2 investigations for fatal Phoenix police shooting

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by The Associated Press and azfamily.com

Video report by Jason Volentine

Posted on August 20, 2014 at 10:47 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 25 at 12:00 PM

PHOENIX -- Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia says criminal and administrative investigations are being conducted into last week's officer-involved fatal shooting of a mentally ill woman.

Garcia also has asked the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to independently review the criminal investigation and make the final case decisions.

He's also ordered a review of the department's mental-health pickup procedures.

Police were called Aug. 14 to a Maryvale apartment complex to serve an emergency mental health pickup order.

They say Michelle Cusseaux was shot because she was holding a claw hammer above her head and came toward an officer. She later died at a hospital.

Cusseaux's mother Frances Garrett says her 50-year-old daughter suffered from depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

Garrett called a mental health facility to try and get inpatient treatment for Cusseaux.

"The Phoenix Police Department has really led the way in a lot of the mental-health training that we've done not only for Phx PD but for various agencies across the Valley," Garcia said.

The police chief offered his condolences to Cusseaux's family members, who are demanding justice.

Phoenix attorney Charlene Tarver, who will moderate a community discussion on the issue Sunday, said there are still unanswered questions.

"If the police come out and shoot a person down in their doorway who has a known history of mental illness, I'm questioning why didn't they wait for backup?" Tarver said. "If the people believe that there's been a cold-hearted murder at the hands of a police officer, I don't see any reason why you wouldn't have the same response that was had in Ferguson."

Garcia said he does not believe this incident is similar to the recent shooting of a black a man by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb because the Phoenix Police Department is transprent and has trust within the community.

"There is quite a bit of ferver in the community because the belief is that the police were there as law enforcement to assist Ms. Cusseaux," Tarver said. "How that resulted in her death is the question."

Statement from Chief of Police Daniel V. Garcia

Over the past few days, the Phoenix Police Department has worked diligently on the investigation involving Ms. Michelle Cusseaux. The events of August 14 that left Ms. Cusseaux fatally wounded are tragic for everyone, and our heartfelt thoughts are with her family.

My responsibility is to ensure that the investigation into this case is thorough, prompt and fair, and I know that doing so is critical for the residents we serve to trust and have full confidence in the department’s ability to conduct its day-to-day operations. Answering the questions of Ms. Cusseaux's family is a priority of mine. 

The Phoenix Police Department is currently conducting two investigations into this incident, including a criminal investigation. In addition, I have asked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to conduct a second – and independent – review of the criminal investigation. Further, the County Attorney's Office, which had staff on-scene during the investigation, will make the final case decisions and disposition.

In addition, I have taken several steps as we move forward:

• Effective immediately, I have assigned a police commander to the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy to assist with training officers on how to work with those in our community who have mental health-related issues.

• I have ordered a complete review of our mental health pickup procedures and an analysis of the department’s training requirements.  We will work with mental health providers to develop and recommend improvements to our procedures.

• The department will begin the process of purchasing of additional on-officer cameras to double the number of cameras we have in the field.

In recent weeks, our department has worked to strengthen its partnership with Arizona State University's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety by applying for a U.S. Department of Justice grant to help analyze officer-involved shootings for the past five years. Through this study, we aim to reduce the number of incidents, improve our own tactics and enhance safety while, at the same time, increase transparency regarding the investigative process.

The Phoenix Police Department is committed to providing quality service to the community we serve. I would like to thank the community for its support. Volatile situations in other parts of the country are an important reminder that working together to solve problems is what community policing is all about – building trust and respecting each other as partners in public safety.

Daniel V. Garcia
Chief of Police
Phoenix Police Department

Statement from Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton

I commend Chief Daniel Garcia's decision to evaluate and improve police officer training when it comes to individuals with mental health issues, as well as asking for a second, independent look into the death of Michelle Cusseaux.

I fully trust that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and his team will carefully examine this case.

I also want to thank the entire Police Department for its dedication, professionalism and high level of service to the community.


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