Following up on the Curious Case of Officer Chrisman

Back in October of 2010, I wrote a piece about a terrible shooting in Phoenix, Arizona, where one Officer Chrisman was accused of shooting to death not only an unarmed man suspected of nothing more severe than a domestic dispute with his mother, but also the family’s small dog. He was arrested and charged on the basis of the testimony of his partner that night, Officer Virgillo.

At the time, I promised to follow up as developments occur. At this point, there isn’t a whole lot to say with respect to Officer Chrisman or his former partner Officer Virgillo, who admirably (though uncharacteristically for the police) reported his crimes rather than covering them up. The case is still in court, where Chrisman has been indicted for 2nd degree murder, aggravated assault, and animal cruelty, but he has yet to go to trial. Despite an earlier injunction by a judge blocking his termination, he is no longer a member of the Phoenix Police Department or employed as a law enforcement officer in any capacity. He is, however, still a member of the local police union, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, as is his accuser, Officer Virgillo. But the union immediately chose Chrisman’s side, covering his bail while refusing to acknowledge whether or not they are paying for his attorney (when something like that can be neither officially confirmed nor denied, it is fair to assume it is true).

Apparently, PLEA and Judicial Watch, a right-wing pro-cop think tank, got together to try and thwart the case against Chrisman by complaining to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office that two Phoenix city councilmen, Michael Nowakowski and Mike Johnson, had made personal calls to Officer Virgillo regarding Daniel Rodriguez’s death, which the police union painted as an attempt to influence the primary witness in the case. How they came by that knowledge is a question of some concern, given that PLEA has posted supposedly “secure” internal Phoenix Police Department e-mails on its website by way of making their accusation, and about which they had “no comment.” Ultimately, the subsequent investigation found no wrongdoing at all, but it is demonstrative of how far PLEA will go to try and poison the well with respect to Virgillo. It seems that the police union ALWAYS backs the killer in cases like these and, unfortunately, if there is another officer brave enough to testify to the homicidal abuse of power, they will throw him or her under the bus, regarding them as a traitor and a snitch, instead of the person of courage and integrity that they actually are.

Thus, true to form, police officers and their supporters are busy in the comment section of nearly every blog post and news article that covers this case trying to smear Virgillo and lionize Chrisman, despite the former’s exemplary record, and the latter’s inclusion on the Brady list, a national registry of officers whose testimony is considered untrustworthy due to documented instances of official misconduct. In Chrisman’s case, he planted drug paraphenalia on a mentally handicapped homeless woman, and later claimed “it was a joke.” While it is true that Virgillo’s wife was convicted of having a small role in a drug ring, a crime for which she was punished with 3 years probation, there was never any evidence of his involvement, nor was he ever arrested or charged in that case, and his record as a police officer is spotless. Yet PLEA and their agents would have you believe he is a liar and a rat with an axe to grind, while Chrisman, with his documented record of misconduct and dishonesty, is the man whose story about this shooting we should accept as fact. I think not.

Unfortunately, the PLEA and Joe Arpaio backed Republican candidate Bill Montgomery prevailed in the recent election for Maricopa County Attorney, and while his predecessor was brave enough to investigate the police union’s role in attempting to sabotage the case against Chrisman, it is unlikely their hand-picked successor will be as zealous in his pursuit of justice in this matter. Only time will tell. But I wont be holding my breath.


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