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Officers have frequently avoided charges in high-profile Maricopa County cases over the past year

The Ryan Whitaker case is the latest of high-profile cases in the past year that ended with no charges filed from the county attorney against law enforcement.
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Shallow depth of field image taken of yellow law enforcement line with police car and lights in the background.

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel announced Friday there will be no criminal charges from her office against the Phoenix police officer who shot and killed 40-year-old Ryan Whitaker outside his Ahwatukee home in May of last year.

It's the latest of a number of high-profile cases brought to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office involving police officers in the past year that have ended with no criminal charges filed against officers. 

Officer not charged in shooting death of Ryan Whitaker

Credit: Phoenix PD

Police were called to Ryan Whitaker's apartment complex in May 2020, responding to a 911 call that alleged a possible domestic violence situation.

Body camera video showed officers knocked on Whitaker's door. He answered with a gun in his hand, that he lawfully owned, and moved his hand behind his back. As Whitaker began to kneel down, he was shot twice by Officer Jeff Cooke.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel's charging decision said when Whitaker came out the door with a gun in his hand, it was reasonable for the officers to conclude that he meant them harm.  

"Officer Cooke’s conclusion, while inaccurate in hindsight, was not unreasonable in the moment and was, therefore, not a crime," Adel's decision read. "This is precisely why this case is so heart-wrenching: while both Officer Cooke and Mr. Whitaker could have made decisions that would have avoided this terrible result, neither did anything that is prohibited by our criminal law."

RELATED: County attorney: No charges against Phoenix police officer who shot, killed Ryan Whitaker

Trooper not charged in shooting death of Dion Johnson

Arizona DPS Trooper George Cervantes found Dion Johnson passed out in his car, which was parked on the Loop 101 near Tatum Boulevard, in May of last year.

The police report said multiple witnesses driving by observed a struggle between Cervantes and Johnson. Cervantes told police the struggle got to a point where he feared for his life and that he could be kicked into traffic before he pulled the trigger and killed Johnson.

Johnson was killed on the same day as George Floyd, who was killed by an officer in Minnesota while handcuffed, sparking worldwide protests against police brutality. Ensuing demonstrations in Phoenix over the next several weeks revolved around both Floyd and Johnson.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel announced in September her decision to not file criminal charges against Cervantes. 

Adel said prosecutors would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cervantes did not act in self defense.

RELATED: Trooper involved in Dion Johnson's death won't be charged

Officer who threatened Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego's life not charged

Credit: kategallego.com

Phoenix Police Officer Steven Poulos was accused of threatening Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in October 2020, leading the mayor to get security detail.

A sergeant said he heard Poulos say, “If the mayor defunds the police, I’m going to shoot her.” According to the report, five other officers were also in the room. The sergeant reported the incident after he says Poulos doubled down, calling the threat “a promise” and saying “someone’s gonna do it.”

12 News obtained body camera footage showing Tempe PD detectives interviewing Phoenix officers who witnessed the alleged threat.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced in January that it will not file criminal charges against Poulos, determining that it "cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Poulos' statements constituted a 'true threat' as defined by Arizona Law and the U.S. constitution."

RELATED: Phoenix officer accused of threatening Mayor Kate Gallego won't face criminal charges

No criminal charges filed against Tempe police officer who shot and killed 14-year-old Antonio Arce in 2019

Credit: Arce family
Antonio Arce, 14, was shot and killed by a Tempe police officer on Jan. 15.

At the end of January 2020, the Maricopa County Attorney's office announced it would not file criminal charges against Joseph Jaen, who allegedly shot and killed 14-year-old Antonio Arce in January 2019.

Jaen was responding to a call of a suspicious car in an alley when he saw Arce inside the pickup truck. Jaen shot twice at Arce from at least 114 feet away, striking him once in the shoulder. The teenager continued to run, but collapsed on a street just outside the alleyway. 

Body camera footage showed an orange-tipped fake gun underneath Arce's arm. It was an airsoft gun. Jaen resigned from his position in May 2019.

Adel announced her decision to not file charges against Jaen during a press conference, saying the evidence in the case does not support a conviction at trial. 

RELATED: Maricopa County Attorney's Office will not seek charges against former Tempe officer in shooting death of 14-year-old

Charges dropped for Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputy accused of sexual misconduct

Credit: MCSO

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office announced in October 2020 that 19-year veteran Deputy Gary Kaplan committed sexual misconduct with an alleged domestic violence victim. Kaplan was assigned to the victim’s case.

According to Arizona law, a sworn peace officer who has a sexual relationship with someone that is the subject of a criminal investigation faces a class five felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office dropped the two charges against Kaplan. A spokesperson for County Attorney Allister Adel said the word “subject” in the law pertains to a perpetrator of a given case, not the victim.

“It means the person you are looking at charging the crime with, or if you were to have somebody in your control, if you were transporting somebody that is the subject of an investigation or someone you had arrested,” said Jennifer Liewer of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

RELATED: Charges dropped for MCSO deputy accused of sexual misconduct

Phoenix police officer and Mesa police officer in separate cases charged by Maricopa County Attorney's Office in June 2020 

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did file charges against two officers in June 2020.

Sean Pena

Phoenix police officer Sean Pena is facing one count of sexual assault and one count of unlawful sexual conduct from an incident on Aug. 26, 2018. He is also facing one count of unlawful sexual conduct from an incident on June 1, 2019.  

The two incidents involve claims that Pena sexually assaulted women in his custody.

Nathan Chisler

Mesa police officer Nathan Chisler was charged in June 2020 with aggravated assault for an incident that ended with the officer shooting a suspect.

Investigators say Chisler shot 44-year-old Randy Sewell in December 2019. Police say Sewell resisted arrest outside a bar, and he was shot in the hip during the struggle. He survived and was released from the hospital just days later.

Sewell was unarmed, but Chisler told investigators that he feared for his safety and intentionally fired.

Adel filed a complaint against the officer that said Chisler used “a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, intentionally, knowingly or recklessly did cause a physical injury to Randy David Sewell."

Chisler was fired from the department on June 25.


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