Officer Jailed For Unjustified Use Of Deadly Force

Officer Jailed For Unjustified Use Of Deadly Force

You’re working patrol and you’re called to the scene of a domestic complaint, a mother is having trouble with her 29-year-old son. They’ve been arguing and he breaks some things during his fit of rage. You and your partner arrive on the scene where the mother is waiting for you at the curb. She tells you to get him (her son) out of the house. How many times have you answered this call during your career? A thousand times? At least.

You and your partner knock on the front door and yell for Junior to come outside. He doesn’t respond so the woman tells you to go inside. As usual, Junior orders you out of his house and becomes angry when you won’t leave. He argues, refuses to leave (he says he lives there, too), and you and your partner attempt to restrain the man. But he’s too strong for a hands-on approach. You both deploy Tasers. No good. The man simply pulls the probes from his chest and continues to rant and rave. You spray the guy with pepperspray. Nope. The man then climbs onto his bicycle and tries to leave (which is what you wanteed him to do in the first place). What should happen next? Let him go? Arrest him? If so, for what?

Well, here’s what happened in Phoenix this week.

Officers Richard Chrisman and Sergio Virgillo were called to the above scene and when they confronted Elvira Fernandez’s son, Daniel Rodriguiz, he refused to leave his own house. Ms. Fernandez said she was afraid of her son, so the two officers attempted to physically remove the man from the residence. He resisted. He did pull the Taser probes from his chest. No, the OC spray didn’t work. And he did attempt to leave the residence on his bicycle. But…

While the officers were attempting to restrain Daniel, his dog began barking. So, according to a statement by Officer Virgillo, Officer Chrisman shot the animal, killing it. Daniel ordered the officers to leave his house saying they had no right to be there. Chrisman then drew his weapon and held it to Daniel’s temple saying, “I don’t need no warrant, mother*$%@.” Then, after the Tasering and pepperspraying, the suspect attempted to leave on his bicycle (remember, officers wanted Daniel to leave). That’s when Officer Chrisman drew his weapon and shot Daniel Rodriguez, several times. Rodriguez died.

Daniel Rodriguez

Officer Virgillo said he never once thought their lives were in jeopardy and saw no reason to use deadly force. He also said that was the worst day of his life.

Officer Chrisman has been arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He is, however, out on a $150,000 bond. Additional charges may be issued pending the current investigation.

My question for you is:

Was the shooting justified? How about it WPA recruits? Test your FATS training knowledge.

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Writers’ Police Academy photo of the day

11 replies
  1. Deborah Bundy
    Deborah Bundy says:

    I was a WPA/FATS recruit, too. First,want to thank Jerry. He was awesme. And, Lee kept his cool throughout the weekend though we recruits pestered him endlessly. 🙂
    As to the above senario, if the guy had his back to me and was leaving, I don’t think it would be appropriate to shoot, tempting, but not appropriate. UNLESS, I feared he would go after his Mom who was outside. The multiple shots don’t bother me, not since I’ve been through FATS. It’s procedure to shoot until sure the guy is no threat, and an automatic response. Plus, the guy had shown it would take a lot to stop him(tazer & spray didn’t do it). It will be interesting to read what really happened in this case and the outcome of the trial.

  2. Lisa Jackson (aka Lisa Haselton)
    Lisa Jackson (aka Lisa Haselton) says:

    I’m a WPA/FATS recruit and what leaps out at me is it seems if the guy was trying to leave by bike, that his back was to the officer, so I wouldn’t have shot. For some reason I’m somehow inferring ‘leaving’ as ‘back turned’. And did he have to go to some other room in the house to get to the bicycle? Was the back door right there? Or was he already outside the home? Still sounds like he was leaving and not attacking – but maybe there was a weapon on the bike the officer noticed that the guy was reaching for…

    For a guy not to be phased by two tasers or a nice dosing of spray, well, that’s incredibly intimitating. Was he on drugs, or just riding on adrenaline? If he was coming at me after all that, I’d probably shoot.

    If the officer had the gun to the guy’s temple at one point, how did that turn into tasering? I’m guessing assault on an officer in that the guy hit or pushed the officer away from him (obviously not phased by a gun to his head), which would be a reason to arrest him.

    Anyway, if the guy was leaving and his back was to me, I wouldn’t shoot. If he was on a bike and coming at me, different story, unless I was blocking his only way out and I understood he actually was complying after all that.

    I enjoyed the various FATS scenarious. So much to process in mere seconds. A lot of the times I was stymied. I just didn’t know how to proceed. Great learning tool, though and I’m grateful for the opportunity. 🙂

  3. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    I’m pretty sure that “I don’t need no warrant, mother******” isn’t an alpha command that the “bad guy” is going to understand 🙂

    Sorry, I’m a little late to the WPA FATS party, but based on the information given in the post, I think that I would not have fired. However…having tried a taser and OC spray that failed, my puckered sphincter might have a different idea about whether or not to fire.

  4. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    All interesting and informative! Learning a lot. I just want to say that I only based my opinion on the information presented and tried not to extrapolate unknown scenarios.

    As an ex-con, you might think I’m opposed to that thing called “police brutality,” but you’d be wrong. I believe in the overwhelming and vast majority of instances, officers practice considerable restraint and their actions are admirable. When I was “in the life” I was arrested a number of times and almost every time I was hit or kicked or slapped… however, I asked for it every single time. Without exception. I was a smart-ass and I almost always took a poke at the officer and I wouldn’t have had much respect for him if he hadn’t decked me, and if the roles were reversed, I would have done much more than the officer did. Truth. The thing is, if you can’t do the time (or accept the reaction for your actions) don’t do the crime. And, I was a criminal in the pre-drug days and today, with all the drugs out there that make a person who is normally a candy-ass when not under the influence some kind of freakoid, I really admire the police for their restraint.

    But, in every occupation on earth, there are always a few “cowboys.” I suspect that’s kind of what this guy was from the evidence presented.

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    For those of you who don’t know Jerry Cooper, he is a long time police officer and academy instructor. He teaches FATS/officer survival/use of force to police officers. And, he taught the same at this year’s Writers’ Police Academy. He’s an expert on this stuff and you can take what he tells you to the bank. I’ve been around a long time, but Jerry has forgotten more about police work than I ever knew. We’re lucky to have him associated with this site and with the WPA.

    Thanks for stopping by, Jerry. Great information and insight.

  6. Jerry Cooper
    Jerry Cooper says:

    As the WPA FATS instructor, I cannot resist playing the devil’s advocate on this one.

    First and foremost, let’s not forget that the news media seldom let the facts get in the way of a good story. “Excessive force” is a media term, not a law enforcement term; therefore, this story is loaded against Officer Chrisman from the beginning. Many of the facts are not even known yet. I am sure the investigation is continuing, and some things (e.g. lab analysis) will not be known for awhile. Add in the apparent anti-police sentiment on the part of some community leaders in the Phoenix area, and what we end up with is an officer who has already been charged, tried, convicted and sentenced.

    Officer Virgillo is being made out to be the key to this whole thing. OKay FATS recruits, don’t you remember our discussion on officer perception? Don’t you remember that in some of your scenarios one recruit on your team shot, but maybe the others did not? Officers must coninually assess, plan and act. What one officer may perceive as a threat, another may not, due to any number of factors. In the U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor, the Court said that when questioning an officer’s reasonableness we must put ourselves in the position of the officer. The courts have ruled over and over that two officers can perceive and act totally differently, and yet, both act reasonable. In the Graham decision, the Court sent a message to the lower courts that they must listen to the officer as to why he or she uses force. We have not heard from Officer Chrisman, only Officer Virgillo.

    As to any prior allegations against Officer Chrisman for use of force weighing on this incident, the Court in the Graham case also said that the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force must be judged on the moment force is used, not on any prior event.

    Both Officers Chrisman and Virgillo apparently tried a number of less-lethal control tactics prior to Officer Chrisman’s use of lethal force.

    Much seems to be made about the idea that the Daniel Rodriguez was trying to ride away on his bicycle. Rodriguez was shot INSIDE the trailer. During the years of my street policing, I went inside many trailers. I have not seen one yet you could ride a bicycle around in. What occurred during the struggle at the bicycle?

    Bad enough that Officer Chrisman shot Rodriguez, but he shot his dog beforehand. I, too, am an animal lover; however, I have been dog-bit, and it will not happen again.

    Now, let me commend recruits Mary and Les for their wise comments. It appears that Officer Chrisman was an out-of-control law enforcement officer, who’s actions were unreasonable. Officer Chrisman has been charged with assault, and will probably be charged and tried for homicide. He may very well be one of those rare officers who is found guilty as a result of the criminal charges involving use of force.

    My crystal ball says that after the criminal trial, Officer Chrisman will not be found guilty of a homicide. At least one juror will come to the understanding that this incident was tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, and will give Officer Chrisman the benefit of the doubt. As for a Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 Civil Rights lawsuit, I would predict that the City of Phoenix will eventually settle the suit, with Elvira Fernandez receiving a substantial payment. Mrs. Fernandez’s next trailor will probably have a Hollywood Hills address, and she can enjoy the company of her new dog, a pit bull named “Muffin.”

    (“Oops! I just dropped the crystal ball on my toes)

  7. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    Looking closer at the information provided here, there are some other contributing factors that common sense says that the officer is guilty as charged (and charged with a lesser felony than what he actually committed). For one thing, it says he shot the man “several times.” While I feel the public many times misinterprets a victim being shot more than once as being “evidence” that the killing represented more than a moment of rage as the public is used to watching TV shows where a person shoots once and then checks to see if he’s hit the target, and that’s many times ridiculous in real life. When I was in the Navy, we were trained to keep shooting at an attacker until either we were certain he was dead or disabled sufficiently as to not effect any harm, or to simply empty the clip. Nobody in the service is ever taught to shoot once and then check the result before shooting again! That would be–to use the right term–insane. Only happens in bad television. But, since the person didn’t seem to be attacking at this point, the “several” times the officer fired does seem to indicate he fully intended to do more than simply disable the man, and his intent seems clear here to kill the man.

    He’s also shot and killed a “barking dog” which implies that the dog was only barking and not attacking, which seems (again, by commons sense) to indicate a man who was predisposed to “not taking any prisoners.”

    There is other evidence in this report that’s injurious to Officer Chrisman, I think. According to the timetable, he had withdrawn his gun and shot the dog, and then put the gun up to the head of the man. Then… and this is important, I think… it says that the two officers then Tasered and pepper-sprayed Mr. Rodriguez, which seems to indicate that Officer Chrisman had to holster his weapon, and then draw it again after those attempts failed. Everything seems fairly evident that this was a guy bent on killing Mr. Rodriguez.

    Not familiar with what FATS training entails, but would hope (and expect) common sense is a part of it, and common sense says the officer had no reason to shoot (multiple times) and kill this man.

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Welcome back, Terry… 🙂

    Mary – the fact that the prosecutor chose to issue the warrant speaks quite loudly.

    Les – As always, you’re on the money. Thanks for checking in.

  9. Les Edgerton
    Les Edgerton says:

    Looks like they got it right in arresting Officer Chrisman. His own partner’s testimony is a pretty good indictment. From what’s known from here, it just looks like he lost control in a situation he really has to have control of himself. It looks as if he was operating under the same mental state which is frequently the state of “regular” murderers, i.e., a moment of intense emotion in which he committed a killing. It also appears he had other alternatives. He could have wounded the man, perhaps. He could have called for more help and with more force, subdued the man. Lots of alternatives, but he chose the wrong one in this case, imo. Also, he’s perhaps lucky the charge was only for aggravated assault. I imagine there’s a chance this could be further reduced.

    I imagine other evidence will come forth as this progresses. For instance, the mother stated she was afraid of her son and it may be that he’s had a history of physically attacking her in the past. Not that the officer knew that at the time, but she did state her fear, so I imagine that will be a factor in the trial.

    Sad event. The guy should have succumbed to the officers, but Officer Chrisman went beyond any “reasonable force” it appears.

  10. Mary Quinlisk
    Mary Quinlisk says:

    Not having ever been in the situation, I am reluctant to criticize, but the shooting does not seem justified. The man was leaving the house. Allowing him to go would have diffused the immediate situation. And in attempting to leave, one could consider that he was backing down from the confrontation. Most importantly, the other officer at the scene did not feel that their lives were in danger.
    I feel for him. Unfortunately, his name will be tied to this incident forever. And his name will be in the lawsuit the mother files against the city, the police, each officer and anyone else’s name she can come up with.

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