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How Phoenix police investigated controversial officer-involved shooting involving Ryan Whitaker

Posted: 4:44 PM, Mar 16, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-16 20:46:55-04
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PHOENIX — Phoenix police hired an outside forensic video analyst to help review the controversial officer-involved shooting of Ryan Whitaker in May 2020.

A frame-by-frame analysis of police body camera video from the shooting was included in hundreds of pages of reports released to ABC15 this week. The video analysis sheds new light on the high-profile case which lead to Officer Jeff Cooke being fired from the department and then reinstated.

RELATED: Police release body-cam video in Ryan Whitaker shooting

Officer Cooke and Officer John Ferragamo went to Ryan Whitaker's Ahwatukee condo on May 21, 2020, after a neighbor reported a potential domestic dispute that night. Whitaker, who had been previously hassled by random late-night door knocks, answered his door with a gun in his hand.

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The frame-by-frame video analysis shows both officers' video camera angles, and it labels when Whitaker's gun is first visible after he opens the door.

The photos below contain graphic imagery. Viewer discretion is advised.

Officer Ferragamo reaches for his gun first as Whitaker moves the gun behind his back.

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At that point, the gun is visible from Officer Cooke's camera vantage point and he begins to draw his gun.

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Whitaker is a little farther outside his apartment with the gun at his side again, and Officer Ferragamo backs up as Whitaker begins to crouch down.

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Officer Cooke's gun is pointed at Whitaker as he has one hand raised and leans further toward the ground and inside his apartment door. The analyst believes Whitaker still had the gun in his right hand at this point.

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The analyst also documents the conversation which lasts just 1.87 seconds from the time Whitaker opens the door until Officer Cooke fires his first shot. Much of what is said is cross-talk:

2:55.693 Sounds of door unlocking from inside are heard.

2:58.680 (Off. Ferragamo) “How ya doing?”

2:58.822 (Whitaker) “What?”

2:59.241 (Whitaker) “Whoa.”

2:59.637 (Off. Ferragamo) “Put, Hands.”

2:59.724 (Whitaker) “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.”

2:59.954 (Off. Ferragamo) “Hands, hands, hands.”

3:00.546 (Off. Cooke) “Put your hands down.”

Officer Cooke fires three times, striking Whitaker in the back twice. The analyst wrote Whitaker still had his gun in his right hand when the first shot is fired. All three shots are fired within half a second.

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Whitaker's gun is later seen inside the doorway as his girlfriend comes outside. Whitaker is laying on the concrete walkway outside the condo.

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Whitaker's family said the shooting was unjustified because it's legal to answer the door with a gun in hand and Whitaker was complying with officers' commands when he was shot. They filed an excessive force claim against the city.

It's unclear how often the city uses an outside video analyst to help determine whether officers broke policies or the law in shootings or other uses of force. You can read the analyst's full report in the Whitaker case below.

ABC15 requested internal affairs reports and supporting documents in July 2020, but Phoenix police did not release them until after the disciplinary process was complete for Officer Cooke who fired the fatal shots.

Other documents released to ABC15 show the Phoenix Police Department's Use of Force Review Board found Cooke's shooting to be designated as within policy, but the board recommended the department review policies and training on first aid and the duty to render aid. Neither officer tried to stop the bleeding after Whitaker was shot. Instead, they waited for EMS to arrive.

On the Use of Force Review Board memo, Police chief Jeri Williams handwrote she did not concur and his actions did violate policy. Williams fired Officer Cooke for violations of the department's sanctity of life policy and for neglect of duty in August 2021.

Cooke appealed to the Phoenix's Civil Service Board. That board reinstated Cooke in December, but he did serve a 240-hour suspension.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did a criminal review of the shooting and determined the officer's actions were justified.