Phoenix officer accused of fatally shooting Ryan Whitaker to be terminated

The Phoenix Police Department is planning to fire an officer accused of shooting and killing an Ahwatukee man back in May 2020.

Police officers had come to 40-year-old Ryan Whitaker's apartment after neighbors had called 911 to report a domestic dispute last year. Body camera footage showed Whitaker step out of his apartment with a gun, and officers fatally shot him seconds later.

Family and friends of Whitaker spent months protesting and demanding justice for his death.

Authorities confirmed that Officer Jeff Cooke will be terminated from Phoenix Police on July 22, more than a year after the fatal shooting.

"After extensive review of the totality of the circumstances, Chief Williams has notified Officer Cooke of the intent to move forward to end his employment with the Phoenix Police Department," officials said in a statement.

Cooke is currently on administrative leave. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel declined to file charges in the case, stating that while the officer's decision to shoot Whitaker was "inaccurate in hindsight, was not unreasonable in the moment and was, therefore, not a crime."

Attorney: Whitaker was not a threat to officers

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.

PLEA issues statement

On July 22, the President of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), Britt London, issued a statement on Phoenix Police's decision to fire Cooke.

Whitaker's family members react

Whitaker's family says he is not satisfied with the latest developments.

"There's no amount of money that's gonna bring my son back," said Alan Whitaker.

"It is the step in the right direction. It's the bare minimum of what should happen, but at least it's something.," said Katie Baeza, Whitaker's sister. "The officer is now being fired for what he did, but there are no charges, so to me, it just doesn't make any sense, and like my dad has said before ,the only justice would have been Ryan allowed to live."

Members of the family say they will fight for police reform, as well as engage in advocacy for loved ones of those killed by police officers.

"To guide people through this time because no one has ever prepared for what they're about to endure, nor should they," said Baeza.

Continued Coverage

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