Statement from Councilwoman Lee

In a time when our country is mourning and angered from so many tragic losses - all while working toward meaningful reform within America’s police departments - it pains me to learn of an April in-custody death of a fellow Tucsonan. My heart goes out to his family and friends as they live through the painful grieving process. I pray for their strength as they try to heal from this incredible loss.

 

Out of respect for the family, I have not spoken about this incident until now. I wanted to honor the family and give them time to meet with Tucson Police Department’s (TPD) police chief, Chris Magnus, for a personal conversation and to view the body camera footage of the incident prior to the public notification. I also felt it critical to allow for formal press conferences and proper notification to the public to ensure transparency and accountability, and felt it was critical that the public is given all of the facts up-front - directly from TPD - as we experience this loss together as a community.

I was first made aware, by our City Attorney and Chief Magnus, of an in-custody death on June 16, 2020.Time was needed to finish the legal investigation and gather all necessary information to include in the notification to the public, including any disciplinary actions for the 3 officers involved as well as lessons learned and recommendations for departmental improvements.

On June 22, I watched the same body camera video that has now been released to the public. It was incredibly difficult to watch, and even more difficult to listen to. In spite of the years of work that TPD has done to ensure that officers are trained and prepared to deal with the unimaginable situations that they walk into every day, it was determined - by the TPD-initiated investigation - that the 3 officers involved in this incident violated policies and acted in a way that is inconsistent with TPD’s highest value - the sanctity of life. It was determined that excessive force was not used in this incident, however the 3 officers violated policies and have since resigned. The case will be reviewed by the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

We are in the midst of a long overdue national conversation about transparency and accountability in America’s police departments, and an even longer overdue conversation about systemic racism. Each in-custody death has its own tragic story, and it’s critical that each incident be viewed through the lens of facts and context. I am committed to the values of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement. We must swiftly act on the lessons that have been learned from this tragedy and make every change necessary to help our community heal and move forward together. 

I support what Chief Magnus has done to transform the Tucson Police Department.  This case shows there is more work to be done, and I believe he and his leadership team are the right individuals to lead us through this tough time.