Recent police shootings raise questions about use of deadly force
MESA, Ariz. (KSAZ) - WARNING: Graphic content - video may be disturbing to some viewers.
Police have an incredibly tough job. They face split-second, life or death decisions, to shoot or not to shoot. It's an awesome responsibility that we grant police. It should always be a last resort when there's no other reasonable option, but some recent police shootings in Mesa are raising questions about use of deadly force.
"I thought my brother was shot like an animal. This was such a senseless killing," said Branka Andjelkovic.
"They didn't follow proper protocol, and you don't just go shooting into a vehicle with three people in there," said Jennifer Lane.
"We all make mistakes, but once you pull the trigger, it's a mistake that can't be undone," said attorney Joel Robbins.
Sariah Lane of Phoenix was just 17 when she was shot and killed by police. Her only mistake was taking a ride with her boyfriend in a car driven by a felon, 25-year-old Brandon Pequeno. As officers tried to arrest him last April, they thought Pequeno tried to reach for a gun. He didn't have one. Three Mesa police officers unloaded 11 shots into the car, killing Pequeno and Lane, who was sitting in the backseat.
They got the driver, "..but my daughter happened to be in their way," said Jennifer Lane.
"Then you don't know your target and what is beyond... If an innocent girl in the backseat gets shot in the back of the head, you cannot justify that," said Jesse Torrez.
Torrez spent 10 years on the street with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Scottsdale Police. He's worked undercover narcotics, SWAT and trained officers. He is concerned that increasingly, police are resorting to deadly force.
"It is being used too easily," he said.
Attorney Joel Robbins represents the family of Sariah Lane. He says the police shooting that killed her is eerily similar to a "Street Jump" in 2011.
"The same people in this case are the same people in that case and one of the people who shot Sariah had seven prior shootings, another had five prior shootings. The one that had the least amount of shootings from the city of Mesa had two prior shootings. That's a lot of shootings," said Robbins.
Torrez warns these kinds of "Street Jumps" with bullets flying, put innocent people and officers at risk.
"This is not what the training is, I can tell you that. If you're going to do a 'Street Jump,' that is not it. That is a melee," he said.
While there is no video of Sariah Lane's death at the hands of police, Ivan Kristic's death is documented in gruesome detail by a police body camera. He was shot and killed by Mesa Police last December as he poked around his upscale neighborhood, using a metal rod, looking for a water leak.
"You have this gentleman here, he's well lit up, there's nobody else around and all of a sudden this officer draws his weapon, he's threatening to use deadly physical force," explained Torrez.
Within 30 seconds, Kristic is tazed by a second officer to the left and out of the video's frame. Within 50 seconds of police arriving at the scene, 47-year-old Kristic is shot twice and lays dying on the street.
"What is the rush?" asked Torrez. "Why do you have to force the situation here? He never uses any or shows signs of aggressive behavior."
When asked about his thoughts after seeing the video, Torrez replied, "I think murder. How do you justify that? He's moving away from them."
Kristic was drunk that night and it turns out, he wasn't wearing his hearing aids.
You can hear "Drop the bar, drop the metal bar," on the video.
Torrez asks, "Why do you shoot somebody when they're moving away from you? How are you in fear for your life?"
Torrez also noted that police never rendered aid as Kristic was dying.
"It tells me they don't care."
Torrez says police are rarely prosecuted because the law gives them wide discretion to shoot if they simply claim they felt "threatened."
"I was in fear for my safety.. that blanket statement.. That's a get out of jail free card," he said.
"You have an accountability when you are carrying a gun and you have it in your power to kill someone," said Kristic's sister, Branka Andjelkovic.
But the Maricopa County Attorney's Office reviewed both shootings and determined "..officers did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution."
The Kristic and Lane families are both suing police for wrongful death.
"She should be a senior this year. She's not going to go to prom, she's not going to graduate high school, she's not going to be able to go to college, she'll never know true love, get married and have children of her own. She was robbed of all of that because of a senseless act of three men," said Lane.
Both families lost loved ones at the hands of the people they trusted to protect them.
"You call them, they're there to help you, that's how I was raised," said Andjelkovic. "They have to change because it was senseless.. he did nothing to warrant what happened to him that night."
"We literally give them the ability to be the judge, jury and executioner," said Robbins. "And when they choose that option of death, it needs to be as a last resort or we're all in danger."