Police say Brisbon, 34, was unarmed when he was shot by officer Mark Rine, 30, a seven-year veteran of the department, who was investigating a tip that Brisbon was conducting a drug deal in a black Cadillac sport utility vehicle in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
According to the police account, Brisbon failed to obey the officer's commands and fled to his nearby apartment, where a scuffle turned deadly. Rine said he mistook a bottle of pain tablets that Brisbon was clasping in his pocket for the butt of a gun. Rine shot Brisbon multiple times in the torso. A semiautomatic pistol that had been stolen and a jar of marijuana were later retrieved from Brisbon's SUV, police said. Rine, who has since been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
But Marci Kratter, a lawyer for his family, said Brisbon had simply been returning with food to the apartment where his girlfriend, Dana Klinger, lived with their 15-month-old daughter, Skylar, and Aiyana Rains, 9, her daughter from a previous relationship.
"Dana was sick, and she didn't feel like cooking dinner, so he went to pick up McDonald’s for the children," Kratter said. "They say that he shoved his hands in his waistband, but according to all the witnesses, he had Happy Meals in his hands … and the french fries are still on the sidewalk."
Polk said Brisbon had back problems stemming from an injury from working in a warehouse and had a valid prescription for the oxycodone found in his pocket and a medical marijuana registry card for the pot retrieved from his SUV, although Al Jazeera America was unable to verify the claims.
A search warrant subsequently revealed Brisbon had $831 in his pocket at the time he was shot, while $16,000 in cash was found in the apartment. Bottles containing 118 oxcodone pills were also recovered, police said. The black Ruger pistol police found on the driver's side floorboard was stolen.
Brandon Dickerson was in the truck with Brisbon moments before he was shot multiple times in the torso by Rine, who has since been reassigned to non-enforcement duties pending the outcome of the investigation. Dickerson disputed the police version that the officer gave Brisbon several commands to show his hands and that Brisbon instead fled toward the apartment. Dickerson said that he heard no verbal commands and that Rine “ambushed” Brisbon.
"Don't lie and try and cover up … The bottom line is the police murdered my friend," Dickerson said, clearly stunned and angry a week after the Dec. 2 shooting. "The way that the media is lying and portraying Rumain to be some type of a kingpin drug dealer is not right … We are not talking about a murderer or rapist or criminal but a regular person like you or me."
Brisbon's death was the most recent in a spate of killings of unarmed black males by white police officers in Cleveland, New York and Ferguson, Missouri, that have triggered nationwide protests over what community activists say is long-running, systematic violence by police against black Americans.
The Phoenix Police Department swiftly released its detailed account of the shooting at the apartment — which became the site of an impromptu memorial with candles — in what the department said was an effort to promote transparency.
"I would like to think that in our officer-involved shootings, that we are transparent as we can be as an organization," Sgt. Trent Crump told reporters last week. "We always have been and always will be concerned about what it is that our residents think about our role in this community and the levels of force that we use."
The department was backed by The Arizona Republic, the state's newspaper of record, which said in an editorial last week that the department had a "good reputation" for dealing with officer-involved shootings openly and candidly, including punishing uniformed officers when the facts merited it. If the "officer involved in this week's shooting crossed a line, he should be held accountable," the newspaper wrote.
But critics, including two former lawmen from Arizona, this week pointed to a case in which a white police officer with a history of misconduct and integrity issues shot and killed an unarmed black man in the city in January of last year — which Phoenix police found justifiable and the county attorney declined to prosecute.
In that case, then–Arizona Department of Transportation Officer Joseph Mackenzie shot dead Quintine Barksdale, a neighbor, in what Mackenzie said was self-defense after Barksdale allegedly threw gasoline on him and reached for what Mackenzie feared was a gun tucked into his waistband.
Only days before the killing, Barksdale, a local barber, named Mackenzie as a suspect in a burglary at his apartment at the complex where they both lived, in which a safe containing thousands of dollars was stolen. After an investigation, Phoenix police ruled the killing a justifiable homicide and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office found no basis for criminal prosecution.
Barksdale's family complained that the probe was biased because Mackenzie was a police officer. At their request, a private investigator and consultant on criminal cases, Weaver Barkman, a 25-year veteran with the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Tucson, conducted his own investigation. It found the authorities' handling of the case was biased, incomplete and inadequate. The case was subsequently taken up by the U.S. Attorney's Office and is being reviewed by the FBI.
"They have had the opportunity to do it right before, and they chose not to," said Bill Richardson, a retired detective from Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, of the police and county attorney’s handling of that case.
"I have to wonder, are there two sets of rules? Does Phoenix have a rule for if you're prominent and you're a police officer and you're shot and a different response if you're poor and black and not politically connected?"