Gilbert officer in Walmart shooting demoted - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Gilbert officer in Walmart shooting demoted

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Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010 6:16 pm | Updated: 3:46 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Gilbert police took an officer who shot a man during a scuffle in August off the street. Chad Biggs began his new job as a 911 dispatcher Jan. 4.

Gilbert police took an officer who shot a man during a scuffle in August off the street.

Chad Biggs began his new job as a 911 dispatcher Jan. 4.

A department panel recommended firing Biggs, but Chief Tim Dorn demoted him instead.

Biggs wounded Therin Castillo, 27, Aug. 9 at the Walmart at 2501 S. Market in Gilbert.

Castillo was menacing and aggressive as Biggs, who was off-duty, fought to arrest shoplifting suspect Veronica Rodriguez.

According to an internal affairs report, he used poor judgement in confronting two people by himself for a minor crime while he was off-duty, and he confronted the pair without having an assortment of equipment that he could have used to control the situation before it escalated to potentially deadly force.

He violated three specific policies.

The first one was the policy that requires officers to be in full uniform.

Biggs told internal affairs investigators that his wife, with their 1-year-old and 2-year-old children, picked him up after work and they decided to stop at Walmart.

He was wearing a polo shirt - with police patches and a badge sewn on - and cargo pants, and he carried his handgun in a holster in a pocket on the pants.

His wife tried to persuade him to stay in the car, but Biggs said he was OK because he had his gun and backup was nearby if there was any trouble.

The report states that department policy requires an officer to be in full uniform when in public and the officer can wear it off-duty only while traveling to and from work or during police funerals or any other detail the chief authorizes.

Biggs said he believed he was in compliance because the policy doesn't specify that he can't stop somewhere after work.

The report also states that Biggs didn't have his duty belt, which would have carried equipment for the different levels of force, such as a stun gun, a baton and handcuffs.

The second policy violation was that he took action off-duty for a minor crime.

"Officers may take action in an official capacity when off-duty if they observe an incident where time is of the essence or action will safeguard life or property or prevent the escape of a criminal," the policy reads. "Action should not be taken for minor traffic or criminal violations. Instead the jurisdictional authorities will be notified."

Biggs said the policy seemed contradictory and he believed he was in compliance.

Biggs decided to confront Rodriguez when he and his family walked into the store and he saw her with a box-shaped object under shirt, giggling and looking back at Castillo.

"I'm a police officer," Biggs told investigators. "It's, you know, my duty to protect life and property."

Rodriguez swung at Biggs when he grabbed her arm. She hit him three times during the scuffle.

He yelled for his wife to call 911 and he pulled his gun when Castillo walked toward him and Rodriguez.

Rodriguez knocked off Biggs' glasses, leaving his vision limited. At that point, he was unable to tell if they had weapons in their hands, Biggs said.

Biggs also worried about Castillo's size advantage and that the bigger man would knock him out with a punch.

Biggs had been knocked out during training at the police academy and was told he had a "glass jaw," the report states.

"I thought he was going to kill me," Biggs said.

Neither Rodriguez nor Castillo would obey his commands to stop or back off, and Rodriguez even taunted him as Castillo continued to advance on him. Castillo said he was just trying to speak with Biggs.

The department also found that Biggs violated its use-of-force policy.

The report says deadly force may be used "against an aggravated, active, aggressive (assault with deadly force) suspect or self defense or defense of another's life."

Biggs shot Castillo in the groin as Castillo advanced on him.

The report states that Castillo hadn't assaulted or threatened Biggs and when he fired, the more aggressive of the two, Rodriguez, was out of Biggs' sight.

Castillo and Rodriguez were arrested but released pending charges.

Investigators are recommending an assortment of charges, such as shoplifting, assaulting a police officer and obstruction of government operations.

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