PHOENIX – A former Phoenix police officer charged with murder and animal cruelty acknowledged Wednesday under intense cross-examination that he was the aggressor in the early stages of a domestic violence call before he shot and killed a man and his dog, but he noted it was his job to try to restrain a resisting suspect.
Richard Chrisman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty charges. He maintains the October 2010 shootings of Daniel Rodriguez, 29, and his pit bull, Junior, were justified because Rodriguez reached for the officer's gun during a tussle and tried to attack him with a bicycle.
Authorities say Chrisman abused his police powers by killing an unarmed man who posed no threat to officers. He was fired from the Phoenix Police Department about five months after the shooting.
On Chrisman's second day of testimony, prosecutor Juan Martinez aggressively questioned the former officer's recollection of the shooting while accusing him of fabricating key elements of the case.
"Do you have problems with your memory about this very significant incident?" Martinez snapped.
"It was three years ago, and I don't remember everything about it," Chrisman replied.
"He never touched you, did he?" Martinez asked pointedly.
"Yes, he did," Chrisman responded.
"And when he tries to get away from you a second time, you're the one who escalates the situation when you pulled your gun?" Martinez asked.
"I pulled out my gun, yes," Chrisman said.
"I don't get to run away," the former officer later explained. "My job is not to run away from criminals who don't want to be apprehended."
The prosecutor was set to continue his cross-examination Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Chrisman detailed for jurors how he and another officer arrived at the scene and made contact with a woman who had called authorities to report that her son, Rodriguez, had become violent. Chrisman said he learned before arriving that Rodriguez had a criminal history of drug use and weapons offenses, which elevated his awareness of what he sensed could become a dangerous encounter.
Chrisman said he and another officer received permission from the suspect's mother to enter their trailer, but Rodriguez refused to let them in at first. Chrisman eventually entered the home, and got into an altercation with the man as he refused to come outside to speak with officers.
Meanwhile, Chrisman testified, the man's pit bull was becoming aggressive, at one point lunging toward him, leading Chrisman to shoot the dog twice.
Amid tears, Chrisman explained how pepper spray and his stun gun failed to stop the suspect's aggressive behavior and screaming as the two then struggled, and Rodriguez picked up a bicycle from the living room floor.
"He was going to smash my brains in. ... I fired two rounds, center mass," Chrisman said.
Rodriguez died at the scene.
Martinez has accused Chrisman of manipulating the scene, lying about when he arrived and not following protocol.
Chrisman's testimony has run counter to that of the other officer who was at the scene. That officer previously told jurors that Chrisman was on a tear the moment he got to Rodriguez's door, then pulled out his gun and pressed it to the suspect's head. Chrisman has denied the allegations. The other officer also told jurors the suspect was backing away and was no longer a threat when Chrisman opened fire.
Chrisman has accused the officer of not being there to help with the struggling suspect inside the trailer, and at one point, even taking a personal call on his cellphone during the incident.
Opening statements in Chrisman's trial began in early August.