Phoenix, AZ — Ryan Whitaker, 40, and father of two, had committed no crime, had harmed no one and was merely answering his door when Phoenix police officer Jeff Cooke dumped three rounds into him — killing him in cold blood. The shooting took place in May, and the officers involved have faced no accountability whatsoever. As a result, the taxpayers of Phoenix will be shelling out a record amount of money in the form of a lawsuit.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Phoenix City Council voted unanimously to approve a $3 million settlement with the family of Ryan Whitaker.
“There’s no amount of money that will bring my brother back or ease that pain. It’s just really hard,” said Katie Baeza, Whitaker’s older sister.
The incident started over a noise complaint from Whitaker’s upstairs neighbor and ended with the murder of an innocent father. A family for the attorney described the call to police about the noise as “exaggerated” which put Whitaker and his girlfriend Brandee Nees’ lives in danger. He also said the police knew this.
“The Phoenix Police Department knew from the night of the shooting that this was a false and exaggerated 911 call,” Matthew Cunnigham, the family’s lawyer said.
The nosy neighbor from upstairs — without any evidence — called police claiming they heard a loud argument that may be getting physical.
The caller even said on the 911 recording that they claimed it was “physical” just to get the cops out there faster.
“It could be physical,” the caller told a 911 dispatcher. “I could say yeah if that makes anybody hurry on up. Get anybody here faster.”
But there was no domestic dispute at all. Whitaker was playing video games with his girlfriend and the two were just excited about it.
That was all the caller said, nothing else. In fact, it was so vague that officer Cooke and his partner officer John Ferragamo joked about how ridiculous it was as they walked to Whitaker’s front door.
“Did you like all that helpful info we got from our complainant?” Ferragamo is heard telling Cooke as they walk to Whitaker’s apartment, according to the footage.
“‘I’m just gonna say yes to all the questions to get the officers here faster,’” Ferragamo says, mocking the caller.
As the video shows, the officers knock at the door, say ‘police’, and then step out of view of the peephole, not letting the people inside see who is actually there. Literally, any criminal in the world could do the same thing.
Because strangers had harassed Whitaker at his apartment a few days earlier, he grabbed his legally owned firearm and answered the door. Three seconds later, he’d be shot in the back, dying on his front porch.
“Hands,” the officer says before opening fire. Whitaker, according to the video appeared to be entirely compliant, yet Cooke opened fire immediately anyway.
“Holy sh-t!” Ferragamo is heard saying after his partner killed the innocent father.
Nees, who was right behind Whitaker and could’ve died too, then exits from the apartment, visibly distraught.
“Why did you guys shoot him?” Nees yelled.
Cooke responds, “He just pulled a gun on us, ma’am.”
But the video shows he “pulled” no gun, was kneeling down, and trying to put the gun on the ground when he was executed.
“Because it’s dark and someone just knocked on the door,” she yelled at Cooke, explaining to her boyfriend’s killer why it was logical for Whitaker to have a gun.
Ferragamo then says, “It’s okay.” It’s unclear if he says this to Cooke or Nees.
But, Nees yells, “It’s not okay.”
At this point, Whitaker is still dying on the ground in front of his home and neither officer is attempting to save his life.
Nees asks the officers why they are there in the first place and the officers told them they received a call about the yelling. Nees then proceeds to tell the officers Whitaker answered with the gun because a few days earlier, someone suspiciously knocked on his door and fled before he could see them through the peephole.
Sadly, it appears that this was the same thing that happened this time, only it was the cops hiding out of the peephole’s view.
As the conversation continues, the officers realize no crime had taken place and the “yelling” reported by the nosy upstairs neighbor was excitement over a video game the couple was playing.
“Literally we were making salsa and playing Crash Bandicoot, so there may have been some screaming,” she told the officer, according to the video. “It wasn’t domestic violence or anything.”
As Nees watches the love of her life die on the ground in front of her, she pleads with the officers to handcuff her so she can be next to him as he dies. That request was denied.
The officers still haven’t done so much as provided pressure to Whitaker’s wounds. When Nees asks them if they can check to see if he is okay, Ferragamo callously responds, “I’m leaning toward the fact that he’s not.”
“He was at home playing video games and he did nothing wrong. On the contrary, he assumed the position that anybody would, and he still lost his life,” said Councilmember Carlos Garcia during the settlement approval.
Slow-motion video edited by the attorney shows that Whitaker had put the gun down. What’s more, we can see from the video that he was putting his hand up and trying to put the gun down — clearly not threatening anyone with a gun. What’s more, it is entirely legal to answer your door with a gun.
After the shooting, police did not release the body camera footage and only did so after a FOIA request from the Arizona Republic. When they did finally release the video, they did so by selectively choosing information to help justify the shooting.
“They put a narrative out there designed to protect and defend an officer that overreacted,” he said.
After watching the video, it appears that this is exactly what has happened. What’s more, Cunningham leaves a word of advice for any other innocent 2nd Amendment advocates who protect their home from uninvited intruders who show up in the middle of the night.
“This is something that could happen to any of us,” he said. Indeed it can and does.
Unfortunately, Baeza, and other relatives, have been calling for accountability and action for months but to no avail.
“Now I’m on to the county attorney‘s office to find out when someone is going to be held accountable. Back to the Phoenix Police Chief on when are these officers going to be fired,” said Baeza.
Both cops are still gainfully employed with the Phoenix police department and, according to ABC 15, the City of Phoenix is currently staring down 12 open lawsuits, seeking $71,150,000, related to Phoenix PD shootings in the city’s fiscal 2018-19 year.
That is a massive problem.
“I just wish we had a process to not just throw money at this, but actually change policy. Actually hold the police officers accountable,” said Garcia.
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