Former Phoenix officer testifies in murder trial

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A former Phoenix police officer charged with murder and animal cruelty wept on the witness stand Tuesday as he described for jurors how he feared a suspect was going to "smash my brains in" when he fatally shot the man during a domestic violence call.

Richard Chrisman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty charges. He maintains the shootings of Daniel Rodriguez, 29, and his pit bull, Junior, in October 2010, were justified because Rodriguez reached for the officer's gun during a tussle.

Prosecutors say Chrisman abused his police powers by killing an unarmed man who posed no threat to officers.

The nine-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department detailed for jurors how he and another officer arrived at the scene and made contact with the woman who had called authorities to report that her son, Rodriguez, had become violent.

"She was very frightened, very excited. She was crying, shaking," Chrisman said. "She told us that her son, Danny, goes out, he leaves the house for several days at a time. When he comes home, he gets real violent and angry and starts destroying stuff and hurts her."

Chrisman said he knocked on the door to Rodriguez's home several times, but the man did not answer. The former officer then said he received permission from the mother to enter the residence, but he was greeted by the aggressive dog and Rodriguez yelling profanities, Chrisman testified.

Visibly shaken and pausing to wipe tears from his eyes, Chrisman explained how Rodriguez refused to come outside, and how the two tussled before he used pepper spray on the man, then later deployed his Taser.

Chrisman said both techniques enraged Rodriguez, and the dog grew aggressive so he pulled out his gun.

"I yelled at him, `Call off your dog,'" Chrisman said. "I didn't want to shoot his dog."

Chrisman than described shooting the animal twice as Rodriguez "swings his hand out almost like he's trying to stop bullets."

"His anger elevates," Chrisman said. "He reaches out and tries to grab my gun,"

Chrisman said Rodriguez then picked up a bicycle from the living room floor.

"He was going to smash my brains in ... I fired two rounds, center mass," Chrisman said, motioning to his chest to point out where the shots hit the suspect, his voice cracking.

Defense attorney Patrick Gann asked repeatedly if each step the officer took to try to defuse the situation before the shooting complied with his training.

"And ultimately, when someone takes a bike and tries to bash your brains out and you fire your weapon, is that what you're trained to do?" Gann asked.

"Yes," Chrisman replied softly.

Later Tuesday, prosecutor Juan Martinez hammered Chrisman over minute details from the day of the shooting, accusing him of manipulating the scene, lying about when he arrived and not following protocol.

Chrisman struggled to respond to some of the questions, explaining the chaotic nature of the call.

"So your perception than is a little bit fuzzy about what happened?" Martinez snapped.

"I was pretty overwhelmed with the stress and adrenaline," Chrisman said.

Chrisman was set to resume testimony Wednesday.

Authorities say Chrisman used unnecessary excessive force after Rodriguez questioned the right of the two officers to be inside the trailer. They say Chrisman put the muzzle of his pistol to Rodriguez's temple and said he didn't need a warrant. Chrisman denies putting his gun to Rodriguez's head.

Chrisman's partner told investigators the dog wasn't attacking either officer, but Chrisman says it was an imminent threat. Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the scene after Chrisman says he was preparing to perform CPR, but it was too late.

Chrisman was fired from the department about five months after the shooting. Opening statements in his trial began in early August.

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