Phoenix police chief orders probe of fatal shooting by sergeant

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 20, 2014 7:14 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The Phoenix police chief said on Wednesday he has ordered an outside review of his department's criminal investigation into the fatal shooting of a mentally ill woman by a sergeant last week, vowing to review departmental policies and beef up training.

    Police Chief Daniel Garcia said he has asked the Maricopa County Attorney to examine the investigation into the Aug. 14 death of Michelle Cusseaux, who was shot by police after they said she threatened them with a claw hammer on the threshold of her Phoenix apartment.

    Police said they were serving an emergency court order on the 50-year-old woman to take her to a mental health facility.

    “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,” Garcia said in a written statement.

    He said the county attorney’s independent review would occur once the department’s criminal probe is completed. The department is also conducting an administrative investigation stemming from the incident.

   The investigation comes amid protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the Aug. 9 killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer. The turmoil has cast the St. Louis suburb of 21,000 people into the international spotlight as a symbol of often troubled U.S. race relations.

    Phoenix police said Cusseaux, who is black, confronted them when she opened her front door just as officers had got through a security door. She then raised the hammer and went at the officers, police said.

    She was shot by a veteran police sergeant at close range and died later at a local hospital, a police spokesman said.

    Police identified the sergeant this week as Percy Dupra, 48, who has been with the department for 19 years.

    The fatal police shooting prompted a protest outside of Phoenix City Hall by community activists and the woman’s mother, calling for an independent review into the incident and questioning if race may have played a factor.

     Garcia said other steps that have already been implemented include assigning a police commander to train officers to better deal with community member with mental health issues.

    In addition, Garcia ordered a complete review of the department’s mental health pick-up procedures and training related requirements, and said that plans are underway to purchase additional on-officer cameras.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)