County Attorney George Silva said he has determined that all 10 police officers who fired their weapons during the May 24 pursuit and fatal shooting of truck driver Glen Ray Cockrum, Jr. were justified in using lethal force.
Silva notified leaders at the Nogales Police Department and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office of his decision in letters dated Oct. 15.
“Upon a thorough review of reports, witness statements, audio recordings, photographs and other supporting material, I find that the shootings were justified,” he wrote in the letters.
A lawyer who is reportedly representing Cockrum’s family did not return messages seeking comment. A message left with a family member was also not immediately returned.
The investigation was conducted by the Arizona Department of Public Safety and involved three different shooting scenes: the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19, the Walmart parking lot in Nogales, and the spot on Grand Avenue where officers fired at least 102 rounds, one of which pierced Cockrum’s left chest and caused fatal internal injuries.
In all, the 10 officers – eight from NPD and two from the Sheriff’s Office – fired a total of 128 rounds at the three sites, sometimes shooting at the tires of the tractor-trailer, but mostly directing their fire toward Cockrum in the cab.
Cockrum did not have a firearm, though he allegedly displayed a knife in a threatening manner, first toward warehouse workers in Rio Rico, and then towards a sheriff’s deputy who had responded to their call shortly after noon on May 24.
Still, the shooting didn’t begin in response to the knife at the warehouses. It began at the Border Patrol checkpoint with a member of the Sheriff’s Office, who said he fired at the truck’s tires after seeing it come close to hitting an agent.
How it began
DPS turned over its completed investigation to the County Attorney’s Office on Sept. 22, and in response to a public records request, the county attorney provided the NI this week with 723 pages of reports, interview transcripts, search warrants, inventories and other documents created and collected as part of the probe.
The file, while missing the perspective of Cockrum, the central figure in the case, helps clarify many of the questions that were left unanswered by law enforcement’s virtual information blackout in the aftermath of the shooting, when the public was largely left to piece together the events through citizen cellphone videos posted to social media.
According to the investigative file, Cockrum, a 39-year-old long-haul truck driver who had recently moved from Arkansas to Florida, made a morning delivery in Phoenix on May 24, and then traveled to Nogales with an empty trailer to pick up a load of watermelons and bring it to Minnesota.
The report says Cockrum was scheduled to pick up the watermelons from the Guimarra Brothers warehouse on the East Frontage Road south of Exit 12. Instead, he ended up at a distributorship 2.5 miles away, north of Exit 12 in Rio Rico.
During an interview with detectives on May 26, an employee at H.M Distributors said he was at work at around noon on the 24th when he saw a semi-truck park in the lot, blocking several loading bays. He said the driver, now known to be Cockrum, ignored him when he asked him to move the truck.
A foreman at the company took photos of the truck’s license plates, and the worker said Cockrum retrieved a knife and waved it at him and the foreman from inside the cab before moving the truck next door, to Malena Produce.
The foreman said he texted a relative who works as a dispatcher at the Sheriff’s Office and asked for law enforcement assistance.
A Sheriff’s Office deputy who responded to the scene at approximately 12:30 p.m. told investigators that he approached the tractor-trailer while it was parked at Malena, but Cockrum ignored him when he knocked on the driver’s side door.
“The driver appeared to ‘duck down, raise up,’ within the cab, and as he came up into view, (the deputy) saw brass knuckles with a knife in the driver’s right hand and a smaller knife in the left hand,” the investigator wrote in his report, adding that “the driver made a gesture of licking the knife and then motioned with the knife – like slitting his throat.”
The deputy told DPS detectives that he drew his weapon, backed away from the semi, and called for backup while commanding the driver to exit the cab without the knives. When backup arrived, he used a PA system in a Border Patrol vehicle to give additional commands for Cockrum to get out of the truck.
Instead of obeying the commands, Cockrum pulled out of the lot and got onto Interstate 19, driving north with police in pursuit.
According to the reports, no shots were fired at the scene at the warehouses, and Silva, the county attorney, said the use of lethal force by police wouldn’t have been justified at that point.
“He’s in the truck, he’s flashing the weapons. At that point, the officer is not justified, in my opinion, to use deadly force,” Silva said. “If he jumps out of the truck, runs after an officer with the knives, then the officer is now justified.”
In a memo to a superior officer dated May 24, a Border Patrol agent who was working at the I-19 checkpoint, approximately 20 miles north of the warehouses in Rio Rico, said she heard a radio report at around 1 p.m. that a semi-truck whose driver was refusing to pull over for law enforcement was approaching. “Furthermore, they advised us that the driver was armed and dangerous,” the agent wrote.
She soon saw the semi come to a stop about 75 yards south of where the agents stand at the checkpoint. The agent said she decided to deploy a tire deflation device known as a “stop stick,” but saw “agents and troopers” with their weapons drawn and thought the situation was under control.
But when the semi started moving again, she placed the stop stick in its path.
The agent said the rig veered toward her to avoid the spikes, but it wasn’t moving very fast. “Because of this, I was able to get out of the way of the semi and run (in) the opposite direction toward the spikes I had deployed,” she wrote.
She recovered the stop strip and saw the truck, its path blocked by a line of vehicles at the checkpoint, make a U-turn in the median to enter the southbound lanes of the interstate. Because it was moving slowly – she estimated 10 mph – the agent said she was able to deploy the spikes in front of four of the trailer’s rear tires.
“The spikes rolled over all four of them,” she wrote. “After the semi contacted the spikes, I recovered them so other vehicles would not roll over them,” she added, concluding her memo.
A sheriff’s officer who was in pursuit at the time described to investigators how he saw the incident with the agent unfold.
“The Border Patrol actually had to jump out the way, because if she wouldn’t have jumped (out of) the way, she would have got pinned or run over by the rear tires of the tractor. Not the trailer, the tractor,” the officer said, according to an interview transcript.
After Cockrum made the U-turn through the median, the officer, who was out of his vehicle at the time, said he saw the rig heading in his direction in one of the southbound lanes.
“At this time, I draw (my handgun) with one hand pointed at him, yelling, ‘Stop. Stop. Police. Stop.’ As he – he sees, he sees my handgun,” the officer said.
“Knowing what he just did, what he would have done to that agent if she wouldn’t have stepped out of the away if he would have continued, as soon as he passed me, I made sure there was no one on the west side, no one behind me to the side. And as, as the semi kept going, I decided to shoot the tires,” he said.
According to the DPS report, the sheriff’s officer fired six rounds, but the semi-truck was “unaffected” and continued to flee south on Interstate 19. There were no other reports of shots fired at the scene.
Border Patrol surveillance cameras at the checkpoint reportedly did not record anything of evidentiary value. “None of the cameras at the checkpoint captured any of the events just south of the checkpoint,” an investigator concluded.
In the “Findings” section of their report, the DPS investigators alleged that Cockrum had committed two counts of aggravated assault at that point: one by displaying the knives and gesturing at the deputy who approached him at the warehouse, and the other by driving toward the agent who deployed the stop sticks at the checkpoint. They also alleged that he committed endangerment against the agent and the sheriff’s officer who was standing in the southbound lane area.
In addition, the investigators wrote that they found that the sheriff’s officer who fired his weapon while at the checkpoint believed that physical force “was immediately necessary to affect the arrest and detention of Cockrum.”
They also wrote that Cockrum put the agent and officer “in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury or death by his actions” and that the sheriff’s officer used deadly force in accordance with the law because Cockrum’s conduct had shown that he was likely to “endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury to another unless apprehended without delay.”
Silva clarified that these and other findings by DPS included in the report are not the final determination of criminal guilt or legal justification in a criminal investigation. A finding “definitely carries weight,” he said, but the decision whether or not to file charges is made by the prosecutor.
Speaking in general about criminal investigations, Silva said, recommendations made by police “are kind of a starting point for me.”
“Then I get to review everything, and sometimes I find exactly the charges that the officers listed, or I end up dropping, or I end up adding stuff to it,” he said.
In the case of this investigation, Silva said, he concurred with the findings made by the DPS detectives.
Walmart parking lot
Cockrum drove south from the checkpoint with officers from the Sheriff’s Office, DPS, NPD and the Border Patrol in pursuit, the investigative report says. He eventually reached Nogales city limits.
NPD officers tried to block Exit 8, the first exit into the city, and force the semi toward spikes that had been laid in the roadway a kilometer south. But Cockrum drove around the patrol vehicles positioned at the exit and continued south on Grand Avenue. It was approximately 1:32 p.m.
According to accounts in the reports, he obeyed some traffic signals on Grand Avenue, but ran one or two stop lights.
NPD Chief Roy Bermudez told the investigators he was standing near the Fastrip gas station at the Mariposa Road intersection and raised his arms as Cockrum drove past on Grand.
“I’m basically waving as, like, ‘What the hell are you doing, you know?’” he said, adding that Cockrum responded by giving him the middle finger.
Cockrum continued south on Grand Avenue and turned into the entrance to Walmart, shortly past the intersection with White Park Drive.
Around this time, one of the pursuing NPD officers told the investigators, he made a call on his radio.
“I get on the radio and I request authorization for deadly force,” he said. “And the reason I’m asking for that is at both entrances at Walmart there’s little pedestrian places. And I know this sounds bad but the easiest way to explain it is people walk through it like they’re cattle and they don’t care about the cars that are coming because they expect you to stop for them. So now I’m starting to worry about him going over and running over either a child, a lady, a family, a man, whoever.”
Other officers at the scene also told investigators that they had been concerned for the safety of the civilians in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
It’s not clear if the officer who asked for permission to use deadly force received a reply, though it doesn’t appear that he fired his weapon while at the Walmart. One law enforcement official who was monitoring radio traffic told investigators that “he had heard the request was negative,” while another said there was too much cross-communication on the radio to make out a reply.
In any case, Silva said, the question of whether the officers needed or received authorization to use deadly force is an internal affairs matter that’s not crucial to the criminal investigation.
“From my viewpoint, and in reviewing the case, you don’t need that justification to use deadly force from a superior,” he said. “It’s not necessarily critical to my review. That’s policy and procedure, and if there were violations of policy and procedure, then those will be handled internally by the department.”
(Note: Following the incident, NPD asked the Oro Valley Police Department to carry out an “administrative review,” which was set to start after the conclusion of the DPS investigation. A spokesman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that it wasn’t seeking outside help, but would conduct its own administrative review.)
As the pursuit paused in the Walmart parking lot, officers put down more spike strips and cut an air hose to the trailer’s brakes in an effort to lock them up. One officer said he tried to open the driver’s side door, but couldn’t. Then he smashed out a window in the cab’s sleeper berth so he could throw in a “flash-bang device” – a less-lethal explosive that emits a disorienting bang and bright lights. However, he was unable to remove the pin from the device.
Cockrum, who had reportedly pulled curtains over the cab’s windows while he was stopped, then slowly started to move again.
“As the truck starts to move, I hear a gunshot,” said the officer who had tried to deploy the flash-bang device.
Cockrum drove west through the lot and turned north toward the White Park-Mastick intersection. An officer who was positioned in that area told investigators he had his gun drawn as the semi-truck approached.
“Next thing I know is as soon as it’s making the turn, I see the passenger side window, uh, break – it shattered,” he said. “So my first thought was he (was) shooting at us. So that’s when I fired my on-duty weapon to that truck. And then I saw (another officer) fall to the ground. I immediately holstered my weapon. And once I holstered my weapon, I grabbed him by the vest, and I pulled him back, and I made sure that he was okay. I didn’t know if he was shot, if he was hurt. I don’t know what, what had happened to him at that point,” he said. (Note: He hadn’t been shot or hurt).
The DPS investigation found that that officer had fired four rounds at the scene.
“Once I fired those shots, I feared for my life, and I feared for my, for my partner’s life,” he said, adding that he heard the semi strike a patrol vehicle, and noticed afterward that it had damaged his vehicle as well.
Asked if a justified shooting defense is complicated by the fact that an officer fired his gun at a suspect in response to a mistaken belief that the suspect had fired at him, Silva said no. He pointed to the legal standard that lethal force is justified if an officer reasonably believes that it’s needed to stop an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others.
“A reasonable person under those circumstances, I think, would feel that the way the rounds are coming out of that vehicle, that he is shooting at them,” he said. “This guy has not stopped, even though he’s had countless opportunities to stop. He pulled over some curtains so you wouldn’t see him. We knew he had knives, he definitely had knives. We didn’t know what else he had. We didn’t know why he closed those blinds. Was he going to come out blasting?”
According to the DPS report, six officers fired a total of 19-20 rounds at this scene. One officer who fired three rounds from his handgun reportedly shot the the vehicle’s tires and not at Cockrum.
In their findings regarding the justification for the officers’ use of deadly force, the investigators said that Cockrum threatened deadly physical force against four officers as well as civilians at the scene “by continuing to drive the truck tractor, dragging the trailer, a dangerous instrument, through the Walmart parking lot while officers were still near the vehicle along with civilians.” In the case of three officers, DPS added that they believed Cockrum had fired a gun at police.
In their findings, the investigators alleged that Cockrum committed two criminal damage offenses at the scene when he collided with and damaged two NPD patrol vehicles. They also said that he committed one count of unlawful flight from law enforcement vehicles during his flight up and down Interstate 19, including driving 65-70 mph through a construction zone marked with 45 mph signs.
The DPS findings did not include any alleged aggravated assault offenses at the Walmart parking lot.
Leaving the Walmart parking lot, Cockrum turned right onto White Park Drive, dragging his disabled trailer behind him.
A short distance ahead, he turned right onto Grand Avenue and headed south, with a number of police vehicles in pursuit.
The pursuit came to an end shortly after Cockrum turned onto Grand and started heading south. Law enforcement officers from NPD and the Sheriff’s Office got ahead of him, then stopped in the median, facing a wall of exposed caliche on the other side of the two southbound lanes. When the tractor-trailer reached the location, five officers opened fire with rifles and handguns, firing a total of 102 or 103 rounds, according to the DPS investigation.
It was approximately 1:44 p.m.
A widely circulated cellphone video recorded by a driver stopped in the northbound traffic lanes showed the damaged tractor-trailer crawling slowly down the right side of the roadway before the firing started. Then it came to a stop.
Officers described getting into the cab at that point, finding Cockrum still conscious, and then watching him lose consciousness. They pulled him from the truck and several other officers tried to administer CPR. Cockrum was then taken to Holy Cross Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 2:33 p.m.
An autopsy report showed that one bullet, fired from a handgun, had entered Cockrum’s left chest, perforating his lungs, liver and spinal cord. The bullet was recovered from his body.
The medical examiner also described gunshot wounds to Cockrum’s extremities, for which no projectile fragments recovered. A graze gunshot wound was also noted on his left hand.
Meanwhile, a DPS search of the truck cab turned up two knives, one set of “knuckle-dusters,” various personal items and 10 projectiles, according to a search warrant receipt.
The DPS investigators wrote in their findings that Cockrum, through his past and present conduct, was known to the officers “to likely endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury to another unless apprehended without delay. (The officers) fired to stop the threat at the Grand Avenue location.”
On the other hand, at this point the truck was slowly pulling a trailer with spiked tires and some of its wheels locked up, and there didn’t appear to be anything directly in its path. Did that reduce the threat of imminent danger and, by extension, the need for deadly force?
Silva said he didn’t think so.
“The fact that he had slowed down at that point, I don’t think reduces the threat that he posed. He was still moving and he was not going to stop. And he was headed in a direction into the city, where it’s definitely congested and we have pedestrians and we have all kinds of movement,” Silva said. “So I think at that point, had he stopped, it may have been a different story. But he did not, he kept moving, and I think that’s what the officers needed to act on.”
“These are split-second judgements that the officers are making,” he said, returning to the “reasonable belief” standard.
“The transcripts and the interviews of the officers that shot were the absolute most important thing for me to review and look at,” he said. “With every officer, you have to look at what he or she was perceiving at that particular moment.”
The DPS investigation found that Cockrum’s past and present conduct made him likely to cause death or serious injury unless he was immediately stopped. Still, by the end of the more than hour-long incident, beginning with the conflict at the warehouse and ending on Grand Avenue after an approximately 45-mile pursuit, Cockrum didn’t appear to have hurt anyone. The only injury reported was a police officer who pulled a muscle in his leg while running from his patrol car. Does that weaken the argument that deadly force was justified?
“He almost ran over a Border Patrol agent at the checkpoint, and then appeared to drive towards a deputy. Obviously we’re lucky that he didn’t hurt anybody. But I don’t think that it’s that he was out there driving cautiously to avoid injuring people. It just worked out that way,” Silva said.
He added that the police had made efforts throughout the pursuit to keep civilian traffic from getting near the semi. “If none of that had been done, the likelihood of him having run into somebody was extremely great,” he said.
Michael S. Scott, professor at the school of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, told the NI following the shooting in May that in the case of a vehicle pursuit, the driver's previous actions “can and should be considered for the purpose of judging what level of threat the driver and the vehicle posed to the police and the public.”
“Driving at high speeds, refusing to stop, driving recklessly, driving through barricades or other devices, firing a gun from the vehicle, etc., all can inform the judgment of the police as to whether deadly force is necessary,” said Scott, a former police officer.
Motivation still unclear
One burning question that the investigation did not answer is why Cockrum wouldn’t surrender to police.
Speaking to the NI three days after the shooting, his mother said that he was an Army veteran who had suffered from PTSD, but that he had never exhibited non-compliant behavior towards law enforcement. And his former domestic partner said that as a truck driver, Cockrum had been pulled over multiple times by police and had never attempted to flee.
His former partner said Cockrum wasn’t on any medication, and the results of a toxicology test conducted as part of Cockrum’s autopsy didn’t offer any definitive insight, Silva said.
Cockrum served a little over a year of probation in Arkansas after stealing his father’s truck in 2018 when his own vehicle wouldn’t start, but his loved ones called it an isolated incident that was out of character.
At the time of his death, Cockrum had two sons, ages 11 and 14, and his ex-partner said he had been a father figure to another of her sons, who was then 19.