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New regional team to investigate police shootings, in-custody deaths in Tucson, Pima County

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New regional team to investigate police shootings, in-custody deaths in Tucson, Pima County

  • Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos speaking at press conference on Tuesday to announce the new Pima Regional Critical Incident Team
    Bennito L. Kelty/TucosnSentinel.comPima County Sheriff Chris Nanos speaking at press conference on Tuesday to announce the new Pima Regional Critical Incident Team
  • Oro Valley Police Chief Kara Riley speaking at the PRCIT press conference.
    Bennito L. Kelty/TucosnSentinel.comOro Valley Police Chief Kara Riley speaking at the PRCIT press conference.
  • Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar speaking at PRCIT press conference.
    Bennito L. Kelty/TucosnSentinel.comTucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar speaking at PRCIT press conference.

Police shootings, deaths of people in custody and other "critical incidents" involving local law enforcement officers will be investigated by a new multi-agency team, Tucson and Pima County officials announced Tuesday.

The Pima Regional Critical Incident Team will include members from the police departments from Tucson, South Tucson, Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita, along with officers from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the University of Arizona, Pima Community College and Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

The team will review incidents such as “an officer-involved shooting, an untimely death, anything that requires law enforcement to be a little bit more transparent with our community,” Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos said. The PRCIT will call on the more than 60 detectives who work for agencies across Pima County to investigate cases of use of lethal or potentially lethal use of force involving officers in the region, Oro Valley Police Chief Kara Riley said, and will report their findings to the Pima County Attorney's Office.

Authorities did not provide information on how many total cases might be handled by the team. TPD alone had 12 shooting incidents involving officers in 2021. At the Pima County Jail, deaths of detainees and inmates that are suspected of resulting from force by corrections officers will be included in the cases investigated by the new team. Other jail deaths will continue to be handled by PCSD detectives.

The PRCIT and their work will add transparency to their investigations of police officers, said Riley, Nanos and other police chiefs who spoke at a press conference on Tuesday. Instead of having the TPD, PCSD or the other departments review incidents involving their own officers or deputies, detectives from other organizations will come in to review these cases.

“This actually makes it a little bit cleaner and easier for the organizations when another organization is running point on a criminal investigation,” TPD Police Chief Chad Kasmar said.

“Transparency is really just that, right. It talks about our openness and our willingness to be honest with not just those who work in our organization but those we serve, particularly our community,” Nanos said. “That’s why this is so critical to us.”

Police departments also have an administrative process for investigating officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and similar incidents that will be unaffected by the PRCIT. Administrative investigations will go through each agency's chain of command and each law enforcement agency in the PRCIT will still have their own internal investigation process for critical incidents, Nanos said. This includes Tucson's Sentinel Event Review Board, or SERB, which reviews incidents for the TPD and includes members of the community and the police department. The PRCIT will strictly look at what’s happened in the criminal investigation side, Nanos said, and won’t be able make decision like whether to fire officers.

Nanos credited Chief Riley with pitching the idea to him early in his current term as county sheriff, which started in 2021. Riley said that such review teams are becoming commonplace throughout the country and that the Arizona Legislature was already considering laws to create critical incident review teams in the state.

Investigating critical incidents transparently

The PRCIT will focus on how departments conduct criminal investigations when law enforcement is involved in a shooting or uses lethal force, Kasmar said. Law enforcement from the valley region will be trusted with giving input on those investigations, he said.

An example of the kind of case the critical incident team would investigate is TPD officer Ryan Remington's fatal shooting of a man in a wheelchair in the back last November. Kasmar fired Remington in early January after the review, but Remington still faces a criminal investigation by PCAO for the death of Richard Lee Richards, the man who was killed after allegedly stealing a toolbox from a home improvement store.

“There’s really no more significant event that we investigate as organizations (than when law enforcement uses lethal force),” Kasmar said. “It is a massive vote of confidence for me to hand over that responsibility to any of the leadership or organizations that you see behind us.”

Establishing the PRCIT in its first few years will require navigating complexities like separating the criminal and administrative review processes, sticking to a due process of law and observing officer rights, Kasmar said.

“There’s all these things that we have to comply with and obviously, our leadership team had to work through all those complications and nuances as we stood up this new process,” he said.

Similarly, the PRCIT could review incidents like the shooting death of a migrant man by a Border Patrol near Douglas in Cochise County. The PRCIT could review such an incident involving federal officers in Pima County if the federal agency asks for the county’s involvement.

“If there's a federal critical incident within our jurisdictions, we offer that support. We offer to take on criminal investigative responsibilities,” Kasmar said. “But that’s really still done on a case-by-case basis, and I think you’ll see it will continue to be done that way.”

There’s an expectation, however, that the PRCIT will build up enough expertise in criminal investigations officer-involved critical incidents, Nanos said, that federal law enforcement calls on them for review.

“I think there’s great expertise already individually within each agency, but we would hope as a unit we would build enough expertise that, for example, the FBI would call us and say, ‘Hey, could you send your team?’” Nanos said. “And our team wouldn’t be the Sheriff’s Department team; it would be the regional team.”

The team will also prioritize getting information about the critical incident out to the public as soon as possible, Chief Riley said.

“I think in any investigation part of it is trying to get the information out there as fast as we can because the public deserves an answer,” she said. “But we also have to be concerned about the criminal investigation process and the due process of any investigation.

It’s time-consuming to get information out quickly, Riley said, especially when dealing with evidence like body cam footage, but the leaders on the PRCIT will try to get information out quicker than they already do.

Nanos highlighted that TPD was able to make body cam footage publicly available in six minutes, but he’s challenging the PRCIT to get that to five minutes, he said.

“Expediency is important,” he said. “It really is important for us to get that out, but as important as that is, accuracy and the welfare of our officers and our staff and the community has to take the forefront.”

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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