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Phoenix protesters demand answers after police fatally shoot man parked in driveway

The FBI will conduct an independent civil rights investigation into the shooting, police said Tuesday.
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Protesters in Phoenix are demanding answers after officers fatally shot a man parked in a car in a driveway Saturday afternoon.

Video of the incident shows four officers surrounding a car in the Maryvale neighborhood as bystanders look on and call for them to lower their guns and not to shoot.

The footage doesn't show what happens in the minutes before the recording began or in the seconds immediately before officers open fire. It’s unclear what is going on inside the car as the driver’s window is rolled up. A loud crash can be heard, and then gunshots ring out. The video shows the driver's side window shattered before police break the rest of it, briefly allowing the man's head to hang out.

On Sunday, Phoenix council member Carlos Garcia identified the man who was fatally shot as James "Jay" Garcia. Police confirmed his identity Tuesday, saying Garcia was 28.

The council member spoke to MSNBC on Tuesday and criticized the police department's response and the lack of transparency in the aftermath.

"On behalf of us and the family, we’re continuing to ask for more information for all the body-cam footage to be released. We’re demanding an independent investigation," he said. "I think what we see oftentimes is that the police get to control the entire atmosphere and what happens around the case. We need to see all the evidence and not pieces of it, like we’ve seen in the last couple of days."

The Phoenix Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News regarding the information they have and haven't released. The officers involved in the shooting have not been publicly identified.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced in a statement later Tuesday that she asked the FBI to conduct an independent civil rights investigation into the shooting. She added that the department will work to release body-camera video within 10 to 14 days.

"I've said before and will say again that I don't fear civilian oversight or investigation of our practices from outside agencies," Williams said. "While I'm confident in the investigative work done by my team, I recognize the value of an unbiased outside agency in strengthening the public trust into an investigation."

In a statement Wednesday, the FBI said, "The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona, the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, and the FBI are aware of the Phoenix Police Department's officer-involved shooting that occurred on July 4, 2020 and will review all available evidence to determine if a federal response is warranted."

A vigil was held Monday night for Garcia at the home where he was shot, and on Sunday a group of protesters gathered at Phoenix police's Maryvale precinct to demand that the department release full videos of the incident.

On Tuesday, about 40 protesters took to the streets of Paradise Valley, an affluent neighborhood where Gov. Doug Ducey lives, according to NBC affiliate KPNX.

“Ducey, what I want to tell you, I want you to do a better job policing your police,” one protester said. Ducey's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

The Phoenix Police Department on Monday released body-camera footage from an officer who was on the scene after the shooting but was not involved in the shooting, and said "releasing body-worn camera footage from the officers directly involved before all witness and officer interviews are completed could compromise the investigation."

Syndication: Phoenix
Protesters light candles during a Justice for James Garcia rally in Phoenix on July 6, 2020.Patrick Breen / The Republic via Imagn

Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said "social media posts include misinformation about the facts that led up to the shooting."

A statement from police said officers responded to the neighborhood because a man called 911 saying "he had been stabbed in June and reported that the person responsible was back in the area threatening him."

In a 911 call released by police, the man says: "Last week, somebody hit me with a knife and I go to the hospital for a couple of days, and the police looking for the guy, and the guy’s right here — tried to do, tried to do the same thing again."

The man who made the call told officers at the scene that "the man who stabbed him had a knife and another person had a gun," according to police. "He directed officers to a house on Glenrosa where they made contact with several people including a man inside of the vehicle in the driveway."

Officers said they talked to that man for about 10 minutes, but when they asked him to leave his car so they could secure the scene, "he refused and eventually rolled up the windows and pulled out a gun," according to the statement from police.

"Officers ordered the man to drop the gun, but he refused. The man repeatedly told officers to shoot him and lifted the gun toward officers. That's when two officers fired their weapons," according to the police statement.

Body-camera video from the officer not directly involved shows officers removing a gun from the front part of the car the man was in. It's unclear if the man who was shot was the man police were looking for due to the initial 911 call.

Police told NBC News in a statement Tuesday that they were working to confirm whether Garcia was the suspect from the 911 call and said it was difficult to relocate the victim who called.

Daniel Ortega, the attorney representing Garcia's family, told The Arizona Republic that Garcia's mother is devastated over the death of her son.

"I think the political climate that we're in regarding police shootings has made police departments, including the city of Phoenix, more willing to provide information on the onset of such a tragedy," Ortega said. "Whether that will continue or if they will do it in this situation will be remained to be seen."

Ortega did not immediately respond to a phone call from NBC News on Tuesday.

Lisa Wagner, the mother of one of Garcia's friends, told the Republic that he was waiting in the driveway for her son when the police came. Wagner was alerted to their presence when the shots rang out.

She described Garcia as "very well mannered" and "an all-around good guy," who was sometimes scared of his own shadow.

“I keep thinking it’s a bad dream and we’re going to wake up and we’re all going to laugh about this, but unfortunately I walk out to my driveway and I realize that it's real,” Wagner told the Republic. “Everyone kind of feels like they (police) murdered Jay."

Locals want more police accountability

Phoenix police have been under scrutiny by locals for years, with activists demanding the department offer more transparency on its officers' use of force. An analysis on Phoenix police shootings from the Republic in January showed the department "fired at more people than law-enforcement officers did in any other city in the United States" in 2018.

Of the 212 people shot by Phoenix police between 2011 and 2018, about half were killed, according the Republic's data. About 42 percent of the people shot by police were Hispanic, the most of any other race, the newspaper found.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the department in 2017 for records regarding a protest against President Donald Trump where critics said police unnecessarily released pepper spray and tear gas on demonstrators. Police released an internal review in 2018 that revealed officers fired nearly 500 pepper balls as well as smoke grenades, flash bangs and bean-bag rounds, according to NBC affiliate KPNX.

Last year, thousands attended a local community meeting following the department's response to a 4-year-old who took a doll from a dollar store without her parents' knowledge. Phoenix officer Chris Meyer, who was terminated, pulled his gun on the family and kicked one of the parents during an arrest over the doll.

The Phoenix City Council approved funding last month for the city's first police review board, the Office Accountability and Transparency. The civilian-led board will receive $3 million from left over coronavirus relief money, though activists pushed for the funding to come from the police's budget.