PHOENIX (AP) - A prosecutor who declined to charge police officers after they repeatedly shot a handcuffed man with a stun gun said Wednesday that more investigation is warranted.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery changed course hours after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the original investigation was “whitewashed” and should be reopened.
Montgomery said he sent materials to the FBI in connection with the July 2017 encounter between Glendale police officers and Johnny Wheatcroft, who alleges in a lawsuit that one officer kicked him in the groin while another stunned him in the testicles.
“After having personally reviewed all available video evidence, I have determined further investigation is warranted,” Montgomery said. “In order to ensure the public’s confidence in any future determination of whether the use of force was lawful, review by an uninvolved agency is appropriate.”
Montgomery did not say what prompted the shift a day after his office defended the decision, saying prosecutors did not charge the officers because they determined they couldn’t convict.
Ducey’s comments were a rare rebuke of police and prosecutors from a governor who is a Republican like Montgomery and a strong ally of his. Montgomery is seeking an appointment by Ducey to the Arizona Supreme Court.
“What I saw was completely unacceptable,” Ducey told reporters. “And it seems to me that the investigation was whitewashed. I’d love to see the county attorney’s office reopen the investigation and get to the bottom of what happened there and hold people accountable.”
Montgomery did not say whether the materials he sent to the FBI constitute the entire case file.
The FBI doesn’t confirm specific investigations as a matter of policy, but spokeswoman Jill McCabe noted the agency is responsible for enforcing civil rights laws.
“Any time civil rights violations are brought to the attention of the FBI, the FBI collects all available facts and evidence and will ensure that they are reviewed in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner,” McCabe said.
Body-camera video of the encounter surfaced on local TV. It shows Glendale police officers repeatedly shooting Wheatcroft with a stun gun during an encounter in a motel parking lot that began with a traffic stop. The Glendale Police Department has acknowledged its officers used stun guns on Wheatcroft and that an officer kicked him during a struggle.
But the agency denied the allegation that Officer Matt Schneider shot Wheatcroft in the testicles with the stun gun, saying the officer zapped Wheatcroft in the thigh. The agency said Wheatcroft wasn’t following officers’ commands and that Wheatcroft’s wife hit an officer in the head with a plastic bag containing full soda cans, knocking the officer to the ground.
Glendale police Sgt. John Roth said Monday the department’s policy allowed nearly all of Schneider’s stun-gun use, though the officer received a three-day suspension for using it on Wheatcroft at a point when he was cuffed and not resisting officers.
Wheatcroft was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but the case was later dismissed at the request of prosecutors.
Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud contributed.
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