Family of Rumain Brisbon, unarmed man fatally shot by Phoenix police, wants autopsy delayed
PHOENIX (AP) -- The family of an unarmed drug suspect fatally shot by a Phoenix police officer who mistook a pill bottle for a gun is attempting to delay the man's autopsy, their attorney said Friday.
Marci Kratter said that a request for an injunction to defer the autopsy for Rumain Brisbon by one day was denied in Maricopa County Superior Court. Kratter said she is now asking the state Court of Appeals to examine the issue.
The autopsy was scheduled for Friday morning, but Nora Brisbon wants an independent expert present for the examination of her son's body, according to court documents. Kratter said the expert they use is not available until Saturday.
"The police department keeps talking about transparency, but they're being anything but transparent," Kratter said. "They're rushing the autopsy through under the radar, and they won't bump it for one day to have somebody to observe."
Kratter said the family wants an independent witness because "the Phoenix Police Department works hand in hand" with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.
Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick called any insinuation that the Medical Examiner's Office would be anything but professional "insulting."
"We work with every law enforcement agency in this county," Gerchick said. "We make our decisions based on the case, not based on personal relationships."
Gerchick said the office does not postpone autopsies unless ordered to do so by a court.
"It's a case-management issue," she said. "We don't have the flexibility, the ability to be flexible and change the scheduling."
The deadly shooting Tuesday of Brisbon, 34, demonstrates the challenges law enforcement agencies face at a time of unrest over police tactics.
Phoenix police say the officer, who is white, feared the suspect was armed during their struggle, but some critics say the officer went too far.
Nora Brisbon said she doesn't want people to focus on the fact her son was black.
"This had nothing to do with race," Nora Brisbon told The Arizona Republic. "This is about Rumain and the wrong that was done to him, and I want people to focus on that. If they want to rally, let's support him positively."
Despite the department's efforts to be transparent with information, protesters marched Thursday night.
About 150 marched through the streets of downtown Phoenix to police headquarters, while calling for an end to what they say is a nationwide epidemic of police brutality.
Brisbon's mother also criticized media and police for highlighting his prior criminal record. Court records show Brisbon had convictions dating back to 1999 that included aggravated DUI, burglary and marijuana.
"Of course he did a few bad things here and there, but they've been taken care of," Nora Brisbon said. "He was not just some raggedy thug out there on the street. He made a difference in everybody's life that he touched."
The police chief and top prosecutor in metro Phoenix met with the president of the NAACP's Maricopa County Branch and other civil rights leaders in the hours after the incident, which came as emotions are running high in New York, Missouri and elsewhere over what protesters call heavy-handed law enforcement efforts.
The NAACP official, the Rev. Oscar Tillman, said he cautioned Brisbon's family and friends about channeling their anger as the investigation into the shooting unfolds.
"I told them not to be openly explosive or whatever because the fact is ... as you can see what happened to Michael Brown's (stepfather) now. They're talking about going after him. I said, `Just be very careful,' " Tillman said.
Sgt. Trent Crump said the shooting in Phoenix happened after an officer responded Tuesday to reports of someone selling drugs out of a Cadillac SUV. The officer ordered Brisbon, the sole occupant, to show his hands.
Authorities say Brisbon ran inside an apartment building and then got into a struggle with the officer. Brisbon put his hand in his pocket, and when the officer grabbed the hand, he thought he felt the handle of a gun through Brisbon's pants, police said.
Police say the officer repeatedly told Brisbon to keep his hand in his pocket, then shot him twice when he didn't do so.
Brisbon was hit in the torso and later pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators recovered a semi-automatic handgun and a jar of marijuana from his SUV.
An internal investigation is underway, Crump said Thursday. Prosecutors will determine whether the officer will face criminal charges. Police did not identify the 30-year-old officer but said he is a seven-year veteran of the department.
Days after the shooting, police in a Phoenix suburb postponed a "Run From the Cops 5K" fun run scheduled for Saturday. Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff said the annual event is intended to bring police and the community together, but the event's name could be misinterpreted to mean the opposite.
The Phoenix shooting occurred the day before a grand jury in New York City decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. Dozens of protesters were arrested on New York streets Wednesday, police said.
It followed a grand jury decision Nov. 24 not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The decision sparked violent protests, lootings and the destruction of several businesses.
Tillman said he would like to see the Phoenix mayor and other officials also start a dialogue with black community members.
"That's what needs to be done, because the fact is, as we can see across this country, if we don't deal with it, we're going to keep dealing with it," Tillman said.
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