Documents stemming from an investigation into the shooting death of a Native American woman by an Arizona police officer describe a chaotic scene in which witnesses say the officer repeatedly told the woman to drop the scissors in her hand before he opened fire.
Officer Austin Shipley was nearly three hours into his shift on March 27, and operating on about four hours of sleep after working the night before when he responded to a report of shoplifting at a Circle K in Winslow, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s full investigative report.
In the report released Wednesday, Officer Ernest Cano told investigators he arrived on the scene and saw Shipley “fighting and struggling” with the 27-year-old suspect, Loreal Tsingine, before taking her to the ground.
Police video of the encounter shows Tsingine getting up, and then approaching Shipley with scissors in her hand, pointed downward, before she is shot.
“I went to grab her and try to put her hands behind her back; she started pulling away from me,” Shipley told the other officer in a conversation an investigation indicates was captured on police video. “I tried to pull her to the ground, she fell to the ground. That’s when she came up with those scissors right there, so I tried just to push her, shove her away, when you rolled up.”
The shooting has prompted protests by Native American activists who question Shipley’s use of force in the encounter. The case has also led the U.S. Justice Department to open a review of the state’s investigation amid complaints from tribal officials over the treatment of Native Americans in towns such as Winslow that border their reservation.
The outcry over the small-town shooting comes as activists in major U.S. cities protest fatal police shootings of black men.
Earlier this month, a county attorney cleared Shipley in the shooting, saying a review of the documents determined he felt his life and that of Cano’s were threatened.
A Mesa Police Department internal affairs investigation is pending as he remains on paid administrative leave.
Documents previously released by Winslow officials show that two officers who trained Shipley had serious concerns about his work and that one of them recommended he should not serve the city as an officer.
Tsingine’s relatives have filed a $10.5 million notice of claim against the city, saying Shipley violated Tsingine’s civil rights and that Winslow was negligent in “hiring, training, retaining, controlling and supervising” Shipley.
Records show Tsingine had a lengthy arrest history, including an incident last year when she was accused of trying to grab an officer’s gun as he tried to arrest her.
On the day she was killed, Tsingine had been to the Circle K store five times, said a store manager who complained to authorities that Tsingine had taken beer on one visit, and thrown cash at the register as she took a lighter.
During her last visit, she attempted to take several packs of cigarettes, and walked out of the store with a hot dog, prompting the manager to call police, the manager said.
Ryanle Benally, who was at the cash register when Tsingine walked out with the hot dog, followed her from the store as a police vehicle approached, saying he wanted another person who was with him and whose name is redacted in investigative documents to see what happens “when you steal.”
After Shipley got out of his vehicle, Benally said he saw him grab Tsingine by the wrist, maneuver her to the ground and yell “stop resisting.” The officer backed away as Tsingine approached him, and then he fired five times, Benally said.
In another witness account, a woman who lived nearby said Tsingine charged Shipley like “a linebacker,” despite her petite frame.
Autopsy results released with the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s report showed Tsingine stood just 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.
Shipley didn’t use a stun gun because he felt Tsingine was too close to him to use it and it was not the right level of force for the situation, he said.
The autopsy for Tsingine shows she was shot twice on the right side of her chest, and twice in the back. One bullet grazed her hand. There appeared to be alcohol in her system but no drugs.