Ex-Phoenix officer found guilty of aggravated assault - FOX 35 News Orlando

Ex-Phoenix officer found guilty of aggravated assault

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Richard Chrisman Richard Chrisman
By BOB CHRISTIE
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- A former Phoenix police officer avoided a second-degree murder conviction Tuesday for shooting and killing an unarmed man three years ago, but he was found guilty of a lesser charge that could send him to prison for several years.

Jurors hearing the case against Richard Chrisman deliberated for about four days before announcing their verdict Tuesday.

They were unable to reach a verdict on the murder charge but convicted Chrisman of aggravated assault for putting a gun to victim Danny Rodriguez's head when he questioned the officer about entering his house without a warrant.

Chrisman was charged after his partner said Chrisman fatally shot Rodriguez and his dog without justification during an October 2010 confrontation at a south Phoenix mobile home. Chrisman, a nine-year veteran of the force, was later fired.

The aggravated assault charge carries a five- to 15-year sentence, with a presumptive term of 7 1/2 years in state prison.

The jury also deadlocked on animal cruelty charges related to the dog killing.

Judge Warren Granville said the jury would reconvene Tuesday afternoon to hear aggravating circumstances that could allow him to impose the maximum sentence.

In court Tuesday, Chrisman wore a dark suit and showed no reaction as the verdict was read. At one point before jurors entered the courtroom, he reached back and squeezed the hand of his wife, who was seated behind him. Other Chrisman supporters at the hearing included more than a dozen off-duty police officers. Family members of Rodriguez sat in the front row on the other side.

After the verdict was read, Chrisman, 39, was taken into custody, and his wife broke down in sobs. Rodriguez's mother, Elvira Fernandez, was hugged by a woman sitting with her and left the court without comment.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez and defense lawyer Craig Mehrens left without comment. Joe Clure, president of the police union, said he respected the jury's work but disagreed with the verdict.

"I believe this decision exemplifies how difficult it is to be a cop today in this country," Clure said.

He noted the trial lasted more than a month, and jurors deliberated for four days. "Rich had a split second to make his decision," Clure said.

The case, to a large degree, boiled down to conflicting accounts from Chrisman and his partner, Officer Sergio Virgillo -- the only two people, besides Rodriguez, inside the trailer to witness the escalating confrontation.

Rodriguez's mother had called police to the home on Oct. 5, 2010, saying her son was violent.

Chrisman and Virgillo confronted Rodriguez at the door of his mother's trailer, and Chrisman forced his way inside.

Rodriguez asked to see a warrant, and prosecutors said Chrisman then put his pistol against Rodriguez's head and told him he didn't need one. Mehrens told jurors that didn't happen, but Martinez said DNA on the officer's pistol and a bruise on the dead man's temple show it happened the way Virgillo testified.

The two officers had difficulty controlling Rodriguez, and both fired their stun guns with little effect. Chrisman used pepper spray on Rodriguez, then shot his dog. Prosecutors say the animal was not threatening the officers.

Virgillo said Rodriguez then got his bicycle and tried to leave the tiny trailer home, but Chrisman wouldn't allow it, and a tussle began. Virgillo testified that Rodriguez was backing away and no longer a threat when Chrisman fired, but Chrisman told jurors he was afraid Rodriguez was going to "smash my brains in" with the bike.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said no decision has been made on whether to retry Chrisman on the second-degree murder and animal cruelty charges.

"We will assess the case and determine the most appropriate course of action," Montgomery said in a statement.

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Statement by Phoenix Civil Rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin

Today's verdict has delivered partial Justice to a family and community that too often go without it, when the perpetrators of fatal violence and brutality are police. Richard Chrisman killed Daniel Rodriguez. He will now begin to pay the price for violating his civil and human rights. When I eulogized Daniel, I urged the community to demand, from God and Government, Justice for the taking of the life of this young Latino man. We found, in the course of this trial, that Daniel was not Chrisman's only victim. He also abused his powers as an officer of the law to assault, frame, and violate the dignity of a mentally ill Black woman. Only in this moment, can the community say the right thing was done. The City of Phoenix didn't do it. The Phoenix Police Department didn't do it. A jury did it. Chrisman is guilty. The community thanks this jury for their service. We also look forward to a day when Chrisman will face the murder charge, and we look forward, God willing, to a more integrated jury.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press modified.

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