How Phoenix Man's Death Became Latest Flashpoint in Police Relations

PHOTO: A mug shot of Rumain Brisbon after a February 2012 charge at the Arizona Department of Corrections.PlayArizona Department of Corrections
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Protesters in Phoenix are outraged over a new shooting death involving a black man and a white police officer.

Rumain Brisbon, 34, was fatally shot twice in the torso Tuesday after being chased by a police officer following a call about an alleged drug sale. Police said they confused a pill bottle in Brisbon's pocket for a gun.

About 150 people marched to the Phoenix police headquarters Thursday night to protest the fatal shooting, The Associated Press reported.

Brisbon's death was the latest of several high-profile fatalities involving white officers and black civilians, including the death of Eric Garner in New York. Garner died after being put in an apparent choke hold by a police officer. Other cases have included the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting death in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed by a police officer who allegedly mistook a toy gun for the real thing.

The Phoenix Police Department said it does not plan to release the name of the 30-year-old white officer who shot Brisbon, but added that the county attorney's office will be investigating the shooting, a routine step when such incidents involve police officers. A Phoenix Police Department spokesman said the officer has been on the force for seven years and does not have any prior complaints against him.

The Phoenix incident began when a caller told authorities a black man with an SUV was selling drugs at a 7-11 convenience store. An officer investigating a nearby burglary was dispatched with the description of the man and his license plate number, Phoenix police said.

The car was traced to an address, and police received a second call claiming a man in a Cadillac SUV, which they believed was the same vehicle as in the first report, was selling drugs at an apartment complex, officials said.

PHOTO: People gather to protest the shooting of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Dec. 4, 2014.Navideh Forghani/abc15.com
People gather to protest the shooting of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Dec. 4, 2014.

The officer found the car and saw two men in the vehicle, one of whom -- later identified as Brisbon -- got out and appeared to get something out of the back seat, police said.

The officer "gave several commands" for Brisbon to show him his hands, but he put his hands at his waistband, prompting the officer to draw his weapon, according to police. Brisbon ran towards a corridor leading to the apartments.

The officer caught up and a struggle ensued, police said.

"The officer believed he felt the handle of a gun while holding the suspect's hand in his pocket," a police news release read.

"The officer was unable to maintain his grip on the suspect’s hand during the struggle," the release added. "Fearing Brisbon had a gun in his pocket the officer fired two rounds striking Brisbon in the torso."

The hard object that the police officer felt was a pill vial containing Oxycodone, police said in the release. A later search of the vehicle found that there was a gun inside the car along with a jar "containing what is believed to be marijuana."

Phoenix Police public affairs Sgt. Trent Crump told ABC News that a representative from the county attorney's office was "on the scene and will see it through."

Court records show that, in addition to being charged repeatedly with DUI and minor traffic violations, Brisbon has pleaded guilty in at least three cases involving marijuana possession or use.

Attempts to reach Brisbon's family were not immediately successful.

The Rev. Oscar Tillman, a national NAACP board member who has lived and worked in Phoenix for decades, has been in touch with Brisbon’s mother.

“She don’t want this as a black-white issue,” Tillman told ABC News. “She wanted it to be that a young man was killed.

PHOTO: People gather to protest the shooting of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Dec. 4, 2014.Navideh Forghani/abc15.com
People gather to protest the shooting of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix, Dec. 4, 2014.

“The family is very devastated and from talking to the family," he added. "First of all, I did not detect anger. I detected just total hurt."

Tillman told the AP that he has met with Police Chief Daniel Garcia and received a call from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

"That says something in a community when you're able to, bright and early less than 12 hours after it happened, sit down with the police chief and his top staff and communicate with the county attorney," Tillman told the AP.

He added that he wants local officials speak to the black community about the incident, but that he is reserving final judgment until he is able to speak to witnesses and learn more about the circumstances of the shooting.

"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 told the AP.

National civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has spoken out repeatedly this week over the decision by a grand jury not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Garner, have called for an end to police shootings.

"How many people have to die for people to realize this is not an illusion? This is something America needs to deal with," he said on Wednesday shortly after a grand jury decision not to indict the officer involved in the Staten Island, N.Y. incident.

Today marks the start of a pilot program testing body cameras for certain New York City police officers, and the technology has been suggested nationally as a solution to police abuses. Crump told ABC News that while "we do have a few officers doing a pilot program with cameras, there were none in this case."