Did Phoenix Police Need to Kill Zachariah Pithan?

zach.jpg
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.

See also:
-Richard Chrisman Report Released by Phoenix Police Department: Read It Here
-A Teen's Shooting Death Was Avoidable, Even If the Cops Call It "Justified"

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.

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83 comments
peggy70a
peggy70a

Real sad. It does not matter the ethnicity of the unarmed person. Four grown men (policemen) could not get control of one person? I am guessing all of them were men. Even if women officers were involved , four against one! A friend of mine was shot because he had a screwdriver and he was Caucasian and that was years ago. So it seems nothing has changed regarding the way policemen are trained.

brianjohnson197270
brianjohnson197270

Zach i think you were done wrong my brother. I hope this X cop gets what he deserves. Just because you have a baugh does NOT give you the right to kill anyone. You are an OFFICER of the law akt like it. YOU are here to serve and protect us and surely let us down that night. Man look at you now you lost your job and maybe going to prison i hope, was it worth killing someone over it. SHAME on you brother.     

jstar56
jstar56

You will be missed Zach, you were a good kid and a reliable friend.  Whenever we wanted to do something, you were always down to participate.  This situation is nothing less than a matter of piss poor training and bad decision making.  Officers ARE trained to detect when a mental issue is at hand and are trained to handle it differently.  Why they didn't, only they know.  At no point, in anything that I read, did I see any need to draw their firearms, let alone fire them.  The officers were in no immediate risk of danger.  Even if he had a "near pointed" (in other words, rounded) table leg that he picked up, the officers were no in danger.  They are trained to take other routes and only rely on their firearms if no other option is available.  If the officers would have employed other tactics, Zach would still be with us today. They tried to physically take them down, but he was probably off of his meds and when someone comes at you, what do you do? You defend yourself.  That is what he did, but he didn't need to be shot at, especially multiple times for goodness sake!

You will be missed Zach, RIP <3

Skitzo
Skitzo

I knew Zach, he was a great guy, he did have mental issues, but I know that if the cops had just tazed or pepper sprayed him he woulda went down...hell, if they had taken the time to talk to him and not come agressively he probably would have calmed down in time, he had just gotten his first apartment on his own, had a steady job, and was all around doing good, Ive seen him 'go crazy' a few times, and honestly, if youre calm with him, hes fine after like 5 minutes or so, isnt it amazing that if you blow up stuff and get in shootouts with cops, they want to take you in alive...yet you raise a table leg and youre gunned down, like the article said, this situation didnt involve race...just trigger happy cops who dont know how to do their job right, I might seem a little one sided on this subject due to the fact that I knew Zach, but Ive talked to people who normally back the decisions of the police and they think it was bullshit as well, I cant believe its gotten to the point that if youre a criminal they want to arrest you, yet if you have mental issues and 'flip out' youre a dead man

RIP Zach, you will be missed by many

Josh Smusz
Josh Smusz

At the time myself and others had contacted NT editors through email and directly. It was a pretty big story considering the multiple protests in Downtown Scottsdale with a few hundred people, pretty unheard of. Anyhow, maybe you are new....if you go back a few years you will find an article that literally calls him a hero with the hopes that he is back on the street with his gun oiled, hoping that someone makes his day. I guess maybe the New Times staff didn't all agree to call him heroic but ehhhh, i mean come on.

Josh Smusz
Josh Smusz

Nice try. I am, obviously not talking about 8 months after the fact. I did read this one though and thought it was cute that it didnt mention yall had given him an award.

IdontRecall
IdontRecall

WTF111 4 FLAT FOOTS AND COULDN'T EVEN CONTROL A 150 POUND PERSON? What happened with that trainning? And more shocking, one of Them got yanked inside the aparment? fucking shameful.  Seems that they have no trainnig at all on how to deal with that type of individual, and it shows. I think Their motto is: "better kill Him than injury Him and have to pay for the hospital and convalescence costs". And who knows if that's what really happened.....in situations like this, when something goes wrong. is posible that the coppers write Their report in a way that They R in fatal danger when probably is not the case. Their actions also shows that They are not up to the challenge. When a cop kills an indivial without ustification, and there are no consequences for that attitude, the cop becomes more dangerous than criminals, because They know that They can act with impunity..............4 COPS?????....COULDN'T CONTROL AN OUT OF CONTROL INDIVIDUAL?????.AND IN ORDER TO DO SO, HAVE TO USE LETHAL FORCE?????.......SHAMEFUL!!!!. AND NO!! WEILDING A STICK IS NOT REASON ENOUGH. WHEN 4 OFFICERS ARE PRESENT.

Errico Malatesta
Errico Malatesta

Yes, this sounds like a perfectly legitimate excuse to blow someone away.

Josh Smusz
Josh Smusz

The New Times actually cares about cops killing people now? Weird change after celebrating the Scottsdale Cop that killed a half dozen people. Weird considering they refused to even report the Loxas killing due to an attempt to save face.

Michael DeMott
Michael DeMott

He threatened his neighbors, and eyewitnesses saw an officer pulled not his apartment? Sounds like drugs or alcohol , and if not, just a stupid person...would you put yourself in that situation? No matter what he color of skin or ethnic background, if you just do what asked to do whether guilty or not the officers won just start beating you, unless maybe u r in middle of nowhere with no eyes around....

TheUrsineObserver
TheUrsineObserver

I thought the law enforcement response odd, as well. Sure would be handy if I could treat every mentally ill or intoxicated patient I encounter with lethal force. Just ridding society of vermin, dontcha know. #drippingwithsarcasm


Tom Havey
Tom Havey

humans suffer from laziness and many take easy way out. Police are humans. what's easier, tackle a guy or, blow em away?

Eric W. N. Mulenfeld
Eric W. N. Mulenfeld

"what happened to sean drenth?>" You better believe a badge alone int trustworthy.

Yo Voeller
Yo Voeller

OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN--WHO IS TRAINING THESE GUYS ???

Yo Voeller
Yo Voeller

AGAIN !!! THESE GUYS HAVE PEPPER SPRAY...TAZERS AND NITE STICKS AND GOOD OLE FIST IN THE FACE--WHY SHOOT N KILL...AGAIN ?!?!

Cozz
Cozz

Shoot first and lie later is their motto.

robert_graham
robert_graham

WTF??? "The Latino community was incensed by the shooting. The fact Rodriguez was Hispanic and Chrisman an Anglo lent fuel to the fire."

But if Rodriguez was white they wouldn't care so who is the racist now.?  You mean to tell me that Hispanics can never do any wrong, even if they are Hispanic officers? 

Oh and by the way, yes Phoenix police did need to kill Zachariah Pitha.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

It seems like the underlying tragedy here is that Pithan wasn't getting the mental health care he needed.  We don't know enough to say who might be responsible for that.

Police officers, no matter how well trained, are going to respond emotionally when a fellow officer is pulled through a door.  Try to put yourself in their position at that moment.  It seems scary as hell to me.

Even though Pithan wasn't huge, he had the advantage that he was acting and the police were reacting, and he had already shown that he was violent in a way that defied rationality and powerful enough to escape their hold once.   I'm sure they were thinking PCP or something similar.

In hindsight, it looks like they used more force than was necessary, but the decision isn't made in hindsight.  It has to be made in that moment, with adrenaline pumping and some of your partners injured and possibly out of the fight.

don.dodondo
don.dodondo

Why do people fight with the police?  It is an unwinnable fight.  The only time it makes sense is if you are in fact suicidal and you want to go out in a blaze of glory.  I think that is a big part of the reason why people don't get too emotional when they hear about the cops killing someone who was fighting them.  Only a suicidal idiot would do something like that.

brianjohnson197270
brianjohnson197270

@JoeArpaioFan Fuck you you peace of shit no one needed to die over this. Did you not read the report of what happen there was four cops there. Thats all i'm saying. WTF JoeArpaioFan you are an IDIOT!!  

danzigsdaddy
danzigsdaddy topcommenter

@JoeArpaioFan  and thats why we know you are an idiot. you think all your little comments are endearing you to the police and showing support for them. Cops dont want to have to draw their sidearms and NO real cop wants to have to shoot someone. the cops that do want to do that (like you keep trying to encourage them to do) are dangers to every citizen and cop out there and the REAL cops want nothing to do with them and want them removed.  REAL cops are doing their job "To Protect and Serve" not to "draw and fire". I wasnt there for this case and neither were you, sno we dont know what the proper response was, but i can assure you this, unlike what you think, if these were REAL cops and not just thugs like you want all cops to be, there are feeling bad about having to fire regardless of whether they had no other choice or not. REAL cops and REAL human beings dont wake up every morning thinking "Today I hope I get to shoot someone". I did my time in the service and i did fire my weapon with effect, and it does bother me. people like you are the reason there are so many debates on gun control, mental health issues and many other topics concerning rights and laws. you talk a big story about how you would shoot this person or that person, but i can guarantee you, (just like people i served with and went to boot camp with) when the bullets started flying, you would be the first one to start crying and wetting himself. read the comments left here by people with REAL law enforcement experience like YPS, Tommy Collins, Flyer and others, read the comments by people with REAL military histories like USwar veteran, myself and others. we feel there is tragedy to taking anothers life where as you do not. a life is a life and regardless of whether there was no other choice but to take it or not, a REAL human being would feel remorse over it. there is a saying that you should heed and really remember "live by the sword...die by the sword". if you promote and support the belief that the police and others should be able to use deadly force consistantly, you are promoting a world where YOU just might end up in a situation where someone felt they needed deadly force to deal with you. your hatred has completely overridden your humanity and when and if something horrible does occur in your life or if some tragedy were to befall you, you would be the first one demanding compassion and it wont be there. so you just go right ahead and continue to spew your hate, and continue to think that it makes you a darling in the eyes of the police, but it wont, it will just draw their attention to you as a potential problem and will eventually get you the kind of attention that you seem to want to wish on everyone else. i on the other hand will continue to show compassion for those who are less fortunate or who need it and thats why i will not continually match the profile of a criminal or terrorist or uni-bomber like you do

bugzbunny
bugzbunny

"some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses!!" Rage Against The Machine

MotherJones
MotherJones

@valleynative What's the point of these cops having a Taser and OC spray on their belts, then? In this city, if you look sideways at a cop and they shoot you, people will be on the blogs saying, "Well, you shouldn't look at the cops that way." Jesus.

yourproductsucks
yourproductsucks

@valleynative Respond emotionally?  The guy wasn't shot for pulling one of the police officers into the room.  He was shot after wielding a weapon and placing an officer in reasonable fear for another's safety. That response is based on training, not emotion.

MotherJones
MotherJones

@don.dodondo He had mental problems. My guess is he was off his meds. Cops have to deal with crazy people all the time. They shldnt be able to shoot them at the drop of a hat.

shadeaux14
shadeaux14

@danzigsdaddy @JoeArpaioFan Very well put Danzig. taking a life, no matter how much justification you have, is an experience which stays with you for the rest of your life., and it should.

Bnbk
Bnbk

@yourproductsucks @valleynative Just wondering YPS,if a civilian were facing with some one with a table leg in their hands, in your opinion,would they be afforded the same benefit of the doubt by police officers or the CA.if the civilian were to claim self-defense in a similar situation ?

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@yourproductsucks The judgment that another's safety was in jeopardy was in the context of everything that had just happened, which had a lot of emotional content.  Having made that judgment, he responded correctly as per training, but if he hadn't been in an emotional state, he might have judged differently.  I'm not blaming them.  It sounds like it was reasonable behavior given the circumstances.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@MotherJones @don.dodondo  drop of a hat:  Threatened physical violence against his neighbors, grabbed a cop and yanked him through the door, fought with four police, injuring 2, escaped their grip, grabbed a weapon.

Impressive hat.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@MotherJones @yourproductsucks  Actually, if you take the time to read the article, you'll find mention of officers who've been fired for bad shootings.  Cops are in danger a lot.  If they err on the wrong side too often, eventually they stop coming home.

yourproductsucks
yourproductsucks

@MotherJones ...or they have the tools and the latitude necessary to protect themselves and other's from those who are intent on doing harm.  I guess it's all up for interpretation.

You should become an officer.  I'm sure you'd be great!

MotherJones
MotherJones

@yourproductsucks @MotherJones A table leg? I've got news for you, a punch to the head could be lethal. Does that mean cops get to blow someone away if theyre swung on?

Four cops. Four cops. One 150-pound kid.

MotherJones
MotherJones

@valleynative @MotherJones @don.dodondo Unless he's the dojo master with fists registered as deadly weapons, the cops have some splainin' to do. I know, I wasn't there either. But when crap like this happens the public has a right to demand answers. I have a cop in my family, but he doesn't have the right to kill me if I raise a fist to him. At some point, the right to kill has to stop. They do not get a blank check.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@MotherJones @valleynative @don.dodondo  I wasn't there.  Neither were you. But characterizing it as four cops vs one with a stick seems to ignore the fact that he had just been kicking their butts.  It seems like you really have to have your mind made up and closed pretty tightly to keep ignoring that little fact.

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