The Department of Justice has agreed to investigate the death of Loreal Tsingine, a 27-year-old Navajo woman who was shot five times by a Winslow police officer after allegedly shoplifting at a Circle K on Easter.
The department’s “Civil Rights Division will conduct a review of the local investigation, assessing all available materials to determine what actions may be appropriate given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws,” DOJ Spokesman David F. Jacobs said Monday.
The Navajo Nation Council approved a resolution asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for an investigation in May.
“While Maricopa County may allow Officer (Austin) Shipley to escape criminal prosecution, we are hopeful that a federal investigation will bring justice for the Tsingine family,” said Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates in a news release.
The DOJ announcement comes before a full, 1,000-page report is expected to be released Wednesday. Last week, an independent ruling by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office that stated that no criminal conduct occurred. The Winslow Police Department requested an independent investigation by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which turned over its report to Maricopa County at the request of Navajo County Attorney’s office in Winslow.
Shipley, 26, a three-year veteran of the Winslow Police Department, has been on paid leave since the March 27 incident.
Body camera video released last week shows Shipley trying to apprehend Tsingine, tossing her to the ground. The officer pushes her again and something falls out of her pocket, a prescription for Aripiprazole, an anti-psychotic medication, according to a police report. As she gets up and walks toward the officer brandishing scissors, he begins to shoot her.
She resisted arrest, ignored commands to stop and Shipley “felt an immediate threat to his life” while she advanced at him with a pair of scissors, according to a DPS case summary.
Family members of Tsingine have questioned why the officer would be afraid of Tsingine, who was 5-feet tall and 95 pounds. Family members also question why other means couldn’t have been used to apprehend her. In the body cam video, another officer is also seen arriving on the scene behind Tsingine and appears unnoticed by Tsingine as she advances toward Shipley.
Family members also question Shipley’s professional record. According to a 2013 Winslow Police Department memo made public, a lieutenant recommended that the department should not retain Shipley citing Shipley’s integrity issues, conducting improper investigations, failing to control suspects when making an arrest, among other concerns. Twice during his three years on the job, Shipley received letters of disposition, or official findings from the department stemming from complaints about on-the-job conduct. In November 2013, he was found in violation of the department’s code of conduct and was suspended for a day without pay for “inappropriate comments.”
Tsingine, however, had several run-ins with police. She had been arrested multiple times on shoplifting and public drinking charges. She also was detained twice last year for aggravated assault and trying to gain control over an officer’s firearm, according to police records.
David John, a relative of Tsingine who was a guest on Native America Calling on Monday, said Tsingine was bipolar, and had issues with drinking and had been using drugs.
“She was a young mother who was down and out, doing her thing. They should have just arrested her,” John said, adding that she was a good person and she was talking about getting help. “She was no big threat.”
Family members have filed a notice of a wrongful death claim. Another wrongful death claim has been filed on behalf of her 8-year-old daughter, Tiffany.