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High Profile Shooting Ends with Mesa Officer Cleared

Posted on Friday, October 01, 1999 at 02:02PM

The Maricopa County, AZ, Attorney’s Office has cleared Officer Walter Knox of the Mesa Police Department of any potential charges in connection with a shooting tied to what began as a routine traffic stop on March 17, 1999. Knox, working as a motorcycle officer with the East Valley DUI Task Force on St. Patrick’s Day, stopped a vehicle driving after dark with no headlights. Upon contacting the driver, Knox observed clues which indicated possible drug use. Noting the nervousness of the driver and passengers, the officer became concerned that the driver posed a flight risk.

The vehicles were stopped in a residential neighborhood and any attempt to flee would have posed an immediate threat to persons in the area. In an attempt to prevent the driver from fleeing, Knox quickly reached over the steering wheel to pull the keys from the ignition. At that moment, the driver slammed the car into gear and pulled away, pinning Knox’s arm and dragging him with his legs extending under the vehicle. In order to avoid being dragged to death or crushed under the wheels of the fleeing vehicle, Knox used his service weapon to fire a single round downward at the driver’s side. The round struck and fatally wounded the driver causing the vehicle to come to a stop within approximately 40 feet.

Officers began responding to the scene immediately. Sergeant Kelvin Smith, past president of the Mesa Police Association, was one of the first officers at the scene and contacted PORAC panel attorney Peter A. Thompson. Attorney Thompson, of the law firm Evans, Thompson & Dove, P.L.C., has responded to scenes and acted as counsel to officers of the Mesa Police Department involved shootings and critical incidents over the last 13 years. Smith and Thompson were on scene just as, or even before, the first detectives from the department arrived. Knox requested to speak with the LDF attorney prior to participating in the investigation. After consultation with counsel, the officer elected to give a statement to investigators. He was represented by counsel throughout the investigation.

As with all critical incidents, a representative of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was present to review the shooting for possible charges against Knox. Subsequent reviews by both the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Mesa Police Department have cleared Knox of any possible charges or violation of policy. As a result of the incident, Knox sustained injuries to his shoulder, elbow and left knee in the incident. The family of the decedent has served a Notice of Claim, the first step towards a civil lawsuit, against Knox.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.