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Phoenix Police Mourn Fallen Colleagues

August 29, 2004
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Phoenix Police Mourn Fallen Colleagues

By David J. Cieslak and Holly Johnson, Arizona Republic

Still stunned by the shooting deaths of two fellow officers, police on Sunday searched for answers about the decision to raid a north Phoenix apartment where a gunman ambushed them.

Investigators continued to piece together details of Saturday night's gunbattle that killed Officers Jason Wolfe, 27, and Eric White, 30. Authorities believe Wolfe died from a gunshot wound to the head, while White was fatally shot in an area of his torso unprotected by his bulletproof vest. Both men were married and fathers of small children.

"Last night was one of the worst nights in our department's history," Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said at a news conference Sunday. "What we're here for is to provide the help and security that the community needs. Unfortunately, in this tragic incident, these officers paid the ultimate price in living up to that statement."

Police believe Wolfe and White were among eight officers who decided to force their way into the apartment where Douglas M. Tatar, 29, was holed up with a semiautomatic handgun.

But top police officials on Sunday could not explain why the officers chose to kick down Tatar's door instead of attempting negotiations or waiting for the highly trained Special Assignments Unit to arrive.

"It's a situation where you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't," said Phoenix police Cmdr. Dave Thomas, head of the department's Squaw Peak precinct where Wolfe and White were based. "Officers try to process all of the information in a very short time span, and they do the best they can."

Tatar is believed to have fired nine to 10 times at police, including a handful of shots that targeted officers who attempted to pull Wolfe and White to safety. Police returned fire with about 20 shots through Tatar's front door and a window, said Phoenix police Cmdr. Kim Humphrey, a department spokesman.

"Certainly the fact is they felt there was an immediacy to this," he said. "They used typical, tactical responses by having a number of officers in the area and approaching the apartment, and unable to get any kind of response, they kicked in the door."

Tatar is accused of shooting 25-year-old Side Williams during an argument, prompting the initial call to authorities. Williams, who was in the apartment complex's courtyard when Tatar shot him from a second-story balcony, remains hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the neck. Police believe Tatar called 911 after he shot Williams, but details of that call were not released.

Tatar was found dead when SWAT teams raided his apartment at 8:20 p.m., about two hours after the shootout with police. Investigators have yet to determine whether Tatar fatally shot himself or was killed by officers.

Phoenix police Officer Chris Parese, 26, also was shot by Tatar during the siege at the Northern Point Apartments, near Northern and 19th avenues. Parese was treated for a gunshot wound to his left hip and released from a hospital.

Also Saturday, another police officer and a man were injured in a car wreck near the apartment complex as the officer raced to the scene.

Justin Adams, 27, remained hospitalized late Sunday in serious condition. The officer, whose name could not be determined, was treated at a hospital and released.

Wolfe and White both were four-year veterans of the force who "worked together and played together," Thomas said.

"They all had serial numbers within a few digits of each other. They'd known each other since they came on the Police Department. They'd gone through the academy together."

The corridors of the Squaw Peak precinct were hushed Sunday as officers began and ended their shifts, often pausing for an embrace with a passing, grieving comrade.

"The precinct house itself is very quiet," Thomas said. "How people look at each other says a lot more than what they say."

Officers are trying to attend to the day-to-day matters of police work on a day unlike many in the precinct have ever seen, responding to routine calls and pushing paperwork. But the young officers' deaths hang in the air, a silent and constant reminder of two fallen brothers.

"I've been doing this for 36 years, and we really are a family," Thomas said. "We are a band of brothers and sisters that utterly have to rely on each other when something like this occurs."

Sergeants, lieutenants and officers at the scene described by many as "horrific" are haunted by what they saw, Thomas said.

"They're wounded emotionally," he said. "They were there. This is very, very tough. It may be one of the hardest things we've had to deal with in years. But we'll survive, and we're going to take care of our own."

The Police Department's critical-incidents stress management team poured into the precinct throughout the weekend to assist officers on duty. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon also was on hand to talk with shaken officers.

Ministers consoled the officers' stricken family members Saturday night at John C. Lincoln Hospital and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, said Jake Jacobsen, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. A clergyman also was called out to the police radio room, where dispatchers struggled to reconcile what they had heard.

Shortly after midnight, an assistant chief came to both hospitals and privately briefed officers and families.

"We're trying to leave no stone unturned here," Jacobsen said. "If we have information, we'll give it out, and the investigation will be ongoing."

The union will hold a closed-door debriefing for officers Tuesday or Wednesday.

"When these tragedies strike, it opens up a real network of family-type support," Jacobsen said.

The deaths are the first in the Squaw Peak precinct since 1999, when Officer Mark Atkinson was fatally wounded while chasing three drug suspects. Saturday's killings mark the 26th and 27th line-of-duty deaths in the department's history.

Thomas remembered those deaths as he spent an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon in his precinct office, stricken with grief but determined to take care of the officers who remain.

He worries for the slain officers' families, and he worries for the officers affected by what they saw Saturday.

"There are those other officers, those lieutenants and sergeants and officers who witnessed this tragedy and participated in stopping it," Thomas said. "They're also very wounded by this."


Phoenix police officers were grieving Sunday after two colleagues were killed in a shootout at an apartment complex.

Officers Jason Wolfe, 27, and Eric White, 30, were killed in the incident Saturday night. Both were four-year veterans who were married and had children.

Another officer wounded during the shootout was released late Saturday from an area hospital. Officer Chris Parese, 26, was treated for an arm injury, authorities said.

"Last night was one of the worst nights in our department's history," police Chief Jack Harris said Sunday.

Investigators were still trying to piece together the events from the shootout. Authorities believe 29-year-old Douglas Tatar shot at officers with a semiautomatic handgun.

Tatar was found dead in an apartment after a two-hour standoff with police.

Officers were responding to reports of a shooting at the complex on Saturday evening when they found Side Williams, 25, shot in the courtyard, said police spokesman Kim Humphrey.

Williams, who apparently had an argument with Tatar before the shooting, was in serious condition Sunday.

Police evacuated the area on Saturday, then kicked down a door, which they believed the suspect was behind. A man began shooting at the officers, firing at least nine times, Humphrey said.

Wolfe and White were killed and Parese was struck.

"The results were obviously very tragic," Humphrey said.

Other officers returned fire and the suspect retreated into the apartment, Humphrey said.

A standoff ensued, ending when a tactical team used tear gas and entered the home.

Inside, officers found Tatar dead from a gunshot wound, Humphrey said. It's unclear whether he was killed by police or whether he shot himself.

Wolfe leaves behind a wife and one child. White leaves behind a wife and two children.

"For two officers, tomorrow will never come," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said Sunday. "This is hard for all of us to comprehend."

Officer Cedric Tillman was involved in a car accident as he responded to the shooting. Tillman was transported to a hospital, where he was listed in serious condition Sunday.

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