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Police officer who killed Phoenix man won’t face charges

January 30, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges against a Phoenix police officer who fatally shot a man in the back eight months ago at an apartment complex where a neighbor had reported the man and his girlfriend were arguing loudly.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said Friday that Officer Jeff Cooke wouldn’t face charges in the May 21 death of Ryan Whitaker because prosecutors can’t prove the officer’s decision to use deadly force was unreasonable.

The shooting occurred after police received a domestic dispute call, though Whitaker’s girlfriend said they weren’t fighting and instead were being loud as they played a video game.

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When officers arrived, authorities said, Whitaker answered the door with a handgun in his hand, prompting another officer to draw his weapon and prepare to fire. Meanwhile, Cooke saw Whitaker move his gun to his side and believed Whitaker was going to point the gun at the other officer, so Cooke opened fire, Adel wrote.

Adel said it appeared Whitaker was moving his gun to put it down and raise his hands and wasn’t a threat. She also said there was no evidence of a physical fight between Whitaker and his girlfriend. The prosecutor also said Whitaker lawfully owned the gun and didn’t violate any laws in his response to the knock on his door from police.

Adel said the key question was whether Cooke’s belief that the other officer was going to be harmed was reasonable based on everything Cooke knew at the time.

The prosecutor said Cooke was responding to what he thought was a domestic violence call. Once Cooke saw the gun in Whitaker’s hand, the officer believed “he did not have the luxury of letting the scenario play out a few more seconds to see what might happen next,” Adel wrote.

Adel said it was reasonable for officers to conclude Whitaker, when coming out of his apartment with a gun in hand, meant to harm the officers. “Officer Cooke’s conclusion, while inaccurate in hindsight, was not unreasonable in the moment and was, therefore, not a crime,” Adel wrote.

The Phoenix City Council voted in December to approve a $3 million settlement with Whitaker’s family.

Whitaker’s father, Alan Whitaker, said Friday was a sad day for his family. “No one will be accountable, change will not happen,” Whitaker said in a statement. Cooke still works for the Phoenix Police Department in a non-enforcement position.

“We recognize these decisions are not easy, any loss of life is a tragedy, but we agree with the decision by the Maricopa County attorney to not seek criminal charges against the officer in this case,” said Michael “Britt” London, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a union representing Phoenix police officers.