PEORIA, AZ — A jury will decide Thursday if a man who was shot in the face by Peoria police during a traffic stop should be convicted of aggravated assault.
On Wednesday, Samuel Denk took the stand in his own trial, hoping to convince the jury he never intended to place Sgt. Miller "in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury" before Denk was shot in the face.
The shooting happened after a traffic stop near 83rd Avenue and W. Cholla Street, just before 11 p.m. on March 27, 2019.
Sgt. Miller pulled over Samuel Denk for not having "tail lamps."
In the police report, Sgt. Miller told detectives he was cautiously approaching the vehicle because he saw the driver "reaching around" and looking "at him using the mirror."
When Sgt. Miller was walking up to the driver's side door, he was greeted by Denk, who he quickly assessed had a gun in his lap. The following interaction occurred:
"Hey, how's it going?" asks Denk.
"Alright...I'm Sgt. Miller with the Peoria Police Department...Do not reach for that firearm."
"Put your hands on the steering wheel right now," says Sgt. Miller, before yelling the command again.
"Put your hands on the steering whe-(shot fired) -el!"
On Monday Sgt. Miller testified he saw Denk move his hands toward the gun in his lap, and his fingers touch the weapon, which is why he shot him in the face.
Under oath though, Sgt. Miller clarified that Denk never "grabbed" the gun, as Peoria PD initially stated in their report.
The trial though, is not about Sgt. Miller. He has been criminally cleared.
It is about the Maricopa County Attorney's Office pursuing an aggravated assault charge on Denk, after he was the only person injured.
"Did you have any intent to touch the weapon," asked Jocquese Blackwell, Denk's defense attorney.
"No," replied Denk, contradicting Sgt. Miller. "Absolutely not."
Denk was adamant on the stand that he never intended to harm or alarm Sgt. Miller, and that he never committed aggravated assault.
"Did you raise your hands?" asked Blackwell.
"I attempted to," said Denk.
During cross, the prosecutor asked Denk about why he kept the gun in his lap in the first place.
And why, if he knew an officer was approaching, did he not immediately put his hands on the steering wheel.
"Why didn't your arms go straight up?" asked the prosecutor, Sloan Johnson.
"They were, it was a natural motion," said Denk, trying to show a slight dip before raising.
A juror posed a similar question to Denk: "You had time to put the gun on the dash, why didn't you?"
After the judge read the question, Denk said, "Because it was nighttime, and I didn't want to move a gun with the officer approaching my vehicle."
Before Denk testified Wednesday, a video expert was on the stand for the defense. He slowed down and brightened the body camera video to better show the jurors that both of Denk's hands were up and empty the second before he was shot in the face.
"You can see quite easily here in the B&W that there's nothing in the hands," said the video analyst.
The prosecution looked to make the point that the time frame was so short that, by the time his hands were rising in the body cam video, Sgt. Miller had already felt threatened, made the decision to shoot, and was in the process of firing.
After the defense and prosecution rested, Mr. Blackwell asked the judge to acquit Denk before the jury ever got the case to deliberate.
"I'm asking the court for an acquittal," said Blackwell. "They haven't provided this court any evidence to prove [Denk's] intent."
The judge denied the request and said the case will go to the jurors Thursday, after closing arguments.
But before he ruled on the motion, the judge gave a brief comment.
"I understand Miller has said only one hand touched the gun...This may be a case where the officer is justified...and at the same time the defendant is not committing the crime of aggravated assault."
We will continue to follow the case and update this story once the jury reached a verdict.
As we reported in 2021, Denk's lawyer is civilly suing the police department; arguing Denk never made a move for the pistol and that Sgt. Matthew Miller fired his weapon accidentally.