PHOENIX - The unrest that grew out of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, is not likely to happen in response to a shooting 11 days ago in Arizona in which an officer killed a woman while trying to serve a mental health order, the top prosecutor for metropolitan Phoenix said Monday.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said metro Phoenix will not likely face the same type of outrage that followed the Aug. 9 shooting in Missouri because police and prosecutors in Arizona have a record of running crime-prevention and other community outreach programs that give them credibility among the public.
"We are embedded in this community. We are not strangers," said Montgomery, whose office will decide whether to criminally charge the officer who shot the woman.
The prosecutor also said it was irresponsible for critics of the Phoenix Police Department to label the Aug. 14 shooting death of 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux as police brutality.
The shooting happened just hours before a nationwide moment of silence was slated for Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown. In Phoenix, protestors met at a Phoenix park where Reverend Jarrett Maupin labeled the shooting a case of police brutality then called for protestors to pray for Michelle Cusseaux.
Police say a patrol sergeant fatally shot Cusseaux because she held a hammer above her head and came toward the officer. Officers had a court order to take Cusseaux, who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, to a mental health facility. Her mother had called a psychiatric facility to get inpatient treatment for her daughter.
In a press conference Monday, Joe Clure, President of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), told reporters the Phoenix Police Sergeant who pulled the trigger was also mourning the loss of a life.
“In 19 years he had never been to internal affairs. He has been a proud, faithful and honored servant to our community. This has been the only time he has had to use lethal force,” explained Clure.
Supporters of Cusseaux wheeled her casket along downtown Phoenix streets Friday to protest the way authorities have handled the case.
Cusseaux's mother has said the shooting demonstrates that the Phoenix Police Department needs to find a way of handling people with mental illness. The department is reviewing its policies for mental health pickups.
Montgomery declined to comment on whether he thought police policies for dealing with people with mental illness was adequate.
But Clure is calling for a system-wide change in how mental health patients are picked up.
“I don't believe police officers should be the de facto faculty or provider. I think that's a mistake. I think real health professionals with the expertise, with the training can do a better job at that," said Clure.
Initially, Phoenix police said it was going to handle the investigation into Cusseaux's death but eventually handed it off to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Montgomery said the hand-off was not necessary, but feels DPS will conduct a fair investigation and his office will follow up as routine.
But the Cusseaux family is still not happy.
“The family never called for Phoenix Police not to investigate it, and we never said they should never follow through. What we asked for was an independent investigation,” said Maupin.
Maupin tweeted ABC15 calling for a Department of Justice review of the case.
Montgomery said he will charge officers who break the law and has brought charges in such cases in the past.
"No one is above the law," he said.
Montgomery released these statistics regarding Phoenix Police Department’s officer involved shootings (OIS):
2011 - 43 OIS, 42 cases had a weapon(s), 1 case involved mental illness.
2012 – 46 OIS, 43 cases had a weapon(s), no case involved mental illness.
2013 – 49 OIS, 44 cases had weapons(s), 10 cases involved mental illness.
2014 31 OIS to date, 24 had weapon(s), 1 involved mental illness (Michelle Cusseaux)
Montgomery said deputy prosecutors who arrived to the scene did not get any red flags that the shooting was anything but justified.
“The mental health circumstance here does make this one particularly tragic, the underlining facts and what we've seen so far did not suggest anyone was hiding evidence, mischaracterizing what occurred or not providing all the information,” said Montgomery.
After DPS concludes their investigation, prosecutors will determine whether the use of force was justified and consider such factors as whether the officer conducted
himself in a reasonable fashion.