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Phoenix police shot and killed Rumain Brisbon after mistaking a pill bottle for a gun

A demonstrator in Ferguson, Missouri, protests the police shooting of Michael Brown.
A demonstrator in Ferguson, Missouri, protests the police shooting of Michael Brown.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
  1. Mark Rine, a white Phoenix police officer, shot and killed Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed 34-year-old black man, on December 2.
  2. Eyewitnesses and the police tell different accounts of what happened. Police say Brisbon ignored orders and struggled with the officer. But at least one witness told the Arizona Republic that he never saw the officer talk to Brisbon.
  3. Police have not released the name of the officer who shot Brisbon, but the Arizona Republic reported he's white, 30 years old, and has served in the force for seven years.
  4. Police are conducting an internal investigation into the shooting, reported the Associated Press. Rine will remain on desk duty until the investigation finishes.
  5. The news of the shooting comes during the highly charged aftermath of two grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men — Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Stories differ on the shooting

Police line

A police line. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images News)

Here's the police account, according to what Phoenix Police Department spokesperson Trent Crump told the Arizona Republic:

  • Phoenix police officer Mark Rine was investigating a reported drug deal in the area when he spotted a black Cadillac SUV that matched a description of the suspected vehicle.
  • Brisbon exited the SUV and removed something from the rear. The officer reportedly told Brisbon to show his hands, but Brisbon stuffed his hands into his waistband.
  • The officer then drew his gun, and Brisbon fled. After a short foot chase, both men engaged in a struggle.
  • The officer and Brisbon tumbled into a woman's apartment, and the officer lost grip of Brisbon's hand.
  • The officer, fearing an object in Brisbon's pocket was a gun, fired two shots. The item turned out to be a bottle of oxycodone pills.

Some eyewitnesses added different angles and details to the story:

  • Martin Rangle, who lives upstairs from where the shooting occurred, told the Arizona Republic he heard some banging and then a gunshot. "It was so loud, I heard the vibration through the floor," Rangel said. "I ran to the window, and that's when I saw the cop running out, or like, walking out, and he was cussing, you know, he was screaming, 'Fuck, fuck,' like upset that he shot the guy."
  • Brandon Dickerson, who said he was in the car with Brisbon shortly before the shooting, said Brisbon was dropping off fast food to his children in the apartment. The Arizona Republic reported strewn french fries still littered the front porch the day after the shooting.
  • Dickerson said he never saw the officer try to talk to Brisbon. He claimed Brisbon never yelled at the officer. "Who's gonna argue with police?" Dickerson said. "He had no death wish yesterday."

Brisbon had a criminal record

Brisbon was a father of four, according to NBC News.

Court documents show Brisbon served a five-year probation sentence stemming from a burglary conviction, reported the Arizona Republic. Brisbon also had a marijuana conviction, and he was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2009 and in October.

Brisbon spent several months in the hospital when he was previously shot while serving his probation sentence. Records suggest he had been on "a self-destructive path due to his emotional state" following the shooting, according to the Arizona Republic.

Brisbon's mother, Nora Brisbon, told the Arizona Republic that her son should be remembered for his "goodness," not his criminal record. "Of course he did a few bad things here and there, but they've been taken care of," she said. "He was not just some raggedy thug out there on the street. He made a difference in everybody's life that he touched."

Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police

Eric Garner protesters

A young boy protests at a vigil for Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a New York City Police officer put him in a chokehold. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images News)

Brisbon's death comes as the nation reels with a debate over racial disparities in the criminal justice system and police use of force.

Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be stopped, arrested, and killed by police, according to the available, limited FBI data. These racial disparities remain even in situations in which a shooting victim wasn't attacking anyone else. Some of these victims were instead killed while fleeing, committing a felony, or resisting arrest.

killed by police - circumstances

There have been several high-profile police shootings in 2014 involving black men and boys. In Ferguson, Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in a highly contentious shooting that sparked nationwide protests. In Ohio, 22-year-old John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice were both killed after police mistook toy guns they were carrying for actual weapons. In Utah, police killed Darrien Hunt as he fled after an encounter in which police said Hunt attacked them with a decorative sword.

One of the causes of this disparity is what's known as implicit bias, or subconscious biases against people of certain races. Josh Correll, a University of Colorado at Boulder psychology professor, tested police implicit bias witha shooter video game.

His findings showed police officers generally did a good job of avoiding shooting unarmed targets of all races, but, when shooting was warranted, officers pulled the trigger more quickly against black suspects than white ones. This suggests that officers exhibit some racial bias in how quickly they pull the trigger, but not when it comes to deciding whether to shoot a target.

Correll previously cautioned that these simulations aren't perfectly representative of the real world. If cops, as Correll's initial simulations suggest, tend to shoot black suspects more quickly, it's possible that could lead to even more errors in the field. "In the very situation in which [officers] most need their training," he said, "we have some reason to believe that their training will be most likely to fail them."

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