Noting that up to half of all fatal U.S. police use-of-force incidents involve people with disabilities, rights advocates on Thursday voiced serious concerns over what they called the "unacceptable" killing of a wheelchair-bound Arizona man by a Tucson police officer who shot the victim nine times in the back on Monday evening.
"The fact that Mr. Richards was a person with a disability is of particular concern because persons with disabilities are more likely to die in an encounter with law enforcement than the general population."
Video released by the Tucson Police Department shows TPD officer Ryan Remington walking behind 61-year-old Richard Lee Richards, who is moving at low speed through the parking lot of a Lowe's home improvement center in his motorized wheelchair after being accused of shoplifting a toolbox from the store and brandishing a knife at employees.
As Richards slowly heads back toward the store entrance, Remington and another officer, Stephanie Taylor, order him to stop. Richards refuses, and Remington fires eight shots from his handgun at the man's back. Remington briefly pauses as Richards slumps forward in his wheelchair; the officer then fires a ninth shot. Remington then roughly handcuffs Richards, who is lying unresponsive on the ground in the store's entrance.
"The fact that Mr. Richards was a person with a disability is of particular concern because persons with disabilities are more likely to die in an encounter with law enforcement than the general population," the Arizona Center for Disability Law and DIRECT Center for Independence wrote in a letter to Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and members of the City Council on Thursday.
"Persons with disabilities are often subject to excessive force and discrimination in their encounters with law enforcement because of bias and stigma regarding disability, whether explicit or implicit," the groups continued.
Romero called Remington's actions "unconscionable and indefensible."
"It is moments like this that test our resolve to ensure justice and accountability," she said in a statement Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, TPD Chief Chris Magnus said he is "deeply troubled" by Remington's actions, whose "use of deadly force in this incident is a clear violation of department policy."
"As a result, the department moved earlier today to terminate Officer Remington," the chief stated.
The advocacy groups' letter cites Remington's "lack of ability to de-escalate the situation" as a primary area of concern. The officer's lawyer, Mike Storie, told media outlets that his client was "trying to talk this guy down and de-escalate" the situation.
The attorney said that Remington "did have a Taser, but in his mind, he couldn't use it because he didn't feel he had the proper spread to deploy it, with the wheelchair between him and Richards."
"Police work is messy at times," Storie added.
However, the groups' letter argues that Remington "used excessive force against an individual with a disability who had his back turned to the officer."
"Situations like this one play out all over the country, in Arizona, and now Tucson," the letter says. "TPD touts on its website that it is a 'progressive police department, engaged in community policing,' as well as being one of just two police departments in the largest 100 cities in the United States to initiate all of the '8 Can't Wait' policies promoted by Campaign Zero's Use of Force Project."
The "8 Can't Wait" reforms include requiring law enforcement officers to de-escalate, warn, and "exhaust all alternatives" before shooting suspects.
"This particular incident met none of those measures," the letter states. "And, any training TPD officers have received put to question the fidelity of the department, especially since this is the second incident in a year in which a TPD officer did not de-escalate a situation concerning a person with a disability."
"These situations are unacceptable," the letter stresses, "especially for a police department that prides itself on being an integral part of the community."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.