2 arrested in killing of Phoenix officer investigating bad-check case

2 arrested in killing of officer investigating bad-check case

By Chelsea Schneider, Lynh Bui and Jennifer Price
The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Edward James Rose, 20, and Norma Lisa Lopez, 19, were formally charged Saturday night with first degree murder, burglary and forgery in connection with the death of Officer George Cortez Jr., 23. Neither are eligible for bond.

Cortez was investigating a report of an attempted forgery at Southwest Check Cashing near 83rd Avenue and Encanto Boulevard when an already bad day for the city got even worse, Mayor Phil Gordon said.

Police say the pair tried to cash a bad check at the store, and the teller summoned police. 
When Cortez arrived, he approached Rose and began to handcuff the man when Rose took out a weapon and allegedly shot Cortez at least twice. Rose and Lopez then fled. They were taken into custody Saturday morning at 5:30 in the West Valley, said Commander Chris Crockett.

"It's a tragedy that words just can't address," Gordon said. "This community is strong. This community is coming together. . . . We got a great city, and we'll go forward from this tragedy and be stronger."

Amid the first line-of-duty death of a Phoenix police officer since November 2005 are questions of what exactly happened the night Cortez died. Crockett would not comment on where Cortez was shot or whether a bullet-resistant vest would have helped. Police also wouldn't comment on the relationship between Rose and Lopez.

Cortez was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died shortly after.

The weary duo of Police Chief Jack Harris and Gordon appeared at a press conference after 11:30 p.m. Friday to mourn the death.

"My colleagues and I are here tonight to mourn over the loss of a hero," Gordon said. "Officers go out every day to protect us; we offer our condolences to the father and the mother and the family."

Just hours earlier, they had appeared before reporters after two Valley television news helicopters collided as the crews followed a Phoenix police pursuit of a vehicle thief. Four people, two working for Channel 3 (KTVK) and two for Channel 15 (KNXV), were killed.

Cortez was remembered by his colleagues as a friendly man, who was well-liked among his peers. He joined the Phoenix Police Department two years ago and had recently been assigned to the Maryvale precinct. He had also worked at South Mountain and Cactus Park precincts.

Commander Joe Yahner, who worked with Cortez at the Maryvale precinct, remembered the young officer as very productive and dedicated to his work. Yahner said he is now concentrating on helping Cortez's wife and two young children, whom he described as very distraught.

"There are no great words of wisdom when a tragic accident happens," Yahner said. "(Cortez) really enjoyed the job and had planned to be here a long time."

A bouquet of yellow lilies lay at the entrance of the check-cashing store, while miles away the American flag waved at half-staff outside of the Maryvale precinct.

Investigators combed the scene Saturday to collect evidence. Officers finished reviewing the scene at 2 p.m., tearing down the yellow crime tape surrounding the parking lot of the strip mall where the shooting occurred.

Copyright The Arizona Republic 2007

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