U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- May 21, 2020, at about 10:53 p.m, in Phoenix's Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhood, officers are responding to a noise complaint thinly disguised as a domestic violence incident. The complainant is desperate to get to sleep because he has to get up to go to work. He tells the dispatcher at 10:18 it is a domestic altercation. The exact time of the second call is not given, but the caller says it is a half-hour after the first call.
In the second call, the caller makes clear this is a noise complaint. He is asked if this is a male and a female in a verbal. From what police have released of the call (includes graphic video of the shooting) :
Yeah, and its getting really loud and they been doing it for the last hour. I gotta get it to work tomorrow, and I can't get no sleep.
These guys have been noisy constantly… Every time I come back, these guys are noisier than hell. Always fighting.
Okay does it sound like it's escalated to anything physical or still just sound verbal?
Oh. It could be physical, I..I could say yeah if that makes anybody hurry up on, get over here any faster.
Anything to indicate it might be physical?
I hear slamming of doors and… I don't know. Somebody could be gettin' thrown into a door for all I know. But I hear all kinds of banging.
The police go to the apartment. Officers take up positions on each side of the door, well separated. One officer knocks on the door, and announces “Phoenix police”, in a slightly elevated voice.
About 12 seconds later, the door is opened. Ryan Whitaker, a white male, 40 years old, answers the door. He is holding a semiautomatic pistol in his right hand, down at his side. He moves the pistol behind his back, so as not to alarm the person outside. He takes one step outside the door.
His girlfriend has since said they did not know it was the police at the door.
What Ryan does not know, is the officer behind him can see he is holding a pistol, when he moves it behind his back. The officer in front has blinded Ryan with his tactical light. It seems to be standard practice. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, Ryan seems to immediately figure out this is the police. Ryan says “Hey! Hey! as he takes a step back and drops into a submissive position on the threshold of his apartment.
It appears the officer behind him has already made the decision to shoot. Ryan has his left hand outstretched in submission. He may already have placed the pistol on the floor, as he drops down.
The officer behind him fires three shots. The time stamp on the video as the first shot is fired is 5:52:39Z (Greenwich Meantime) or 10:52:39 p.m. in Phoenix. As Ryan raises his right hand to his chest, the pistol is not in it. Two of the three shots have entered Ryans back.
Within four seconds, the older officer who knocked on the door has his pistol drawn and pointed at Ryan.
His girlfriend comes out, after being assured she would not be shot. She immediately wails: Why did you shoot him?
An officer says: “He pulled a pistol on us.”
She says: “It is dark, and he is answering the door.”
Later she explains they were playing a loud video game and there was no domestic violence.
Ryan is on the floor. Other police arrive. No one attempts to stop the bleeding or render any aid. It is 12 minutes before any medical attention is given to Ryan.
Ryan Whitaker is doing nothing illegal or immoral. This is Phoenix, Arizona, where the Second Amendment is more respected than in most of the United States. This is not New York City, where police had a reputation of shooting anyone they saw who had a gun, because they assumed, if they had a gun, it was illegitimate.
Holding a gun in your hand, at your side, is not “pulling a gun on us”.
Has the officer who shot been trained to shoot every time they see someone with a gun in their hand?
The case illustrates the time lag between when a decision to shoot is made and the actual shots. It is likely the decision to shoot was made by the officer at about the same time Ryan starts to drop down to his knees. By the time the actual shots are fired, Ryan has dropped down, extended his left hand in submission, and very likely placed the pistol on the floor.
Was this a form of swatting? Swatting is when false information is given to elicit a police response on innocent people. It is not clear the complainant knew their complaint was false. It seems they were desperate to get some sleep and were willing to find a way to satisfy the dispatcher in order to justify the emergency response. Anyone who has had loud neighbors can sympathize with their desire for resolution.
It looks as though an irritated neighbor, a dispatcher who may have been a bit leading in their questions, and poor judgment on the part of a police officer came together to cost an innocent man his life.
Police have a difficult job. There are probably fifty to a hundred million police interactions with the public each year. A few of them are bound to become disasters. In my opinion, the Ryan Whitaker shooting is a much clearer disaster than the George Floyd arrest.
While Ryan did not do anything illegal, are their lessons to be learned from his shooting and death?
Opening your door, at night, to an unknown visitor, is a known risk. People know this. It is why people answering the door commonly have firearms in hand. A retired Phoenix Assistant Phoenix Police chief, Andy Anderson, says this, as reported by wqad.com:
Anderson said that breaking down the scenario frame-by-frame isn't what the officers had at the moment.
“We may see some things that the officer did not see or perceive at the time because of that delay between action and reaction,” Anderson said.
When Whitaker came to the door with the gun in his hand, the officers are put into a split-second, life or death scenario, Anderson said.
Being confronted by police officers, unexpectedly, after dark, put Ryan Whitaker into a split-second, life or death scenario, it appears.
Guns are common, and access to them a cherished right in Arizona. People having guns in their hand when answering an unknown visitor, late at night, is common. Virtually anywhere the Second Amendment is respected, police should expect innocent homeowners to be armed when they answer the door.
Being in close proximity to the unknown visitor places you at risk, whether you are armed or not. It is hard to secure the door if you must open it to see who is outside.
Ryan's girlfriend says he looked out the peep-hole and did not see anyone there. That put him on a higher level of alert. There were only 12 seconds between the knock and Ryan opening the door. The officer's tactical positioning may have placed them out of the range of the peep hole.
A better system is to have a surveillance camera. If he wanted to see who was outside, he had to open the door. There wasn't a security door, to place a barrier between the person inside and the person outside. Any of those things might have prevented the deadly interaction with police which followed Ryan's opening of the door. Even a chain on the door, and looking through the crack, when the door is opened, might have prevented this tragedy. Stepping outside his door made Ryan more vulnerable.
If Ryan had known the police were outside his apartment, he, very likely, would have acted differently. A mere verbal “Phoenix Police” is not enough, even if it were louder. An officer visible in the peep-hole or security door would have allowed a more complete evaluation. At a minimum, an officer should be visible through a peephole. Does Phoenix police training suggest they hide from view like criminals? We will likely find out.
The edited Body camera footage was released on 15 July. We can see why the police were reluctant to release the footage. This strategy by the police has been shown to be a losing strategy. The lack of transparency by the police leads people to believe the police are hiding something.
Body cameras, ubiquitous cell phone video, security cameras are all moving us into an age where there will be little privacy in urban areas. Police, in particular, will have all of their actions recorded and scrutinized.
Ryan Whitaker paid a high price in what appears to be a police over-reaction. Video does not tell everything, but there seems to be little else in this situation. If Ryan had a record of violence, it would have emerged by now. There is no indication Ryan was a threat to the police.
The service records of the police are not yet public. There is an ongoing lawsuit. The officer who shot Ryan has been with the Phoenix PD for three years. He is said to be 30+ years old. We will see if he was trained in a state which does not respect the Second Amendment, such as California or New Jersey.
These situations, as shocking as they are, as tragic as they are, are rare and infrequent.
At about this time last year, the Phoenix PD had shot 10 people and killed 8 in 2019. As explained in this article in the Phoenix New Times a year ago, the Phoenix PD has an unusually high level of police involved shootings and deaths.
Shootings of citizens who answer a door, by criminals, and home invasions by criminals, are far more common that the shooting of a legitimately armed citizen at the door, by police. Phoenix is a large, urban department. Large, urban departments have more crime and more incidents. Even so, the level of police shootings in Phoenix is considerably higher than average. The world is not a perfect place.
Overall, the United States police are professional, competent, and careful.
I discussed this incident with a retired police officer who has been involved in hundreds of incidents where a person who was not the police, was armed. He was a firearms and tactics trainer for much of his career.
I did not tell him any conclusions I had. First, he watched the body camera video from the officer who did not shoot. His conclusion was the video was inconclusive, because we could not see Ryan's right hand after he stepped back.
Then he watched the video from the body camera of the officer who shot.
He said: “He shot too soon. The Phoenix PD is going to be paying out a lot of money. ”
The job of a policeman is getting more difficult, and less rewarding.
The more the police lose the trust of the population, the harder their job becomes. We need to stop that downward spiral. It can and has been done. The far left has demonized the police all out of proportion. The United States has made great progress in the last 50 years.
Defunding the police is not the answer. More transparency and accountability is. We are moving in that direction.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.