strike an officer or citizen with the vehicle, or if a vehicle occupant is threatening to use another form of deadly force.
(Last December, a Sheriff’s Office deputy fatally shot and killed the driver of a tractor who had crashed into a house and allegedly tried to run over the deputy. The shooting was deemed justified following an investigation conducted by the Pima County Sheriff's Department.)
The NPD policy was updated last year, when the Nogales City Council passed amendments in the wake of national protests against police brutality. The amendments banned chokeholds (Bermudez told the NI at the time that NPD officers didn’t use chokeholds, anyway) and adopted a “de-escalation” policy and a “duty to intervene.”
The Sheriff’s Office policy also includes a “duty to intercede” provision.
The Sheriff’s Office use of force policy was obtained in response to a public records request and Lt. Gerardo Castillo told the NI that the department is currently in the process of a policy update.
In a news release issued last week, NPD said the DPS and OVPD investigations could take “several months.”
In the meantime, NPD said it had allowed all officers involved in the shooting to return to work, though it hasn’t specified how many officers were involved. Castillo previously said that the Sheriff’s Office put two deputies on administrative leave in the wake of the incident.
(Additional reporting by Lidia Terrazas.)