Ex-Tucson cop to face manslaughter charges for fatally shooting man in wheelchair
Former TPD Officer Ryan Remington investigated for months in death of Richard Lee Richards, who had shoplifted a toolbox & threatened a store worker
Ryan Remington, a former Tucson police officer, has been indicted on a charge of manslaughter in the Nov. 2021 killing of Richard Lee Richards, a man in a motorized wheelchair who died after being shot in the back nine times when confronted over a shoplifting incident.
Nearly nine months after the fatal encounter, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover made a public statement Thursday afternoon about the investigation that led the criminal charge against Remington, who was indicted by a grand jury on one charge of manslaughter on Wednesday.
Remington was indicted late Wednesday, and served Thursday morning with a summons to appear in court, Conover told reporters, describing the review of the case as "careful, calculated and thorough."
The former officer, who was fired over the incident, will be arraigned in Superior Court next Thursday afternoon, defense attorney Mike Storie told the Tucson Sentinel.
Remington, a former Tucson Police Department officer, has faced an investigation and potential criminal prosecution in the death of Richards, who had shoplifted a toolbox and threatened a store worker on Nov. 29, 2021.
Storie, Remington's attorney, confirmed Thursday that the ex-cop had been indicted, telling the Sentinel that the long delay was "ridiculous."
Richards' family said "they are relieved" that Remington "will face the prospect of justice for the shooting and killing of Mr. Richards," and will soon file a lawsuit against the ex-cop, their attorneys said.
Remington was quickly fired by TPD after the deadly shooting just outside of a Lowe's home improvement store on Tucson's South Side.
Chris Magnus, at the time TPD's chief, said he was "deeply disturbed and troubled" by Remington's action. Current TPD Chief Chad Kasmar completed the process of terminating Remington from the force in January.
"This tragedy greatly impacted the Tucson community and this department," Kasmar said Thursday. "This is now a matter for the courts to adjudicate."
The Tucson cop shot and killed Richards, 61, as he attempted to roll into the store, hitting him nine times in the back. Remington was working on a "special duty assignment" as a security guard when he responded to a call from Walmart employees that Richards had shoplifted a toolbox, and threatened an employee with a knife.
"Charging decisions, especially involving incidents in which a loss of life has occurred, are not made in this office based on emotion," said Conover in a video released last December, about two weeks after the shooting. "They are based on a deliberative review of all the facts and all the evidence at hand. It is our obligation, my obligation, to get these decisions right, not rushed, while strictly ensuring the rights of the accused as embodied in our Constitution and laws."
Conover said that a critical incident review group, which includes senior homicide prosecutors and experienced attorneys would conduct a "complete review" of the evidence, and determine whether to indict Remington on criminal charges.
Conover said last December that the Pima County Attorney's Office would investigate the case, and that a decision to prosecute Remington would come after "deliberative review." Thursday, she said that two experienced prosecutors from outside her office, ex-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and former Maricopa, Arizona and federal prosecutor Don Conrad, assisted in reviewing the case.
Although Conover announced she would hold a "press conference," she took no questions from reporters on Thursday.
"There is no joy in this announcement, no joy," she said, reading from a prepared statement. "I cannot turn back the hands of time. Not for Mr. Richards and not for Mr. Remington and his colleagues."
Conover said ethical duties keep her from commenting on the facts of the case, which her office is prosecuting, but noted that it "appears now this case will go to trial."
Praising the "extraordinary hard work of so many" in reviewing the case, the county attorney said she was committed to Remington's "constitutional rights to a fair trial," and that "despite considerable pressure to rush to judgement, (we) took careful, calculated, and thorough steps to come to this decision. We took the time we needed to get it right."
"By early summer, it became clear we would begin the work to convene a grand jury to consider criminal charges," she said. "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."
After finishing her statement, Conover took her notes and left the room, exiting via a different door than the one she used to enter the room at PCAO headquarters Downtown.
On Nov. 30, 2021, Magnus, who resigned as chief after being confirmed as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced that Remington, a four-year veteran of TPD, was being fired after violating "multiple aspects" of the department's use-of-force policy when he shot Richards.
"His use of deadly force in this incident was a clear violation of department policy," said Magnus. "As a result the department moved earlier today to terminate Officer Remington."
In a statement last year, Mayor Regina Romero called Remington's actions "unconscionable and indefensible."
Thursday, she said the matter was before the courts, and referred questions to the County Attorney's Office. "I will continue to work alongside our Chief of Police Chad Kasmar to ensure that we get to the root causes that prevent tragedies like this in our community," she said.
Storie said it was "ridiculous that it has taken this long" and "ridiculous" that Remington was indicted in the case. On Thursday, he also criticized Magnus and Romero for making comments just 24 hours after the incident, calling their statements "horribly irresponsible" and saying the manslaughter indictment was the result of "political theater."
The attorneys for Richards' family and estate called the prosecution "a step in the right direction," and told the Sentinel that a civil suit will be filed against the former officer "in the next few weeks."
"There must be accountability for Mr. Richards’s death, to the community and to his family," said Rick Resch, of the Madison, Wis., firm Strang Bradley. "No police officer is above the law, and Mr. Richards was not beneath the law. None of us are."
"We wanted to make sure that the Pima County Attorney's Office had the time and space to complete their investigation and make a charging decision," said another family attorney, John Bradley. "We also wanted Pima County citizens, sitting on a grand jury, to fulfill their duties without our involvement."
With the indictment handed up, a civil rights lawsuit will be filed soon, he said.
The incident started at a Walmart at 1650 W. Valencia Rd. around 6 p.m. on Nov. 28, when Richards reportedly stole a toolbox from the store, Magnus said. A Walmart employee tried to stop Richards and asked for a receipt, and Richards brandished a knife, telling the worker, "Here's your receipt," Magnus said.
Before videos of the incident were shown to reporters, Magnus warned that "What you're about to see is disturbing."
The two-minute video, which includes security camera footage from the parking lot and the home improvement store, as well as video from Remington's body-worn camera, shows the incident.
"The video is jarring," said Conover last year. "And, the video represents but a fraction of the evidence we must evaluate to determine if criminal charges are warranted in this incident."
In the video, Remington, who was working as a security guard that night, joined the Walmart employees, and began walking behind Richards — who was riding a mobility scooter — through a parking lot. Video of the incident from security cameras shown by Magnus on Tuesday showed Remington walking between cars, trailing Richards, along with TPD Officer Stephanie Taylor, who responded to the Walmart incident.
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," a news release from Magnus said Tuesday night.
Body-camera video showed that the two officers were following closely behind Richards. As he got close to the garden entrance of the Lowe's store, across the street and parking lots from the Walmart at 1800 W. Valencia Rd., officers again ordered him to stop.
As Richards headed into the Lowe's in his powered wheelchair, the two officers began to run after him, telling him to halt.
He ignored their order.
As recorded in the videos, Remington warned Taylor, the other officer, that "He's got a knife in his other hand."
"Do not go into the store, sir," said Taylor. "Stop now, you need to…."
At that moment, Remington pulled out his sidearm and fired a salvo of shots, followed by one last shot.
The man in the wheelchair slumped over, and then crumpled to his left, onto the ground.
As Taylor went to check on the injured man, Remington said he'd get his "I-FAK," a term for a medical kit, and began to run. Taylor grabbed Richards' arms and began handcuffing him, the video showed.
Richards was declared dead at the scene, Magnus said.
Storie said the incident lasted for five minutes, and the body-cam footage that was released 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."
One of the attorneys for Richards' family said Thursday that "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 5 miles per hour," Bradley said in a written statement. "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."
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.
Remington was hired by TPD on Jan. 6, 2017, officials said. His termination was effective a day before his fourth anniversary on the force, last January.
Previous Pima County Attorney declined to prosecute officers
The Remington case is a test for Conover, who was elected to her position in November 2020 on a platform of progressive reform. Prosecutions against law enforcement officers in Pima County have been rare, even in cases that have prompted national outcries.
In 2020, the Pima County Attorney's Office — then led by Barbara LaWall — declined to prosecute three officers who resigned before they could be fired after they forcibly restrained a 27-year-old man and killed him during an incident in April 2020.
An internal investigation found that the three officers — Samuel Routledge, Ryan Starbuck and Jonathan Jackson — showed "showed complete disregard" for their training, "but most importantly an apparent indifference or inability to recognize an individual in medical distress and take the appropriate action."
Carlos Ingram-Lopez died on April 21 when the three officers pinned him to the floor of a garage, and despite his protests that he couldn't breathe, they placed a "spit sock" over his head, and left him there for nearly 12 minutes.
Ingram-Lopez's death became national news after TucsonSentinel.com broke news of a months-long cover-up and Tucson police officials released body-cam footage during a press conference on June 24, more than two months after the incident occurred, showing a partial view often obscured by darkness of the enclosed garage and the officers' movement.
An independent pathologist, hired by the Ingram-Lopez's family found that he died from suffocation.
In May, Conover's office found no grounds to bring charge against an off-duty TPD officer who was involved in a fight with two women outside a Midtown restaurant last November.
Prosecutors said they would likely be unable to convince a jury to convict the officer, who was not on duty at the time of the incident in the parking lot of Culinary Dropout, 2543 E. Grant Rd.
Video captured during the incident in November 2021 showed Robert Szelewski pinning two women to the ground.
The women accused Szelewski of "coming really fast" at them in his car, while Szelewski said that one woman "assaulted" him.
PCAO officials said they completed their investigation after reviewing surveillance video, body-worn camera video, interviews, a written statement from one of the women involved, and photos of the incident.
The investigation concluded that one woman "approached Szelewski in an 'aggressive manner' leading to his actions to restrain that woman and another who tried to intervene."
“Based on discrepancies between what witnesses observed, as well as video evidence, there is not sufficient evidence to issue charges against Robert Szelewski,” Dan South, the chief criminal deputy to Pima County Attorney Laura Conover, wrote in a letter to Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar, according to PCAO. Prosecutors publicly announced the decision Wednesday evening, but did not provide a complete copy of that letter.