Ex-Tucson cop pleads not guilty to manslaughter in fatal shooting of man in wheelchair
Flanked by his attorneys during a hearing Thursday afternoon, former Tucson police officer Ryan Remington pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in the Nov. 2021 killing of Richard Lee Richards.
Remington was indicted by a grand jury on Aug. 24, nearly nine months after the fatal incident, when he shot Richards, 61, nine times in the back as he attempted to roll his mobility scooter into an home improvement store. 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.
Remington appeared before Judge Lee Ann Roads in Superior Court on Thursday afternoon, and she sought to limit his access to firearms following a request from Pima County prosecutors Chris Ward and Bradley Roach. "We're asking that the defendant not be allowed to possess a firearm during the proceedings," Roach told the judge.
Storie protested the move, arguing while Remington was fired "in record time" by TPD, he remains a certified police officer.
"They are expressing the victim's family's wishes," Storie said. "But in this case, while they might say this is the standard for a manslaughter case, this case is not standard." Storie sharply criticized statements from Mayor Regina Romero and Chris Magnus, then TPD Chief, for making public statements about the case.
Chris Magnus, at the time TPD's chief, said he was "deeply disturbed and troubled" by Remington's action, and Romero called Remington's actions "unconscionable and indefensible."
Storie called these statements "ridiculous," and blamed them for statements made by people who are "very heated about this on social media." Instead, he said Remington should be allowed to posses a firearm to defend himself against "wackos."
On Nov. 30, 2021, 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, after he violated "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."
After Magnus left, his replacement TPD Chief Chad Kasmar completed the process of terminating Remington from the force in January. While TPD completed Remington's termination, the Pima County Attorney's Office began a "deliberative review" of the case, said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover in a video message released in December.
Following Remington's indictment, Conover made a public statement about the case, describing the nine-month long review process, 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.
"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."
Attorneys for Richards' family and estate called the prosecution "a step in the right direction," and told the Sentinel last week 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."
In the courtroom Thursday, Storie told the court Remington currently lives with his girlfriend, a TPD officer, and argued she should be able to bring her firearm home. "There's no one person on duty, at any of these agencies who will tell you they feel safe not being armed at every moment—that's the kind of danger they're facing these days," Storie argued.
Roads said she limits access to firearms because of concerns someone could be a danger to themselves during the pressure of a trial.
Storie replied that while Remington had been fired by TPD, he was still given access to mental health expertise and the counselors constantly checked in with their clients.
However, Roads disagreed, crafting an order allowing her weapon in their shared home, but requiring the weapon be locked up from Remington. She told Remington she had to "walk a line."
"I don't know how to protect you with a firearm, I don't know how to protect you without a firearm," she said. But, she said she would take the state's position, and "do what I have always done, order against possession."
Outside, Storie sought to "underplay" this situation, and again blamed Romero and Magnus. "I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen a mayor of this town or a chief of police rush to judgment so irresponsibly, with no qualifications whatsoever."
Magnus and Romero "lit a fire in this town," he said. "I think we've done a great job swinging the pendulum back to a fair level, but you know, that's damage that's hard to undo." He said the case would be managed by a "very responsible judge."
Storie added he would seek to get the grand jury transcripts, and immediately seek to challenge the case on those grounds "right out of the gate."
Remington will have a case management conference on Oct. 4 in front of Judge Danelle Liwski.
Remington will also face a civil rights lawsuit launched by Richards' family.
'What you're about to see is disturbing'
The incident started at a Walmart at 1650 W. Valencia Rd. around 6 p.m. last Nov. 28, when Richards reportedly stole a toolbox from the store, then-Chief Magnus said at a press conference two days later. 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 was 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 charges 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.