PHOENIX â€” A police detective was killed and another was seriously wounded Monday by a fugitive who also died in the shootout.
The two detectives from the Police Department’s fugitive-apprehension unit were chasing a felony suspect in northwest Phoenix when his car collided with another vehicle and he began shooting at the officers as he tried to escape on foot.
The officers were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in critical condition after the 3:10 p.m. shooting. The mortally wounded officer died about two hours later. The second officer was recovering in the intensive-care unit Monday night. Neither officer’s name was released.
Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia announced at 5:45 p.m. that one of the officers, a 21-year veteran, had died of his wounds.
“This is the worst part of policing, the hard part of policing, the tragic part of policing and the part that always strikes a chord,” Garcia said, “not only for our officers in relation to losing a fellow officer, but for our citizens and, I know, for City Hall.”
A group of uniformed officers gathered outside the hospital emergency room Monday afternoon, several hiding their faces in their hands.
The fugitive was killed in a parking lot outside a car-title business.
Sgt. Steve Martos, a police spokesman, said the man had a felony warrant for his arrest. Late Monday, two law-enforcement sources close to the investigation confirmed that William R. Thornton, 28, was the gunman killed by police.
Thornton was released from Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis on Jan. 9 after serving 1Â½ years for a dangerous-drug violation and resisting arrest, Arizona Department of Corrections records show.
Detectives had been pursuing him when his white sedan collided with a truck at the intersection. Martos said the man ran from the sedan, “exchanged gunfire” with the officers and was shot and killed.
Two people from the other vehicles, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 50s, were hospitalized with minor injuries.
Wayne Monton, owner of a discount shoe store nearby, said he heard about eight shots from inside his business that were “loud enough to make (me) think they were big guns.”
“It sounded like a war was going on,” he said.
Monday’s violence marked the fifth and sixth instances of officer-involved shootings in the Valley this year. The other incidents involved officers firing their weapons at suspects.
Experts say Monday’s shootings show the field of police work is growing increasingly dangerous because of advanced policing techniques in hunting the worst criminal offenders.
There are currently 25,000 felony warrants â€” not including federal warrants â€” in Maricopa County alone, according to Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales.
Gonzales said the U.S. marshals work closely with officers from the Phoenix police major-offenders bureau, which is tasked with going after the city’s most dangerous fugitives.
“We sift through those warrants to determine who are committing the crimes in our communities,” he said. “We’ve done a better job at identifying those career criminals who need to be off the street.”
But for even those criminals without violent histories, the prospect of a capture often carries a certain degree of desperation. Many of them, Gonzales said, have nothing to lose.
“The main issue with arresting fugitives, especially career criminals, is that they’ve done time in prison and they do not want to go back,” Gonzales said. “Especially if they are carrying weapons, which is a violation of probation or parole, they will do anything to get away from police.”
Gonzales said Monday’s tragedy appears to be the classic case of a career criminal who knew he was about to get arrested and did not want to return to prison at any cost. Instances of “suicide by cop” are also not uncommon.
Law-enforcement officers are permitted to use deadly force if they believe their lives or the lives of others are in immediate danger.
Republic reporters Clarissa Cooper and Corina Vanek contributed to this article.