Families who have had loved ones shot and killed by police say they are eager to know if criminal charges will be filed or if the officers who fired shots will be cleared.
The process already takes months, based on case completion by police investigators and then review by prosecuting attorneys. It will likely take longer now after Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel suffered a brain bleed in early November that has hospitalized her for weeks.
"It’s all-consuming. I think about it all the time," said Katie Baeza.
Baeza, the older sister of Ryan Whitaker, is now thinking about how her younger brother will not be around for the holidays this year.
"Uncle Ryan was their favorite," she said. "He made people laugh. He made people feel welcome."
On May 21, 2020, Whitaker responded to banging on his door while holding a pistol.
It is unclear if the father and legal gun owner knew that officers were at his door, because a neighbor called them about 'yelling' and a domestic incident. Whitaker's family has maintained there was no domestic violence in the home and the 911 call was unfounded.
Regardless, an officer noticed Whitaker holding a weapon. Three seconds after Whitaker opens the door - he appears to be crouching down to place the firearm on the ground behind him, with his other arm raised - an officer fires his gun.
The 40-year-old was shot multiple times in the back and killed.
"I’ve only watched it once," said Baeza. "I couldn’t put myself through that again."
Whitaker's case was submitted by detectives to MCAO on July 7.
"I don’t know what there is left to investigate. It’s pretty black-and-white to me," said Baeza.
It is one of 31 completed, critical incident cases that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has not yet ruled on.
"It’s frustrating, it’s agonizing, it’s dehumanizing," said Baeza.
"It’s devastating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s frustrating," said Denice Garcia.
Garcia is also waiting. She is eager to hear what will happen to the Phoenix police officer who shot her son in his car on July 4.
"How much longer is it going to take? Is her staff going to be able to pick up where she left off," wondered Garcia.
Those are the questions families want answered following Adel's hospitalization.
"That’s awful," said Baeza. "But then your focus goes to, 'OK so what’s going to happen?' We’ve already been waiting this long.'"
An MCAO spokesperson told ABC15 that decisions are being made every day, without Adel physically in the office.
High-profile cases with policy implications though, like police shootings, typically involve her review and input.
So there likely will not be charges or clearances until the office gets a better idea of Adel's prognosis and potential timetable for her return.
"I would just like communication on that," said Baeza.
"Let us know where the cases are. Let us know what’s happening," said Garcia.
In addition to conversations over the phone, a spokesperson with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office sent ABC15 the following statements:
"We are not announcing any decisions on the Ryan Whitaker case at this time. This case is still in the review stage and a decision has not been made.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has over 300 lawyers who are deputized to act on behalf of the County Attorney. Statutes allow for this because it is not possible for one person to review and make decisions on every single case handled by this office. In some circumstances – because, for example, there are broad policy implications of a decision or due to specific public interest – the County Attorney is directly involved in making the final decision on a case.
In other cases, the County Attorney’s Deputies follow guidance provided through her policies and other directives explaining how she expects certain matters to be addressed. While we miss her legal insights and collaborative discussions on matters during her recuperation, her leadership in providing direction and in assembling the right leadership team allows the work of the office to continue as she would expect it to, even when she is not directly involved in a particular decision.
Critical incidents submitted to this office that involve officer involved shooting or in-custody death are no different. This office will continue to make decisions on these cases consistent with the County Attorney’s guidance and philosophy."