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Parents dispute shooting of Mesa teen
By Byron Wells, Tribune
Mario Madrigal Jr.
Martha Madrigal said she was just inches away from her 15-year-old son when three Mesa police officers shot and killed him early Monday as he wielded a knife.
Mario Madrigal Jr. died shortly after 1 a.m. inside the home at 513 S. Johnson after his mother called officers to help her control the boy, who was threatening to kill himself with the knife, police said.
Mesa police Sgt. Mike Goulet said the officers tried to stop Madrigal with two shots from a stun gun and feared for their safety when the boy kept advancing toward them with the knife. However, Martha Madrigal and her husband, Mario Sr., said the teen was not a threat to the officers.
“He was already on the floor, (an officer) emptied his gun,” said Martha Madrigal, 39. “They killed him in front of my eyes,” said 39-year-old Mario Madrigal Sr. “If I didn’t move my (other son), they’d have killed him, too.”
As the investigation of the shooting extended into Monday afternoon, Mesa police roped off both entrances to the block where the shooting occurred.
The three officers were identified as Sgt. Orlando Dean, a 10-year veteran of the force and a supervisor; officer Mark Beckett, a two-year veteran; and officer Richard Henry, a four-year veteran. All were placed on paid administrative leave and were being interviewed by investigators about the shooting Monday, Goulet said.
Goulet could not confirm the family’s claims that Mario Madrigal Jr. was already on the ground when the officers fired, saying investigators were continuing their inquiry.
Police initially went to the home at about 12:30 a.m. after the parents called to report that their son was uncontrollable, but officers left after learning the boy had fled. About six officers returned about 1:15 a.m., and three of them saw young Mario with the knife in a doorway near the carport, Goulet and the teen’s parents said.
Police claim the boy continued to advance toward the officers despite commands to stop. When he continued toward the open door, officers tried to stop him with the stun gun, police said, but that also failed. Madrigal continued to move toward officers and threaten them with the knife, prompting them to fire, police said. The whole incident “transpired very quickly,” Goulet said. He said he did not know what kind of knife the boy had.
“It’s going to take a long time to do an investigation,” Goulet said.
Goulet said he did not know whether the stun gun shots missed or were just ineffective against the teen. The boy weighed about 115 pounds, his mother said.
Tempers rose near the end of the street as the Madrigals told reporters about the shooting. Martha Madrigal said that she was holding young Mario’s arm, and that the knife was down when the police approached him. An officer grabbed her shirt to move her out of the way, and the officers then used the stun guns, she said. The shooting began shortly afterward, Martha Madrigal said, adding that she could feel some of the blast effects the bullets made as she watched the shooting.
Mario was struck multiple times in the chest, Martha Madrigal said.
“We called the police for help, and they shot him,” she said. Goulet said he did not know how many shots were fired. A resident of the neighborhood said he heard about eight to 10 shots, fired in intervals of about three.
“He never caused any trouble around here,” said Sam Carter, 24. “It’s the police that shot him.”
Later Monday morning, Mario Madrigal Sr. stood on the roof of a neighbor’s house and took photographs of the scene. He showed reporters photos displaying a stun gun on the floor near the doorway; in another photo, his son’s body was lying inside the doorway leading to the carport.
The Madrigals said they moved to Mesa from Los Angeles about four years ago to escape gang violence there.
Madrigal was a junior at Westwood High School in Mesa. School officials sent crisis teams to Westwood and to Adams Elementary, where Mario’s 9-year-old brother attends fifth grade.
At Westwood High, administrators informed students that their classmate had been killed, several students there said. “There was a long silence in my class,” said 17-year-old senior Kami Dewitt. “Even though no one knew him, we were all pretty sad.”
Another classmate, Fernando Garcia, 16, went to the Madrigal home to pay his respects. He said Mario was calm and quiet, and that he liked to tell stories and jokes. While he remembers a fight Mario had been in to defend himself, Garcia said the teen was not involved in drugs, weapons or gangs.
“He never got into trouble,” Garcia said.
Mesa Unified School District officials said it didn’t appear that Mario was involved in any athletic or other extracurricular activities, but did take some agricultural classes.
Monday’s death was reminiscent of an earlier East Valley shooting.
In April 2001, Apache Junction police Sgt. Robert “Woody” Haywood shot 16-year-old Ali Altug three times, claiming the suicidal teen came toward him with a knife. Police also had been called to the house by the boy’s parents.
Pinal County prosecutors initially justified the shooting, but have since revisited the case to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Haywood, who agreed to resign after the shooting. Mesa police now receive special training with Arizona Department of Economic Security personnel on how to handle mentally disturbed suspects, which was organized after police shot and killed Raymundo Espinoza in 2001 in front of the group home where the mentally disabled man lived.
Goulet said that he did not know whether the officers in Monday’s shooting were involved in the training.
Standing behind the yellow police tape — which remained though Monday evening — community activist Daniel Cadena shouted at officers, saying the police did not show any restraint because Mario Madrigal Jr. was Hispanic.
Goulet said the police department’s Cultural Diversity Team was available to answer questions on how police operate. “It’s another avenue for people to communicate with the police department in situations like this,” Goulet said.
For more information on how to reach the team, call (480) 644-2211.
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