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Manslaughter case vs. ex-Tucson cop dismissed after new grand jury declines to indict

Manslaughter case vs. ex-Tucson cop dismissed after new grand jury declines to indict

Court move preserves Pima County's ability to possibily file charges again; Former TPD officer seeks return to force

  • TPD
  • Pima County Attorney Laura Conover reads a statement to reporters about Remington's case on Aug. 25, 2022.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comPima County Attorney Laura Conover reads a statement to reporters about Remington's case on Aug. 25, 2022.
  • Current TPD Chief Chad Kasmar during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on April 5, 2022.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comCurrent TPD Chief Chad Kasmar during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on April 5, 2022.
  • Activists outside the Pima County Courthouse on Jan. 17, 2023.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comActivists outside the Pima County Courthouse on Jan. 17, 2023.
  • Victoria Richards, the sister of Richard Lee Richards, speaks to reporters following a hearing at the Pima County Courthouse on Jan. 17, 2023.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comVictoria Richards, the sister of Richard Lee Richards, speaks to reporters following a hearing at the Pima County Courthouse on Jan. 17, 2023.

Criminal charges against former Tucson police officer Ryan Remington — who who shot and killed a man in a motorized wheelchair during a confrontation over shoplifting in Nov. 2021 — were dismissed Tuesday after a new grand jury did not indict him.

Remington had been charged with manslaughter in the death of Richard Lee Richards after an earlier grand jury issued an indictment last August.

During a three-minute hearing Wednesday, prosecutor Christopher Ward moved to dismiss the charge against without prejudice, which would allow the Pima County Attorneys Office to pursue charges against the ex-cop in the future. Superior Court Judge Casey F. McGinley accepted the dismissal, despite an objection from Richards' sister, Victoria Richards. 

Remington's attorney, Mike Storie, praised the move and said he would push to get the former officer reinstated with the Tucson Police Department.

Remington was indicted for manslaughter last August after a "deliberative review of the facts" to determine whether to indict the former police officer on criminal charges, announced Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. Remington pleaded not guilty during a hearing in September, and weeks later, his attorneys Mike Storie and Natasha Wrae challenged the indictment, arguing prosecutors presented a report to the grand jury that unintentionally included misleading statements.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Danelle Liwski granted that request and sent the case back to another grand jury. A week ago, the jury handed up a "no bill," declining to find probable cause to charge the former police officer with a crime in the fatal shooting.

During the hearing Wednesday, Ward told the judge that prosecutors were forced to return to the case to a grand jury, who returned with the "no bill" last week. "So, at this point, the state is inclined to move to dismiss the case without prejudice, and we are continuing to review the matter," he said. "We would simply move to dismiss, without prejudice today, to allow the time for the state to review the case going forwards."

McGinley asked if there were any objections, and Victoria Richards stood in the courtroom.

"I just want to make sure this case doesn't just stop here," she said. "I don't know what to say—I want justice to prevail and it doesn't seem like it will. And I'm very upset."

Remington was working on a "special duty assignment" on Nov. 29, 2021, as a security guard when he responded to Walmart employees who said Richards, 61, had shoplifted a toolbox, and threatened a worker with a knife. Body-worn camera footage, combined with surveillance footage showed Remington followed Richards for several minutes as they wound through the parking lot of several stores before Richards attempted to ride into a Lowe's store across the street. At one point, Remington warned fellow officer Stephanie Taylor that "he's got a knife in his other hand."

As Richards rolled over the threshold, Remington fired a salvo of shots, followed by one last shot. Richards slumped in the chair of the motorized scooter, and then crumpled to his left, onto the ground.

The next day, former TPD Chief Chris Magnus — who resigned as chief after being confirmed as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — announced he was firing Remington, a four-year veteran of TPD for violating "multiple aspects" of the department's use-of-force policy when he shot Richards. Magnus said he was "deeply disturbed and troubled" by Remington's actions.

"His use of deadly force in this incident was a clear violation of department policy," Magnus said at the time. "As a result the department moved earlier today to terminate Officer Remington."

After Magnus left, current TPD Chief Chad Kasmar completed the process of terminating Remington from the force in January 2021. While TPD moved to terminate Remington, the Pima County Attorney's Office began a "deliberative review" of the case, said Conover in a video message released that December.

Following Remington's indictment last August, Conover made a public statement about the case, describing the nine-month long review process and adding "by early summer, it became clear we would begin the work to convene a grand jury to consider criminal charges."

"Because the gravity of this case requires handling by a talented, veteran team, our most senior prosecutors and legal staff have been assigned to this complex matter," she said.

Remmington attorney: Dismissal 'appropriate'

Storie, who stood next to Remington along with attorney Wrae, said Wednesday he was expecting the county's dismissal and called it "an appropriate thing to do." He asked for his client to be released from pretrial services and "we'll move on."

Outside the court, Wrae said the county could re-up the case against Remington in the future and until then, the case "just festers on their desk. That's where it sits basically until Ryan is deceased," Wrae said.

Storie said while the state could bring the case back, however, "we put them on notice that if they try to bring it again, we'll come back even stronger at them. But you know, at this point, it they can't get him indicted in front of a grand jury, they should call it a day," he said.

When Conover was asked about the jury's decision last week, she said ethical rules precluded her from speaking about the case. "Victim notification is our focus and top priority at this hour, as the matter continues under our review," Conover told the Tucson Sentinel.

Storie said Remington was in the right in shooting Richards in the back, and argued the "only people who didn't think he was justified were former esteemed chief Magnus and our mayor. Everyone else felt like he was justified. So, now that they're not talking, the people have spoken and said it should go away," Storie said. He called Richards "crazy" and "desperate." "

"He didn't want to go back to prison, and he had a ton of drugs onboard," Storie said.

The wheelchair, or mobility scooter, didn't matter, he argued because Richards "could walk and that means he was a threat to get up out of that scooter and cause chaos in that store."

Wrae agreed, telling reporters "police officers are trained to assume people can walk even though they might be in a mobility scooter or a wheelchair. They have to assume the worst and that this person can be mobile and pose a greater threat to the people around them."

Storie said Remington "had great confidence from the beginning we would be here this day and we would see a dismissal," and he downplayed a nearly-packed courtroom and a small group of activists outside, saying "they should go home and they should be quiet, because this is justice."

"Under the circumstances justice was definitely done," said Wrae. "This is what our criminal justice system is all about a fair and impartial presentment to the grand jury. Once we were able to have a voice there, obviously it worked, the grand jurors found that Ryan didn't do anything wrong."

Storie also told reporters he would seek to reinstate Remington at TPD and if the department refuses, he will pursue to bring the case to the city's Civil Service Commission. "He intends to try to get his job back."

Arizona grand juries meet behind closed doors, reviewing evidence presented to them by prosecutors. It takes a majority vote of the jurors to hand up a "true bill" to indict someone for a specific criminal charge.

Remington 'snapped'

Backed by a half-dozens supporters who carried signs outside the courthouse, including one that said "Convict Remington," Victoria Richards said she "didn't expect this at all."

"When the chief of police  came out and fired him the next day, I just thought 'hallelujah' this is going to go the way it's supposed to. Justice is going to happen," she said. "And I feel like a little technical glitch in a grand jury presentation has blown everything. And I don't understand how you could get off from committing a crime because of a technicality."

Remington may have been "justified in shooting my brother when he brandished that knife, but not after he walked beside him for 10 minutes," she said. "It doesn't take long to figure out my brother's not OK."

Richards said her brother suffered grievous injuries in 1995 when he worked as a wildland firefighter while serving in the state prison system and fell from a 50-foot cliff, crushing the right side of his body.

Remington was "not threatened by my brother. I think he snapped and just unloaded his gun."

"My brother can be very belligerent. I know that. Maybe he said something to him that made him angry when they were walking I don't know, but he didn't have a right to shoot him like that," she said. 

Civil rights, disability lawsuit filed by family

Following Remington's indictment, Richards' family filed a lawsuit, arguing the former police officer's actions were "excessive, unjustifiable, and unnecessary."

The 18-page suit names Remington and the city of Tucson as defendants, and argued Remington violated Richards' right to be "free from unreasonable seizure." It also alleges Richards was discriminated against because of his disability.

"That Remington fired the first eight shots at the back of Richards as he sat there confined in his wheelchair was unconscionable and disturbing," Bradley wrote. "But the pause after the eighth shot, followed by the ninth shot, evidences Remington’s depraved state of mind and ought to shock the conscience of all human beings."

"This lawsuit seeks to achieve a measure of justice for Richard Lee Richards and his survivors by establishing the obvious: An officer cannot shoot in the back and kill a slow-moving shoplifting suspect in a wheelchair, without warning, when no one is in imminent danger," Bradley wrote.

During the hearing in September, Remington's lawyer, Storie, harshly criticized Magnus' statements that day, as well as a statement released by Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, calling them "ridiculous" and "horribly irresponsible."

Storie also said the manslaughter indictment was the result of "political theater."

Storie argued the incident lasted for five minutes, and the body-cam footage released by TPD  failed to show the ways in which Richards could have been a threat as he drove his mobility scooter through the parking lot before the incident escalated. Remington, the defense attorney said, was not required to "gamble his life" on whether Richards was stuck in the scooter, and he added that using other options to stop Richards, including the use of a taser or other less-lethal weapons, were "contrary to Remington's training."

TPD officials have not provided details about how officers are trained to deal with people in wheelchairs, including motorized scooters, and whether they are informed about the location of "off" switches on mobility devices. Many have power switches readily accessible from the back.

At one point, according to a Walmart employee, Richards said "If you want me to put down the knife, you’re going to have to shoot me," according to a statement released by TPD in November 2021.

However, Bradley said in statement "this was not a rapidly changing, dynamic situation where law enforcement officers are called upon to make difficult split-second decisions."

"This was a slow-moving seven-minute walk alongside someone in a battery-powered wheelchair that, according to the manufacturer and the video itself, has a maximum speed of five miles per hour," Bradley said. "The video of Remington shooting and killing Mr. Richards while he was in a wheelchair rightly shocks the conscience of the country. Nothing Mr. Richards did, might have done, or failed to do justified him being shot in the back nine times."

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