Phoenix freeway shootings

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Phoenix freeway shootings
Looking over a highway towards an elevated interchange
The Mini Stack, near where numerous shootings have occurred
Freeways surrounding Phoenix, showing the major arterial roads and expressways
A map of freeways in Phoenix, including other roads which are being investigated as possible links to the shootings
Location Interstate 10, State Route 202, Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
Coordinates 33°27′43.41″N 112°2′55.12″W / 33.4620583°N 112.0486444°W / 33.4620583; -112.0486444Coordinates: 33°27′43.41″N 112°2′55.12″W / 33.4620583°N 112.0486444°W / 33.4620583; -112.0486444
Date August 27, 2015 (2015-08-27) – September 10, 2015 (2015-09-10)
Target Vehicles along local freeways
Attack type
Shooting
Weapon Handgun[1]
Deaths 0
Non-fatal injuries
1
Suspected perpetrator
Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.[2]

The Phoenix freeway shootings, also known as the I-10 shootings, are a series of incidents that occurred between August 27 and September 10, 2015, along Interstate 10 and State Route 202 in Phoenix, Arizona. All of the incidents have resulted in bullet or projectile damage to cars, along with one physical injury to a teenage girl who was hurt by broken glass. Presently, there have been eleven incidents on the freeway, including eight with a gun. Additionally, there has been at least one confirmed copycat incident.

On September 18, 2015, Governor Doug Ducey said on Twitter that a suspect in the main shootings was in custody.[3][4] The suspect was identified as 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.[5] and was originally tied to the first four incidents. However, on April 22, 2016, prosecutors announced they would be dropping all charges against Merritt.[6]

Events[edit]

Since August 27, when the first vehicle was struck, eleven vehicles have been struck, including a box truck and an empty tour bus.[7][8][9][10] Eight of these strikes were by bullets, while the three others were by unspecified projectiles. Ten of the incidents occurred on Interstate 10, while the eleventh was on State Route 202.[11][12][13] The incidents seemingly stopped after September 10.[14]

Investigation[edit]

On September 11, a man and woman driving a car were taken into custody in relation to the shootings. The woman was later released, but the 19-year-old male suspect was kept in police custody, as sources stated that he boasted about the shootings to friends. He was later arrested on an unrelated marijuana charge.[15][11] Later that day, the Department of Public Safety stated that there may be multiple shooters involved in the incidents.[16]

Road debris shattering windows also played a role in the investigation, as shattered windows were often investigated as being part of the spree. On September 16, an incident occurred on Interstate 10, where a driver attempted to pass a car, only to have the car speed up and supposedly shot at their window. The driver was able to follow the car and get a description to police, although police later stated that road debris caused the window damage.[17]

Suspect[edit]

On September 18, 2015, it was reported via Governor Ducey on Twitter that a suspect was in custody after a SWAT raid.[4] He was later identified as 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.[5] He was arrested without incident at a Wal-Mart store in suburban Glendale.[18][19] Merritt was previously charged twice in 2013 for unrelated crimes, the first for failing to stop at the scene of a damaged vehicle, and the second for assault and criminal damage. He pleaded guilty to the first charge, while the second charge was later dismissed.[19] Prior to his arrest for the freeway shootings, he was working as a landscaper.[20]

Police say he held anti-government and anti-police views. They also stated that they believed the firearm used in the shootings was a handgun.[1] The next day, it was announced that Merritt was linked to the first four shootings through a 9mm handgun he owned.[21][22] He was charged with four counts each of aggravated assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct, discharging a firearm within city limits, carrying out a drive-by shooting, and intentional acts of terrorism; and his bail was set at $1 million. At his arraignment, Merritt claimed that he did not commit the shootings he was accused of and that his gun had been at a pawn shop for the preceding two months. However, investigators stated the gun was not pawned during that time, though it was pawned after the fourth shooting occurred. Merritt's father criticized the arrest and legal proceedings, claiming that the police department, under immense public pressure to make an arrest, was using him as a scapegoat.[23][24][25][26]

On September 23, 2015 Merritt was formally charged with a total of fifteen felony counts. They included three counts of carrying out a drive-by shooting, five counts of aggravated assault, three counts of unlawfully discharging a firearm, three counts of disorderly conduct, and one count of endangerment. Prosecutors did not file terrorism charges since terrorism-related laws focused primarily on protecting public utilities and did not encompass freeway shootings. The charges since have been dismissed.[20][27] He entered a not guilty plea during his October 1 arraignment hearing.[28]

In April 2016, the charges against Merritt were dropped, and Merritt later filed a lawsuit against state officials.[29] However, as of September 22, 2017, Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead stated that Merritt was still "our guy" though he has not been prosecuted since his April 2016 release.[2]

Copycat incident[edit]

On September 13, three eighteen-year-old suspects were arrested for using a slingshot to shoot objects at cars and pedestrians east of Phoenix. They were caught when a couple that had a window shot out noted the license plate of the vehicle involved.[30][31] The three shooters — identified as Christian Cook, Albert German, and Aaron Nottingham[32] — were caught after two different witnesses reported the license plate number of the vehicle they were driving within 10 minutes. The three admitted to targeting cars and pedestrians and were arrested shortly after. They were later released, and Cook was arrested again for a separate incident.[33]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "'We got him!' Suspect arrested in I-10 shootings in Phoenix, governor says". q13fox.com. Fox. September 18, 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Rudy Rivas (22 September 2017). "Phoenix freeway shootings: 2 years later, DPS says Leslie Merritt Jr. still "our guy"". ABC15 Arizona. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  3. ^ Ducey, Doug (September 18, 2015). "Doug Ducey". Twitter. Retrieved September 18, 2015. BREAKING: We got him! DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago.
  4. ^ a b "Ducey: Freeway shooting suspect in custody". ABC15. September 18, 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Governor: Suspect arrested in Phoenix freeway shootings". kob.com. KOB 4. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  6. ^ TucsonSentinel.com. "Judge dismisses charges against suspect in Phx I-10 shootings". TucsonSentinel.com. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  7. ^ Cassidy, Megan (September 8, 2015). "DPS investigating 9 possible freeway shootings in Phoenix area". Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  8. ^ "Source: Phoenix Police Sergeant involved in possible Interstate 10 freeway shooting". KNXV-TV. September 8, 2015. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  9. ^ "Arizona DPS investigates 9 freeway shooting incidents in 10 days". KTAR. September 8, 2015. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  10. ^ "INTERACTIVE: Shootings timeline". ABC15. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Sayers, Justin (September 13, 2015). "Phoenix freeway shootings: What you need to know". Arizona Republic. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  12. ^ "Arizona police confirm 11th vehicle attack, seek tips". Yahoo! News. September 10, 2015. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  13. ^ "LIST: When and where the freeway shootings have occurred". ABC15. September 9, 2015. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  14. ^ "New details about suspect in Phoenix freeway shootings". CBS News. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  15. ^ La Jeunesse, William (September 11, 2015). "Sources: Man taken into custody in Phoenix allegedly boasted to friends of rash of freeway shootings". Fox News. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  16. ^ "The Latest on I-10 shootings: DPS: May be multiple shooters". Yahoo! News. September 11, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  17. ^ "DPS investigating shattered window on I-10". KNXV. September 16, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  18. ^ Davenport, Paul (September 18, 2015). "Police Arrest Suspect in String of Phoenix Freeway Shootings". abcnews.com. ABC.
  19. ^ a b "Leslie Allen Merritt, Arizona Highway Shooting: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Berry, Walter (September 25, 2015). "Suspect in 4 of 11 Phoenix freeway shootings is indicted". Yahoo! News. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  21. ^ "Phoenix freeway-shootings suspect Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. tied to first 4 incidents". AZCentral. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  22. ^ "Suspect arrested in Phoenix freeway shootings". CNN. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  23. ^ "Phoenix freeway shooting suspect: 'I'm the wrong guy'". Yahoo! News. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  24. ^ "Arizona Freeway Shooting Suspect Leslie Allen Merritt Held on $1 Million Bond". NBC News. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  25. ^ "The Latest: Police say gun not pawned at time of shootings". Yahoo! News. September 19, 2015. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  26. ^ "Ballistic evidence enough to convict suspected Phoenix freeway shooter Leslie Allen Merritt, Jr.?". ABC15. September 21, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  27. ^ "Phoenix freeway shootings update: Charges filed against suspect, Leslie Allen Merritt". ABC15. September 23, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  28. ^ Costantino, Nicole (October 1, 2015). "Suspected Phoenix Freeway Shooter Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. Pleads Not Guilty". Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  29. ^ "Former freeway shooting suspect sues Arizona, county". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  30. ^ Padilla, Vivian (September 13, 2015). "MCSO: 2 arrested after windows shot out; press conference set for 1 p.m." KNXV-TV. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  31. ^ Billeaud, Jacques (September 13, 2015). "3 Arrested in Copycat Incidents of Phoenix Freeway Shootings". ABC News. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  32. ^ Wasser, Miriam (2015-09-14). "Three Teens Arrested in "Copycat" Incidents to I-10 Shootings". Retrieved 2016-09-03.
  33. ^ "MCSO: Chase suspect was accused in 'copycat' freeway case". azcentral. Retrieved 2016-12-22.