Cano’s death last year sparked weeks of protests, demanding action against the lone officer who had pursued him, Chase Bebak-Miller. During that time, the Chandler Police Department conducted its own internal investigation, which it passed to the county to review and determine whether criminal charges were warranted.
Mitchell said Thursday that she concluded there was “no reasonable likelihood of conviction” in the case, and that Bebak-Miller will not face charges. The officer remains on the force.
“Today is not an easy day,” Mitchell said at the opening of the press conference. She had empathy for the “parents who lost a son, and family who lost a family member,” she said. But, Mitchell continued, she did not think Bebak-Miller’s actions that night were unreasonable, the legal standard to bring charges against a police officer for force.
In a statement Thursday, attorney Julie Gunnigle, who is vying for the county attorney’s seat in the November election, sharply criticized the decision. It was a “gross failure of justice for a family mourning the death of their child,” she said. It showed that the office, she said, was “driven by allegiance to law enforcement cronies over the right of Arizona families to have their day in court.”
The Cano case was the first high-profile police violence case that Mitchell has decided on during her tenure, and it likely will prove divisive. Cano’s family, and protesters, have called for criminal charges against Bebak-Miller for more than a year.
Cano was riding a bicycle down a Chandler boulevard on January 2, 2021, the night he was shot. Bebak-Miller was in his police cruiser, and spotted Cano. The officer said he initiated a pursuit because Cano didn’t have rear reflectors on his bike, and was riding erratically in the road. He was not suspected of any crime.
When Bebak-Miller flashed his lights, Cano abandoned his bike and fled on foot into a nearby park. He had a Glock pistol in his pocket, which the officer observed. Body-worn camera footage shows the pistol fall and Cano grabbing it and tossing it. Then, Bebak-Miller shoots once, and Cano falls, and again, while he’s on the ground, the gun lying out of reach. Both shots were to Cano’s back.
As Cano lay wounded, he told Bebak-Miller that he had tried to throw the gun to avoid getting shot. Bebak-Miller told him that this was “stupid.” When another officer arrived, the two handcuffed Cano. He would not die for another three weeks — January 23 — while still in the hospital.
Mitchell said she “questioned the reasonableness of the second shot,” but she decided, ultimately, that it was a reasonable action, citing that only two seconds passed between the firing of the rounds. She also claimed the body-worn camera footage shows that Cano “appears to turn back toward Officer Bebak-Miller with his gun in his right hand” before he drops the pistol.
But though the body camera footage is shaky and blurred, it’s clear Cano does not ever point the gun at Bebak-Miller.
When a reporter asked what Mitchell would say to Cano’s family, Mitchell said she had spoken to Cano’s mother and that there was “‘nothing that I could say that would assuage her grief.”
The Cano case is the second highly anticipated charging decision that MCAO has released in the month since Mitchell took office. Earlier this month, the office announced charges in the case of Charles Ryan, the former director of Arizona’s prison system who drunkenly pointed a gun at officers responding to a call at his Tempe home. He faces disorderly conduct and gun charges.
Mitchell acknowledged the length of time the office had taken to deliberate on the Cano case — more than a year — and said she had “inherited a backlog of officer-involved shooting reviews” from her predecessor, Allister Adel.
Adel, who died April 30 at age 45, had faced criticism for slow movement on cases during her tenure, particularly police use-of-force cases. Understaffing at the office, however, played a role in the delays, as Mitchell has acknowledged. Whether that will change under her administration remains to be seen.
Mitchell claimed on Monday that she is making progress and “chipping away” at those cases, though the picture will be clearer next month, when the office releases data about its progress.
Last year, the city of Chandler paid a $1.1 million settlement to Cano’s family in two lawsuits over his death.
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