Maricopa County attorney won't file charges against officer accused of shooting Ryan Whitaker
PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Attorney has opted not to file charges in the fatal police shooting of 40-year-old Ryan Whitaker.
FOX 10 first reported on the police shooting that killed Whitaker in May 2020 at an apartment near Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard in the Ahwatukee area on May 21.
Around 9:30 p.m. that night, a neighbor heard what he believed to be an argument between a man and a woman in the apartment below and called 911 to report a domestic dispute.
When officers Ferragamo and Cooke arrived at the scene, they knocked on the door to Whitaker's apartment and announced, "Phoenix Police."
According to the police report, Whitaker answered the door with a gun in his hand.
"Officer Cooke was behind Mr. Whitaker. He also saw the gun in Mr. Whitaker’s hand. He saw the gun being moved from behind Mr. Whitaker to the side and believed that Mr. Whitaker was moving the gun to point it at Officer Ferragamo. Protecting his partner from what he saw as an immediate deadly threat, Officer Cooke fired his weapon and Mr. Whitaker died from his wounds," said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel.
The police body camera footage was reviewed and Adel says it appears Whitaker was moving his gun to put it down and put his hands up.
"In other words, after analyzing the videos it does not appear that Mr. Whitaker was a threat to the officers. That fact makes this case a tragedy, but it does not end the legal, criminal analysis because the law requires us to assess what Officer Cooke reasonably perceived and believed was occurring in the moment he made the decision to fire his weapon," continued Adel.
MCAO says Whitaker lawfully owned a firearm and lawfully answered a knock on his door late at night with that firearm. Adel says the officers appropriately responded to a call of active situation of domestic violence.
"Officer Cooke’s conclusion, while inaccurate in hindsight, was not unreasonable in the moment and was, therefore, not a crime. This is precisely why this case is so heart-wrenching: while both Officer Cooke and Mr. Whitaker could have made decisions that would have avoided this terrible result, neither did anything that is prohibited by our criminal laws," said Adel.
Statement from County Attorney Adel:
"I continue to recover from my medical operation in November and am not able to conduct a formal press conference regarding this case. However, I wanted to inform the community of my decision as I know many in the community and, certainly Mr. Whitaker’s family and Officer Cooke and his family, have anxiously waited for it. I apologize that I was not able to announce this decision earlier. The timing of this release was impacted by two events. First, I wanted to retain an independent use-of-force expert to review this case before making a final decision. Second, before I was able to review and assess that opinion I was injured."
Statement from Phoenix Law Enforcement Association:
"Each day, our men and women in uniform encounter dangerous situations, many resulting in split-second decisions. In circumstances where a deadly weapon is involved, our officers try to deescalate the situation but must also defend themselves and protect others at risk.
"Any time there is an officer-involved shooting, after an in-depth criminal investigation, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office makes a charging decision based on the facts. 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."
Statement from Whitaker's Father, Alan Whitaker
"[Maricopa County Attorney] Allister Adel’s decision to not prosecute Jeff Cooke for killing my son, Ryan Whitaker, is a sad day for my family and all residents of Phoenix, Maricopa County, and Arizona.
Allister Adel had the opportunity to stand up for justice and effect real change within law enforcement agencies in our state, but lacked the courage. She has once again allowed law enforcement to cry qualified immunity and continue their reckless assault on citizens.
Jeff Cooke, John Ferragamo, and all the officers at the scene that fatal night spun the lie "he pulled a gun on us" to cover their mistake. That is their training instead of de-escalation tactics. This will continue as long as our judicial officials cowardly run from qualified immunity. No one will be held accountable, change will not happen, and Ryan will have died for nothing.
That is Allister Adel’s tragedy."
Previous coverage of the Ryan Whitaker case:
Phoenix approves $3M payout over deadly police shooting; family member vows to continue pursuit for justice
The family of a man shot and killed by Phoenix Police will receive a $3 million payout, as members of the Phoenix City Council voted to approve the settlement during a meeting on Dec. 2.
According to FOX 10's Justin Lum, the settlement over the police shooting that killed 40-year-old Ryan Whitaker was approved on a 9-0 vote, seven months after the shooting that killed a father of two children.
This settlement marks another large settlement of its kind made by the city: In August, $475,000 was paid out to members of Dravon Ames' family, after Ames and his family were held at gunpoint by police officers due to an alleged shoplifting incident.
During the meeting, City Council member Carlos Garcia spoke out about the deadly shooting.
"We not only failed this family in our policies, but also, I feel like we failed them in being able to walk them through this process," said Councilmember Garcia.
Councilmember Sal DiCiccio, who is usually vocal on his support of law enforcement, sided with Whitaker, saying he handled the situation correctly, and the settlement amount is low.
Councilmember DiCiccio also called out Phoenix Police for allegedly not getting Whitaker medical help fast enough
"We don't know if he would have lived or not, but the fact of the matter is it showed a strong callousness from those individuals that were there to not immediately call for help," said Councilmember DiCiccio.
911 calls claim domestic violence incident
Screenshot of Phoenix Police body camera video showing the moments before 40-year-old Ryan Whitaker was shot and killed by police officers at an apartment in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix in May 2020.
In 911 calls made to Phoenix Police on that night, portions of which were released by police in July 2020 via audio recordings, the voice of a man told 911 dispatchers of a domestic dispute incident.
"I can tell they're just at each other's throats down there," said the man on the 911 call.
In the second 911 call, the caller told 911 dispatchers the incident could be physical.
"Does it sound like it's escalated to any physical, or still just sounds verbal?" asked the 911 dispatcher.
"Oh...it could be physical, I could say, yeah, if that makes anybody hurry up on -- get over here any faster," the man on the second 911 call replied. "I hear slamming of doors, and -- I don't know, somebody could be gettin' thrown into a door for all I know, but I hear all kinds of banging."
Body camera footage captures moments leading up to shooting
(Warning: Due to graphic content, viewer discretion is advised)
Body camera video released by Phoenix Police alongside the 911 calls in July 2020 shows two Phoenix Police officers walking to the apartment where the incident happened. Police officials say Whitaker came out the door holding a gun, and stepped toward one of the officers. Investigators say the officer who fired his weapon feared for the life of the other officer.
"Whitaker did not fire his weapon, which was recovered in the doorway," said Phoenix Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson, in the critical incident briefing video.
Following the shooting, Whitaker's girlfriend was heard screaming and stepping out of the apartment with her hands in the air.
"Why did you guys shoot him?" the girlfriend was heard yelling to police officers at the scene.
"He's pulled a gun on us, ma'am," one of the officers responded.
"Because it's dark and someone has knocked on the door," the girlfriend was heard saying, in the video.
Later on, the girlfriend said she and Whitaker were playing a video game.
"We were playing Crash Bandicoot, so there may have been some screaming from PlayStation, but it's no -- it wasn't domestic violence or anything," the girlfriend told police, in the bodycam video.
The encounter, according to Sgt. Tommy Thompson with Phoenix Police, lasted just seconds. The two officers involved in the shooting have since been identified as 33-year-old Jeff Cooke and 53-year-old John Ferragamo.
According to Phoenix Police officials, Ferragamo returned to patrol, while Cooke is on a non-enforcement assignment. At this point, no charges have been filed against the officers involved.
Protests organized over deadly shooting
Family members of Ryan Whitaker protesting on Oct. 5
In the aftermath of Whitaker's shooting death, members of Whitaker's family have marched through the streets of Downtown many times to demand justice for Whitaker.
During a protest organized in July, days before Phoenix Police released body camera video and 911 audio recordings connected with the shooting, the Whitaker family said they have received little information on what happened.
"We get very generic. No information about the case. We're just being told it's under investigation," said Whitaker's sister, Katie Baeza. "Days after they shot and killed my brother, we had nothing, not even a medical examiner report. We have nothing."
After police released the body camera video and 911 audio recordings, members of the Whitaker family held a news conference to discuss the footage. During the news conference, family members say they want both officers fired, and the officer who fired his weapon to be charged with murder.
"The Phoenix PD murdered my brother," said Whitaker's brother, Steven Whitaker. "They murdered my brother."
"In a matter of seconds, Jeff Cooke became the judge, jury, and executioner of my brother," said Baeza.
"Somethings got to change," said Whitaker's father, Alan Whitaker.
On Oct. 5, a protest was once again held in honor of Whitaker, with family members, as well as a few hundred demonstrators standing outside the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, demanding that charges be filed against the officer who shot and killed Whitaker.
"It's been 137 days since they shot and killed my brother and it was all on video," said Steven.
Family members react to settlement
For members of Whitaker's family, the payout was not at the top of their list.
"There's no amount of money that will bring my brother back. There's no amount of money that will erase the trauma from my entire family," said Baeza.
Baeza was not involved in the civil suit, and for her, the settlement won't end the fight for her brother.
"I promised my nephew the day that this happened that I would never give up, and I looked in his face and said I will never give up and I just can't, so I won't," said Baeza. "Fired, arrested. That's justice for me."
"There's no amount of money that's gonna make us feel better. There's no amount of money that's gonna bring my son back," said Alan. "What it does mean to me is more of an admission that there was wrongdoing."
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