Phoenix Police Department officers wrongfully shot and killed two men who “posed no immediate threat” while responding to a welfare check, a new lawsuit alleges.
The complaint accuses the officers of failing to provide life-saving medical care to one of the men while he was bleeding out. It also accuses the Phoenix Police Department of engaging in a “cover-up” to mislead the public about what transpired during the shooting.
Lillian Cocreham, who is the mother of the two deceased men, filed the lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court in late September. It has since been moved to Arizona federal court. Cocreham is accusing the defendants, who include the involved police officers and Chief Jeri Williams, of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as damaging her property and failing to respond to Cocreham’s public records requests. She is seeking a trial and damages.
Sergeant Andrew Williams, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, declined to comment on the case, citing the “pending litigation.” Phoenix New Times’ request to interview Lillian was also denied by one of her attorneys, Aaron Brown, who declined to comment on the case himself.
The shooting occurred on the night of October 20, 2020. Lillian had called the Phoenix Police Department’s non-emergency phone line to report that she was “barricaded in her room and in fear for her safety” because one of her sons, 43-year-old Emmett, was threatening her at her house near 22nd Street and Indian School Road, per the lawsuit. She asked the department to send a counselor to help mediate the dispute. When no one showed up, Lillian called 911 and asked for a mediator to “help calm her sons down.”
An uncle of the family told ABC15 after the shooting that the brothers had a “history of family violence” and that officers had been called to the house before.
After Lillian placed her 911 call, police officers responded to the scene. The lawsuit alleges that the officers, rather than trying to de-escalate the situation, “turned up the heat and brought chaos to the scene.”
When the first two officers arrived, Lillian met them in the front yard of the house to tell them about the situation. In an edited compilation of body camera footage that the Phoenix Police Department released after the shooting, Lillian can be heard telling officers, “If you go in there, they might attack you” and that one of her sons wanted to kill her.
The officers eventually took Lillian a block away from the house and called for backup, including a helicopter. The helicopter arrived, and officers moved to the alley behind the house, their guns drawn.
Emmett and his brother George, who was 44, were in the backyard patio and the house. One officer, Laker Dohan, armed with an AR-15 rifle, yelled, “Let me see your hands,” and “drop the gun,” prompting one of the brothers to reply, “I can’t hear you!”
More officers arrived, including Adrian Juarez, and pointed their weapons at the brothers.
At that point, Emmett was still standing in the backyard and George was in the house. George allegedly leaned out the backdoor and called to Emmett, who began to walk towards him. The lawsuit claims that they were both unarmed at this time.
That’s when Officer Juarez fired four shots, hitting Emmett in his neck and head, instantly killing him. George dropped to the ground and tried to get back inside the house but Officer Dohan shot him once in his back, puncturing his right lung.
George, who was still alive at this point, was left to bleed out, according to the lawsuit. Officers ordered him to “roll to the alley” — one officer allegedly told a colleague, “We’re in no rush to get that guy right now” — before finally entering the backyard roughly 30 minutes after the shooting and dragging George, who was “laying on his back in a pool of blood” to the alley. Officers moved George into a police car, where he remained until he was finally handed off to a Phoenix Fire Department rescue team. (The lawsuit claims that the rescue team was at the scene for roughly 20 minutes before they were allowed to retrieve George.) George was pronounced dead at Valleywise Health Medical Center that night.
“The officers at the scene could have stopped George’s bleeding and saved his life with appropriate emergency aid and by transporting him to the hospital. Instead, they did nothing, watching him bleed to death,” the lawsuit states. “Such callous indifference shocks the conscience, betrays the values of decent society, and draws the City of Phoenix into shame and disgrace.”
The lawsuit alleges that a “cover-up” of the circumstances of the shooting ensued in its aftermath.
In incident reports, officers claimed that George shot Emmett, despite there being “no evidence.” Officers also claimed that George had been armed when officers opened fire. But the complaint asserts that no body camera footage shows this. It also claims that a rifle that was discovered inside the house after the shooting had no “blood on it or anywhere near it,” indicating that George wasn’t carrying it when he was shot. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the Phoenix Police Department “misled the public” by claiming in the edited video about the incident it released after the shooting that George fired a round from the rifle.