PHOENIX - Phoenix Police officials announced that an officer who was involved in a police shooting that killed an Ahwatukee man has been reinstated.
In July, we reported on a decision by Phoenix Police officials to terminate Officer Jeff Cooke for his role in the shooting death of Ryan Whitaker. On Dec. 9, Phoenix Police officials say the Civil Service Board has voted to reinstate Cooke.
The Civil Service Board, according to the City of Phoenix's website, is a five-member board that hears "appeals of disciplinary demotions, discharges, and suspensions of employees."
"The ruling of the Civil Service Board is final and binding. The Phoenix Police Department is aware of the decision, and acknowledges the authority of the Civil Service Board," read a portion of the statement released by Phoenix Police officials.
We have put in a records request with the City of Phoenix for the findings.
City officials respond
On Dec. 10, Vielka Atherton, a public information officer with the City of Phoenix Human Resources Department, issued a statement on the CSB's decision.
"The case involving Jeff Cooke was a private hearing before the City of Phoenix Civil Service Board (CSB). This means any arguments by both parties were made in private session. All decisions by the CSB are made in public forum. In the case of Mr. Cooke, the CSB modified the discipline from a dismissal, to a 240-hour suspension, with backpay (in accordance with the Officer’s Bill of Rights)," read a portion of the statement.
Atherton also talked about Cook'e return to the police force.
"Reinstated employees typically return to work within a few weeks. Mr. Cooke’s role upon his return to work has not yet been determined by the Phoenix Police Department," read a portion of the statement.
Deadly shooting happened in 2020
In May 2020, Phoenix Police officers were responding to the Whitaker's apartment, located near Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard. In 911 calls made to Phoenix Police on that night, portions of which were released by police, 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 released by Phoenix Police show two officers walking to the apartment. Police officials say Whitaker came out the door, holding a gun and stepped towards one of the officers.
"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.
"Whitaker did not fire his weapon, which was recovered in the doorway," said Phoenix Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson, in a 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.
Officer not charged; Phoenix approves multimillion payout
In December 2020, the City of Phoenix approved a $3 million payout for Whitaker's family, following a 9-0 City Council vote. The vote came just months after the city approved a $475,000 payout to members of Dravon Ames' family, after Ames and his family were held at gunpoint by police officers due to an alleged shoplifting incident.
"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 Carlos Garcia.
In January, the Maricopa County Attorney announced her decision to not file charges against Cooke.
"Officer Cooke’s conclusion, while inaccurate in hindsight, was not unreasonable in the moment and was, therefore, not a crime," said Adel.
Whitaker's family members respond to CSB's decision
Since the deadly shooting, members of Whitaker's family have protested in the streets, demanding that Cooke be fired and charged with murder.
"We're all still hurting," said Whitaker's father, Alan. "We're all still extremely angry at the whole process and everything."
While Cooke was initially terminated, the CSB's decision reversed all that.
"What did they look at? What did they process to make that decision? You'll never know because that meeting was private, not public," said Alan.
Alan said he regrets the settlement that was made with the City of Phoenix in some ways.
"I shouldn't have settled," said Alan. "I should have went to court. I should have made everything come out in the open, all the stuff that we have issues with the city would have been brought up and made public, and maybe that would have been a better way to go."
Alan said he will continue to fight for change.
"You can't have Ryan's death be for nothing, so there has to be some good that comes out of this, and so far, it's been extremely difficult to find that good, right?" said Alan.
Alan also has message for the officer involved.
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