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Phoenix officer will not face charges after killing man who jumped into patrol car

Officer Donnell Lindo shot and killed man who stole his patrol vehicle
Posted at 7:21 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 10:12:05-04

PHOENIX — A Phoenix police officer will not face criminal charges after shooting and killing a homeless man who had jumped into his police car.

The shooting happened on March 12, 2022, near 75th Avenue and Buckeye Road.

ABC15 has learned that in late July, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office cleared Officer Donnell Lindo of any possible criminal charges.

Adam Vespoli was sleeping in a city bus when Officer Lindo got the call to help get Vespoli and another man off the bus.

Vespoli's parents have told ABC15 that their son was homeless and struggled with drug addiction for most of his adult life.

Video shows 39-year-old Vespoli walk off the bus and straight into Officer Lindo's unlocked patrol car.

Lindo notices Vespoli get in the driver's seat and immediately runs back to his car, puts his foot on the running board, and as the car begins to drive off, he fires three shots through the window.

A medical examiner's report found a bullet lodged in Adam's head. He died before the patrol car slowly crashed across the street.

"He executed my son because he was upset, mad, [and] angry that someone got into his patrol car," said Mike Vespoli, Adam's father.

After the shooting, Lindo told detectives investigating the shooting that he "felt he was in imminent danger of being run over and killed" and was worried Vespoli "could impersonate officers and cause havoc on many citizens."

He also said he "was unsure if his small personal sig handgun was in his lunch bag in the passenger seat."

It was later determined that his personal pistol was never in the vehicle.

ABC15 sat down with Interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and her Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle and asked both what they thought of the shooting and Lindo's explanation.

"Officer Lindo said he felt he was in imminent danger of being run over and killed? Did you see that on the video?" asked ABC15.

"I saw that he was brushed by the vehicle as it drove away," replied Mitchell. "And again, I don't have to agree and find every single thing that he said he was concerned about."

"I mean, I'm not seeing it," said Gunnigle. "But again, I'd want to review everything that happened before and everything that happened after."

Gunnigle did not say whether or not she would have criminally charged or cleared Officer Lindo.

"I don't have enough information to say because I'm only operating with what is public information and not the full scope of the investigation," said Gunnigle. "Nevertheless, what I can tell you is that we would have had a transparent process to evaluate these sorts of cases."

Mitchell, though, was the one with the full investigation.

She declined to file criminal charges against Lindo and said the decision, while discussed with a larger committee, was hers to make.

"I'm looking at [it] from the perspective of the law and perspective of a jury. Are they going to convict this officer of a homicide charge for stopping a man from driving a stolen police cruiser into the stream of traffic?" said Mitchell.

Mitchell also acknowledged that while an average citizen cannot shoot and kill someone stealing their car, state law allows police officers to use force differently.

"You don't get to shoot somebody who is trying to steal a car," said Mitchell. "What I think he was looking at, and what I also have to consider is the safety of the community...My question is, is there justification, under the statutes, that allows him to do what he did? And if you look at the statutes that apply to police officer use of deadly force, I believe that would be an adequate defense, such that a jury would not convict."

In early September, Vespoli's parents filed a $3 million notice of claim for wrongful death against the City of Phoenix.

In the legal document, attorneys write that Lindo "did not attempt to open the door of his patrol car to try to stop it. He did not attempt to disable the car by shooting a tire. He made no attempt to restrain Adam or otherwise impede his departure by using a non-lethal method. Rather, Officer Lindo shot Adam in the head, killing him on sight, without warning."

The lawyers also say "Lindo's extremely inappropriate actions demonstrate that he was poorly trained, or poorly supervised, or both."

Phoenix police tell ABC15 that Officer Lindo is in a non-enforcement position in the Violent Crimes Bureau. The internal investigation into the shooting is ongoing, it will determine if Lindo violated any Phoenix PD policies.