Did Phoenix Police Need to Kill Zachariah Pithan?
The Family of Zach Pithan Zachariah Pithan, killed April 20 in a confrontation with four Phoenix cops
During the uproar over the 2010 shooting death of South Phoenix resident Danny Rodriguez by former Phoenix Police Officer Richard Chrisman, I often wondered why two Phoenix cops could not subdue one unarmed man without resorting to lethal force.
You may recall that the other Phoenix cop on the scene, Officer Sergio Virgillo, indicated that neither Rodriguez nor his dog, which Chrisman also killed, had done anything to justify the use of deadly force.
Chrisman was later fired by the PPD, and still faces charges of second degree murder, aggravated assault, and cruelty to animals. Trial dates in the case keep getting delayed.
Before shooting Rodriguez, Chrisman deployed both his pepper spray and his Taser. Still, Virgillo told investigators that Rodriguez had his hands up and had stepped back before Chrisman plugged him.
The Latino community was incensed by the shooting. The fact Rodriguez was Hispanic and Chrisman an Anglo lent fuel to the fire.
But there is no ethnic conflict when it comes to the shooting death of 22 year-old Zachariah Pithin on April 20, as he and the four officers who confronted him at his apartment that Saturday night are all white.
Perhaps that's why there's been little outcry over Pithin's death. And yet, Pithin's shooting seems just as questionable, if not more so, than the Rodriguez killing, even if we take the PPD's account of the incident as the Gospel truth.
After 9 p.m. on the 20th, Phoenix cops responded to a call of a fight in progress, according to the PPD's statement, issued the following day.
The brief police narrative reads, thus:
Upon arrival the (4) officers made contact with the witnesses who had called and learned that the suspect in the 3rd floor apartment across from them had been banging on their door and threatening them with bodily harm.
The officers approached the suspect's apartment and, observing that the apartment door was broken, called out to the suspect. The suspect came to the door and officers began giving commands for him to come out of the apartment which he refused. One officer attempted to remove the suspect from the apartment but the suspect grabbed the officer and pulled him inside. Officers attempted to take the suspect into custody and a physical fight ensued.
At one point the officers were able to get the suspect on the floor but as they attempted to subdue him the suspect broke away from the officers and grabbed what appeared to be a broken wooden table leg with a near pointed tip. The suspect raised the object in an attempt to strike one of the officers and at that time victim one (officer), fearing his partner was in danger of serious bodily harm, drew his service weapon and shot the suspect.
Phoenix fire was immediately called to the scene but the suspect succumbed to his injuries.
During the investigation several witnesses, including the initial callers, reported the suspect had been acting in a bizarre and aggressive manner throughout the day. Witnesses told investigators the suspect had threatened several residents and had destroyed several mail boxes at the community mail center.
This narrative does not mention the use of pepper spray or a Taser by these four officers. So I asked PPD spokesman Officer James Holmes about it. He confirmed that none of the officers involved deployed a Taser or pepper spray.
Holmes was unable to tell me how many shots were fired. All four officers were involved in the struggle with Pithan, according to Holmes. Currently, PPD is conducting both criminal and internal investigations into the shooting.
Meanwhile, they've listed the unnamed officers as "victims" of aggravated assault. Two of the officers sustained injuries from the fight with Pithan.
I asked Holmes if the injuries required hospitalization, to which he replied that the two officers were, "Transported, treated and released."
Was Pithin some hulking behemoth? Not according to paperwork for a prior offense in Maricopa County.
In 2009, Pithin pleaded guilty to the possession of marijuana, for which he received a suspended sentence and probation.
The court file describes him as being 5'10" and 150 pounds.