Back in May 2005, I was living with a friend who happens to be a cop. On Tuesday the 10th I was headed to work and noticed three helicopters hovering over an area not far from the I-17 freeway; I knew enough then to know something was very, very wrong. I got home that evening to the news that Phoenix police officer David Uribe, a 22-year veteran of the force, had been shot in the neck, face and head during a “routine” traffic stop. Worse, police had little to go on other than the information that Uribe had given his TRO (dispatcher) just before he was killed.
When my friend got home, we talked about how no traffic stop is ever really routine. Officers are taught never to become complacent because you never know what that driver may be thinking or planning. Most people in the general public–particularly self-absorbed asshats like Steven Anderson–don’t stop to think about this before giving an officer grief for pulling them over. I was reminded of this every time my friend came home late. I was sharply reminded of it when another friend, a cop whom I’d known since long before he put on a badge, was also killed in the line of duty during a supposedly routine traffic stop. The press always calls it routine. Then again, they still report that Tony served in Iraq when he never went (though he served his country with distinction and pride).
Uribe’s widow, Kerry, said later that she knew the instant she saw David’s partner at the door that he was gone. She said that she’d already shut down by the time they reached the hospital. After leaving the scene of a suicide, Uribe pulled over a Chevy Monte Carlo with plates that had been stolen from a Scottsdale dealership. When his TRO asked him where he was, he didn’t respond. Seconds later witnesses to the shooting call 911, saying that he’s been shot in the head and doesn’t look alive; one bystander with medical training attempted to help, but Uribe was likely spared the pain upon the first bullet’s impact.
Two of the detectives assigned to the case–Jack Ballentine and Alex Femenia–had been cops longer than I’d been alive. As they were examining the scene a patrol officer discovers the Monte Carlo, hood up, several hoses pulled from their tanks, the gas cap removed and newly-spent .380 shells on the pavement. They found that it, too, had been stolen and they had a location for the thief. Inside they found a receipt for a local Denny’s restaurant and hit the jackpot with security camera images of two men who fit the suspect descriptions, and the images made it on the evening news. I remember watching it. One tip, from the mother of a barely-legal woman, turned up the main suspect: Donald “Donnie” Delahanty, then 18. He’d been bragging to everyone he knew that he’d kill any cop who pulled him over.
Within 48 hours, Donnie Delahanty and his friend Chris Wilson were in custody after a near-sleepless investigation. Johnny Armendariz, who’d been sitting in the back seat during the crime and wordlessly walked away from the other two as they attempted to burn the car (hence the dislocated hoses, open gas tank and shell casings), turned himself in and testified against them. David York, an Arizona State corrections officer who was on administrative leave after “pissing hot” for methamphetamines (meaning he failed a drug test), was sentenced this past November to three and a half years in prison for helping the two men by hiding a gun and burning their blood-stained clothes in his barbecue pit. Witnesses, including Armendariz–the only one in the car who didn’t lie or try to hide–proved that Delahanty had reached across Wilson from the passenger seat and shot Uribe in the face.
Today, after his defense attorney tried to pin the blame on Wilson as the shooter, Donald Delahanty was found guilty by a jury. A friend sent me a text message as soon as she left the courtroom to give me the news.
I followed this case from the time it broke until now. Reports show that Delahanty and Wilson were involved in running meth from Tucson to Phoenix; Wilson had somehow escaped trouble until the shooting. More than making one feel absolutely invincible, meth makes a user absolutely paranoid; that is the only motive that anyone has ever come up with to explain Delahanty’s actions, but unfortunately it’s not farfetched. What’s most sickening about the whole incident is that had they simply sat through the traffic stop, Uribe likely would have taken the plate, issued tickets to each of them and let them go. Delahanty probably wouldn’t have gone to jail. And David Uribe’s family–including a son who is also a Phoenix officer–would not still be in mourning for the years lost with David.
Next month, the hearing will go into the penalty phase. The jury will decide whether there are aggravating factors that make it necessary to put Delahanty to death for his crime. My only gripe is that he’ll be allowed to live, bitch and appeal for at least fifteen years at our expense. But there is some justice, and David Uribe is the hero that human debris like Donald Delahanty will always despise.