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Gilbert Police Officer Contests His Firing

PHOENIX (CN) - A police officer who was fired after shooting an alleged shoplifter in a Wal-Mart parking lot while off duty claims the Gilbert Police Department defamed him in statements to the East Valley Tribune and the Arizona Republic. Andrew "Chad" Biggs, the son of state Rep. Andy Biggs, says the police also withheld exculpatory evidence in its investigation of him.

Biggs says the defamatory statements to the media include that he "was being uncooperative with the department's investigation into the shooting" and that he "had not yet provided the department with an interview thus far."

He claims that the exculpatory evidence that police withheld would have shown that he was assaulted in the parking lot.

Biggs was demoted from patrol duties to 911 operator before he was fired.

According to his complaint in Maricopa County Court, Biggs was off duty shopping at a Wal-Mart on Aug. 9, 2009 when he saw a woman shoplifting. He followed her to the exit and confronted her in the parking lot. Biggs was in uniform.

Biggs says he identified himself as a police officer and told the suspected shoplifter, Veronica Rodriguez, to return to the store. When she refused, Biggs grabbed her by the arm and Rodriguez slapped and punched him, trying to get away, Biggs says.

Biggs says he saw her alleged accomplice, Therin Castillo, approach him "aggressively and with closed fists."

Biggs drew his gun and ordered Castillo to lie down. Castillo refused and kept walking toward him, the complaint states.

Biggs says Castillo rushed toward him, and in "fear for his life, Officer Biggs shot Mr. Castillo once in the groin area."

On Aug. 17, the Gilbert Police Department released Biggs' photo and name to the media, though previously it had withheld names of other officers "pending the outcomes of the respective administrative investigations into their alleged excessive use of force during vehicular pursuits," the complaint states.

The police spokesman, Sgt. Mark Marino, falsely claimed that Biggs had not issued a statement after the shooting and that he was not cooperating with the investigation, Biggs says.

About a week after the shooting, Det. Thomas McNally met with Lt. Mike Angstead and another Gilbert police officer, Terry Burchett, to give them a briefing about Rodriguez and Castillo. During the briefing, Burchett "expressed interest in Rodriguez's and Castillo's criminal history" to McNally, but Angstead "was primarily concerned with an alleged physical handicap of Castillo" that may have prevented Castillo from attacking Biggs, according to the complaint.

Angstead informed Det. McNally that "the reason he asked for his opinion regarding Castillo's alleged handicap, was because Officer Biggs was 'not a team player,'" the complaint states.

Biggs says McNally went to the meeting believing that Angstead wanted to learn about Rodriguez's and Castillo's criminal history and gang affiliation, but "he was just trying to use Detective McNally to help him take action against Officer Biggs."

During a raid about six to eight weeks after the meeting, Angstead allegedly told McNally - referring to Biggs: "We stuck the officer in dispatch. I told you he wasn't a team player. We took care of him."

Biggs, says that on Dec. 10, 2009, Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn told him that "although a formal decision had not yet been rendered by the [Maricopa County Attorney's Office's] Use of Force Board, it appeared that the board was poised to issue a determination in favor of Officer Biggs. Chief Dorn continued, however, by telling Officer Biggs that, according to the County Attorney, the case wasn't 'clear cut' and that the board had 'concerns.'"

Bigg's attorney, Kathryn Baillie, spoke with the Maricopa County attorney, who denied that the alleged conversation had occurred, and said that if the board had "concerns," it would have recommended that the case be heard by a jury.

That same day, the Use of Force Board "issued a letter formally clearing Officer Biggs of any criminal wrongdoing and expressing no 'concerns' whatsoever regarding his conduct during the shooting," the complaint states.

On Dec. 15, 2009, the police department's internal review board met to review the results of its internal investigation. Biggs claims that Sgt. Sy Ray and Angstead excluded information from the evidence, and falsely claimed that Castillo "had not closed the distance" between him and Officer Biggs, and "had not attempted to assault" Biggs.

Biggs says their claims were contradicted by eyewitness accounts, by Biggs' statement made on the night of the shooting, and by a 6-minute surveillance video which showed Biggs retreating and Castillo moving aggressively toward him - none of which, he says, were included in the investigation.

Biggs seeks punitive damages for defamation and injurious falsehood. He is represented by James Burr Shields II with Milligan, Lawless, Taylor, Murphy and Bailey.

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