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Grieving family of man killed by Mesa police last week seeks answers, justice

Angel Benitez (Family Photo)

PHOENIX – A grieving family is searching for answers and justice after Mesa police officers fatally shot an unarmed man in Tempe last week.

Authorities released few details about the case Friday after 21-year-old Angel Benitez was killed during the mid-morning.

On Monday, the Tempe Police Department, which is investigating the shooting, issued a press release around the same time Benitez’s parents and siblings appeared with attorneys at a tear-filled press conference.

It turns out that Benitez wasn’t armed, police said, and the limited body-worn camera footage from the scene didn’t show the actual shooting.

“My son was a good son, and he didn’t deserve to die the way he did,” said Ana Sandoval, Benitez’s mother.

Family of suspect killed by Mesa PD holding a news briefing

The family and attorney of Angel Benitez, a suspect who was killed by Mesa police in Tempe Friday are holding a news briefing. STORY: https://bit.ly/2Gh8fXg

Posted by ABC15 Arizona on Monday, September 28, 2020

“Not one shot, but more than eight shots were given to him, and they didn’t find no weapon on him. He wasn’t an animal to be shot like that.”

Benjamin Taylor, an attorney for Benitez’s family, disputed the police version of events that said Benitez disregarded orders to keep his hands raised before officers shot him.

“There’s been witnesses that have come forward, that have been interviewed, and they said that they saw Angel’s hands up in the air, his hands up in the air, and he got shot by Mesa police,” Taylor said.

Taylor said police haven’t been forthright in dealing with Benitez’s family.

“This family hasn’t seen any body-camera video,” he said. “They’ve been requesting that.”

Benitez’s mother pleaded for witnesses to come forward.

“Please, if there’s anybody that’s seen anything, that recorded anything, please come forward,” a tearful Sandoval said.

“If God allowed you to see, it’s for a reason. Please help us, help us to find justice for Angel.”

Police said officers pursued Benitez, who was spotted in Mesa in a car that had been reported stolen, and tracked him down after he’d backed into a covered parking space near University Drive and Evergreen Road in Tempe.

Police said the vehicle was facing officers as they commanded Benitez to put his hands up. Police said he complied at first but dropped his hands out of view, which officers perceived as a threat.

Five officers opened fire, three with what police called “lethal rounds” and two with “less lethal rounds,” according to the press release.

Benitez was treated and taken to a hospital, where he died about an hour after being shot, police said.

Police also said most of the officers involved were not wearing body cameras. There were three body cameras activated, the only footage they captured was obstructed, police said.

The body-camera video as well as a neighbor’s cellphone video provided audio evidence of “officers giving commands for approximately 15 seconds before multiple shots are heard,” according to the police press release.

The Tempe Police Department is coordinating with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on the criminal investigation.

The Mesa Police Department is conducting an internal investigation and the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, Mesa Police Chief Ken Cost said in a statement.

Taylor called for an independent investigation.

“Not just buddy-buddies with another police agency,” he said. “A true independent investigation that looks into the background of the officers, looks at body-camera footage, and find out why did these officers shoot Angel multiple, multiple, multiple times.”

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