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Nogales police, Santa Cruz deputies sued in shooting death of truck driver

Nogales police, Santa Cruz deputies sued in shooting death of truck driver

Officers fired dozens of rounds during 'chaotic' scene in Walmart parking lot

  • The truck driven by Glen Ray Cockrum, Jr. in the Walmart parking lot.
    Lidia Terrazas/Nogales InternationalThe truck driven by Glen Ray Cockrum, Jr. in the Walmart parking lot.

Nogales Police officers and Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputies face a federal lawsuit after shooting and killing a 39-year-old man as he drove a "lumbering" semi-tractor through a Walmart parking during an incident in May 2021.

In the lawsuit filed this week, Tucson attorney Paul Gattone argued that police officers were "exasperated" with Glen Ray Cockrum, Jr. after he led officers on an hour-long chase from the city to the Border Patrol's checkpoint on Interstate 19 before crossing the median, and returning to Nogales where he drove his semi-tractor trailer into the busy parking lot along Nogales' main thoroughfare.

Even a year later, key details about the shooting remain "murky," Gattone wrote.

A warehouse employee said Cockrum flashed a knife, and later, he made a throat-slitting gesture to sheriff's deputies, however, Cockrum also made an effort to avoid police vehicles during the chase and drove at the speed limit. However, in the parking lot, Gattone described a “chaotic” situation where officers failed to communicate, and even after the first salvo of shots, a sergeant and the chief of Nogales Police failed to intervene.

After officers confronted him and attempted to disable his vehicle—including an attempt to throw a "flash bang" grenade into the cab— Cockrum put the truck in gear and drove past officers. At that point officers "decided" to kill him, Gattone wrote, unleashing dozens of rounds in multiple salvos, with some officers running beside the slow-moving truck, emptying their guns into the cab.

Nine officers fired 122 rounds into his vehicle in under 90 seconds, striking Cockrum at least three times, Gattone wrote.

Gattone filed the 29-page lawsuit on behalf of Cockrum's mother Cora Waller against the City of Nogales, Santa Cruz County, and eight police officers and deputies.

In court documents, Gattone wrote Cockrum—known by family and friends as R.C.—sat in the truck refusing to speak at one point, and officers converged on him from multiple directions. He said officers failed to recognize Cockrum's behavior was "consistent with a mental health crisis" and moved to use deadly force even when Cockrum's only offense was trespassing—a misdemeanor.

Even after he fled from officers in his truck, Gattone said cellphone footage showed he drove at a "slow rate of speed, intentionally avoiding the parked law enforcement vehicles and officers."

"Cellphone footage also shows a Border Patrol agent standing next to his marked vehicle with his hands at his side, apparently unconcerned with Cockrum’s behavior," Gattone wrote.

In a statement, Cockrum's mother said her son, a long-haul truck-driver based with roots in Arkansas was a "hard-worker" who would "go out of his way to buy groceries for strangers in need. He loved his family. The officers acted as the judge, jury, and executioner."

Sasha Jones, described as a "former romantic partner"  described R.C.'s generosity. "He would have given his shirt off his back or last dollar in his pocket if someone needed it. He is loved and missed beyond measure, and will forever be a missing a piece of our hearts," she said.

Gattone said Nogales Police Department has a "history of needlessly escalating interactions with individuals suspected only of minor offenses and who pose no threat, adding the agency has "developed a habit of reflexively relying on excessive force when confronted with such non-violent situations."

Further, he argued that the nine officers who fired their weapons had "no idea why their colleagues had initiated a vehicle chase in the first place."

In October, the Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office said that all 10 officers involved in the shooting were justified in using lethal force, the Nogales International reported.

In a letter dated Oct. 15, County Attorney George Silva said after a "thorough review of reports, witness statements, audio recordings, photographs and other supporting material, I find that the shootings were justified."

On Thursday, the federal court issued a summons to the City of Nogales and assigned the case to U.S. District Court Judge Raner C Collins. Hearings have not been scheduled.

At warehouse, driver flashes knife

The incident began around 11:45 a.m. when a warehouse employee asked Cockrum to move his vehicle because it was blocked several loading bays. Cockrum responded by flashing a knife.

Cockrum "never made verbal threats to the employee, never spoke to the employee, never climbed down from the elevated truck cab, and never approached the employee on foot," Gattone wrote. The warehouse employee texted a family member who works as a 911 dispatcher "seeking advice." The dispatcher sent a Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Deputy to the scene who found Cockrum had moved his truck to a neighboring produce warehouse.

The deputy walked up to Cockrum's truck, but the driver remained seated and said nothing to the deputy. However, while seated in his truck, he "displayed a knife and made a gesture as if slitting his own throat," Gattone wrote. Additional deputies arrived, along with two Border Patrol agents, and as the deputies pointed their sidearms at the truck, Cockrum put the truck into gear and drove away, eventually getting onto the frontage road for Interstate 19. As Cockrum drove his white semi-tractor with an attached trailer, police officers pursued him, reaching a maximum speed of 69 miles per hour on the interstate.

Up to this point, three law enforcement agencies had been alerted to Cockrum’s flight: the Border Patrol, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety," wrote Gattone. "The Nogales Police Department was yet unaware of what was transpiring approximately 30 miles north of its jurisdiction."

As Cockrum approached the Border Patrol's I-19 checkpoint, officers were "concerned" how the truck driver might respond, and worried that he might attempt to "ram vehicles in his path." Cockrum slowed "well in advance" and then crossed over the median "in an apparent effort to circumvent the Border Patrol checkpoint," Gattone wrote.

Border Patrol agents drew their weapons, and the truck made a U-turn, the trailer swinging close enough the agents were forced to "quickly step back," Gattone wrote. A Santa Cruz County deputy fired several shots at the tires of Cockrum's truck as he maneuvered to head south on I-19. Nogales Police officers Gerardo Batriz and Jose Pimienta began to follow the truck, joining "the growing law enforcement pursuit of the vehicle operated by an unknown driver who posed an unknown risk."

Pimenta told investigators he knew "only that something caused their law enforcement partners to take interest in Cockrum and that something motivated Cockrum to evade the Border Patrol checkpoint." As police followed behind, Cockrum drove his truck 60 to 67 miles per hour down the interstate toward Nogales.

Police began to block highway exits, despite the blockades Cockrum decided to leave I-19 at Exit 8, the first main exit for the City of Nogales. As Gattone puts it, Cockrum "carefully maneuvered his truck around the two parked, unoccupied police vehicles that had been placed there to block his exit. The two officers watched from a nearby embankment as Cockrum intentionally avoided crashing into their vehicles."

He ran two stop lights, but "perplexingly" he came to a complete stop at a third stop light, Gattone wrote. As he drove along, he passed Bermudez, who was standing in an intersection directing traffic at Mariposa Road. Bermudez told investigators he locked eyes with Cockrum, and as he raised his arms in what he called a "what the hell" gesture, Cockrum flipped him off and kept driving.

leaders 'failed to intercede'

In the lawsuit, Gattone described a chaotic and evolving situation. While Nogales Police Sgt. Nicholas Acevedo and NPD Chief Roy Bermudez were on scene, "neither asserted his authority to coordinate the chaotic scene." At one point Jose Pimienta, a NPD officer, radioed "asking for authorization to use deadly force," Gattone wrote, adding "There was no response."

Further, leaders "failed to intercede between the first volley of gunshots" and the second volley that "caused Cockrum's death," Gattone wrote.

Bermudez told his officers "We need to stop this guy," but also told investigators he "had no idea why the truck was being chased," Gattone wrote. "He knew only that 'the truck didn't wanna' stop.'"

"Most of the nine shooting officers later admitted that they had no idea why their colleagues had initiated a vehicle chase in the first place," Gattone wrote. "One year and hundreds of pages of investigative reports later, we are still left with a murky picture of why officers believed it necessary to engage in a lengthy police chase and shootout," Gattone wrote. 

"As the police chase commenced, the driver was suspected – at most – of misdemeanor trespass," he wrote. Cockrum "exchanged no words with law enforcement, made no verbal threats to officers or civilians, and at all times remained in the cab of his truck." 

One officer, Deputy Joseph Bunting said he arrived at the scene, but didn't "know quite what was going on," Gattone wrote. "At most, Defendant Bunting had a vague understanding that the subject may have possessed a knife. Upon information and belief Defendant Bunting didn’t learn the back story until after Cockrum was dead."

"As the day proceeded, the driver had racked up – at most – a few additional minor offenses: speeding in a construction zone, running two red lights, and a slow-speed fender bender in the parking lot."

Cellphone video from the incident compiled by the Nogales International shows Cockrum driving his truck slowly through a warehouse lot as two Santa Cruz Sheriff's deputies walk away. Later, the video shows Cockrum's truck in the packed Walmart parking lot. As the truck rolls long, there's a single shot, followed by a second salvo, and then gunfire erupts in a rapid series of shots. As gunfire rang out, some officers yelled out "Crossfire" worried they'd be hit by bullets from fellow officers, Gattone wrote.

In the video, the truck's window is pockmarked by at least five shots as the truck wheezes along.

During the confrontation in the Walmart lot, a Nogales police officer cut one of the brake lines, "hoping to lock up the rear tires," Gattone wrote. In the video, white smoke pours from the locked tires as the truck skids down White Park Drive toward Grande Avenue with at least six police vehicles in pursuit.

The truck continued along Grande Avenue until police, waiting in the middle of the street, again fired their weapons. The video shows a fusillade of gunfire as some bullets hit the truck, and others strike an embankment. At least two police officers approach the truck with rifles and spend several moments trying to get into the truck where Cockrum was fatally wounded.

Gattone said that the officers that day failed to follow long-standing policies not to fire into moving vehicles.

"Long ago, the law enforcement community coalesced around the principle that officers should not shoot into moving vehicles," Gattone wrote. "The notion that shooting into moving vehicles is more harmful than helpful was famously embraced by the nation’s largest municipal police department fifty years ago. In 1972, the NYPD banned the practice. Since then, most of the nation’s large police departments have followed suit, including: Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle, Tucson, Washington, DC."

"Neither the Nogales Police Department nor the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office heeded this advice," he wrote. Command staff, he argued "knew of the heightened risk to both suspects and members of the public in shooting into moving vehicles."

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