We’re quick to condemn the unjustifiable use of force by law enforcement officers. Aside from the obvious outrage at the death of Walter Scott, shot in the back by a police officer now charged with his murder, there are other cases where police officers use force that is difficult at best to justify.
However, police officers tend to face situations that are fraught with danger, or at least the very real possibility of danger.
On March 21, 2015, officers of the sleepy little Arizona town of Cottonwood, midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, were called to the local Wal-Mart in response to a complaint that a family camping in the parking lot had attacked a store employee, pushing her to the ground.
Four Cottonwood officers rolled up to the parking lot to find the members of the Gaver family, apparently itinerant street musicians from Idaho, standing by their dilapidated Chevy Suburban that served as their home.
As is normal, when the officers arrived, they intended to separate the family members and presumably make inquiries about the complaint. At that point, Peter Gaver, 55, objected, and very quickly a melee began, with the four officers outnumbered, and one officer quickly overwhelmed.
The brawl continued for several minutes. By the time it was over, Cottonwood PD Sergeant Jeremy Daniels was shot in the leg, David Gaver was shot in the abdomen, and Enoch Gaver would lie dead in the parking lot.
Graphic video. The fatal encounter appears to take place at approximately the 3:10 mark.
Four more Cottonwood PD officers arrived to help bring the fight to an end. One Wal-Mart employee came to the assistance of the police, attempting to isolate and detain a Gaver family member. Other Wal-Mart employees rendered assistance to Sergeant Daniels.
The Gavers were apparently virtually immune to the spectrum of force. Tasers, batons, and pepper spray had little to no effect on them. Cottonwood PD Chief Jody Fanning, quoted in the Verde News:
“Had it not been for the Walmart employee (Eric Fields) helping the original four officers, they would have been overwhelmed,” Fanning said. “The weapons and tactics that we deployed, they didn’t work. When we shoot them with Tasers, they have been taught to roll on the ground and break the wires so the electricity stops.
“When they try the ASP police batons, it doesn’t bother them. They take multiple hits from the ASPs. They get pepper spayed, they don’t care. When they get punched, they don’t care. They just continue to go and go.”
Fanning also said, “Their mode to fight is to grab the officers’ eyes, ears and mouth and pull as hard as they can. That is where most of the officers’ injuries came from, ripping at their faces. They don’t do very much punching because that doesn’t work because of our vests, but ripping at our faces does.
“At no time, does the mother or father tell the children to stop and comply,” Fanning noted.
All eight responding officers suffered injuries, though with the exception of Sergeant Daniels, they were thankfully minor.
The Cottonwood officers were remarkably restrained, not resorting to lethal force until Enoch Gaver attempted to seize Daniels’ pistol.
The shots were fired, with, presumably, Daniels shot first, then Enoch Gaver fatally shot by Officer Rick Hicks, and then David Gaver was shot, though I cannot tell by whom.
Both Sergeant Daniels and David Gaver are expected to fully recover from their injuries.
The Gaver family appears to not have had any significant encounters with the police before this incident. All five adult members and two juvenile family members face a wide array of felony charges, and are being held in lieu of bond. Interestingly, no felony murder charges are included. I’m no expert on Arizona law, but one would have thought that a death in the commission of a felony (such as aggravated assault or riot) would bring felony murder charges- that is, regardless of who killed the decedent, the defendant should have known felonious actions could likely result in a homicide, and thus are criminally liable for that death).