Carmona ‘justified,’ police sayby David L. Teibel on Sep. 21, 1999, under Tucson and Arizona
• A sheriff’s major and a police sergeant support his decision to shoot.
DAVID L. TEIBEL Citizen Staff Writer
Dr. Richard Carmona approached Jean Pierre Lafitte to offer medical help after a car crash, but instead found himself in a shootout that left Lafitte dead, an investigator said yesterday.
Unknown to Carmona, a physician and registered peace officer, Lafitte had a violent past and was a suspect in the homicide Saturday – the day of the crash – of his father, Carl Marion Lafitte, 53.
”He went up in doctor mode; he went up there to be a doctor. It looked like a pretty bad accident,” said Detective Sgt. Thomas Thompson, head of the Tucson police homicide detail.
What started Lafitte, 27, on his weekend spree of violence may never be known, detectives and family members said. Investigators said he argued with his father at some time before the traffic attack, but they don’t know about what.
”It was between him and his father. We had very little contact with him,” said his stepfather, William Valenzuela, 66.
Lafitte’s mother, Faith Valenzuela, 53, said she last saw her son Sept. 13. He had spent the week with her and William Valenzuela.
Lafitte did not talk of having recent problems with his biological father, Faith Valenzuela said.
She said Lafitte ”was emotionally handicapped, physically handicapped, mentally handicapped,” but she was unable to explain how.
William Valenzuela said Lafitte had difficulty walking and had been on Social Security disability benefits for the past two years.
Lafitte, heading east on East Grant Road near North Campbell Avenue, rammed into the back of a woman’s car about 5:50 p.m. Saturday, police said.
Carmona, heading west on Grant, came upon the scene, stopped next to Lafitte’s pickup and headed toward it, Thompson said.
Carmona, 49, went up to help in case someone was injured, police said.
But witnesses had seen Lafitte, armed with a handgun, approach the woman driver, shake her and point the gun at her, Thompson said.
The woman, whose name is being withheld, broke away and ran for safety just before Carmona got there.
Witnesses shouted at Carmona that Lafitte had a gun, Thompson said.
Carmona, a deputy for 14 years who is a member of the sheriff’s Special Weapons and Tactics team, ran back to his car and pulled ahead several car lengths until another car provided some cover, Thompson said.
Carmona got his handgun and badge and headed back toward Lafitte, Thompson said. Carmona repeatedly identified himself to Lafitte as a peace officer and ordered the man to drop his weapon.
What happened after that is somewhat unclear.
Some witnesses told police Lafitte put the gun on the street and then picked it up. Other witnesses said Lafitte lowered the gun to the ground but, instead of leaving it there, came back up with it in his hand, Thompson said.
All the witnesses recall clearly that Lafitte fired once at Carmona, who then fired his .45-caliber semiautomatic gun seven times, killing Lafitte, Thompson said.
One shot fired by Carmona hit the windshield of a westbound car driven by a Tucson woman, who was not injured, police said. It was unclear where the six remaining bullets fired by Carmona ended up.
Police would not say how many of the bullets hit Lafitte. An autopsy set for today should reveal that.
Carmona himself was wounded, grazed in the head by flying debris or Lafitte’s bullet, Thompson said. He was treated at a hospital and released that day, as was the woman Lafitte attacked, Thompson said.
Lafitte died at 7:39 p.m. Saturday at University Medical Center.
Carmona, a former head of Kino Community Hospital and also a founder of Tucson’s first trauma center at Tucson Medical Center, could not be reached for comment.
”I don’t like to speak for his feelings, but he comforts himself with the fact he acted in accordance with the way he has been trained,” said Michael L. Piccarreta, Carmona’s lawyer.
Piccarreta agreed with Thompson that Carmona’s first thought was to render medical aid.
When Carmona first approached the scene, Lafitte was sitting in his pickup, slumped over the steering wheel, and people yelled at Carmona that Lafitte was armed, he said.
After Carmona retrieved his badge and gun, he again approached the truck, yelling he was a peace officer and that Lafitte should drop the gun, Piccarreta said.
Lafitte got out of the truck and fired at Carmona, the lawyer said.
”There’s no question it’s justifiable,” Piccarreta said of the shooting.
The Sheriff’s Department also is reviewing the shooting. Sheriff’s Maj. Bradley Gagnepain earlier said, ”Based on the information we got, it was absolutely justified. The guy put Dr. Carmona in a position where he had to shoot him.”
”Carmona was under fire. The shooting was justified,” said Tucson Police Department spokesman Sgt. Brett Klein.
Sheriff’s deputies learned of Carl Marion Lafitte’s death after Tucson police went to Faith Valenzuela’s Northwest Side home to tell her of her son’s death, said Detective Sgt. Michael G. O’Connor, head of the sheriff’s homicide detail.
Lafitte’s mother asked what kind of truck or car her son had been driving, and when told it was a blue Nissan pickup, she told officers it was her ex-husband’s, O’Connor said.
Faith Valenzuela said she told officers to check on Carl Lafitte’s welfare, and deputies went to the home he shared with his son on West Huxley Place, near South Tucson Estates Parkway and West Bopp Road.
Deputies found him dead in his bedroom, O’Connor said.
”It appears he was attacked while he was either resting or asleep,” O’Connor said.
Deputies discovered that Carl Lafitte’s truck was missing, as was a pistol of the type fired later at Carmona, O’Connor said.
The elder Lafitte appeared to have been cut and stabbed, sheriff’s Maj. Gagnepain said, adding investigators would have to await autopsy results to find out whether he’d also been shot.
”We found evidence in the house we believe will link (Jean) Lafitte to the murder of his father,” O’Connor said.
He would not say what that evidence was.
Lafitte was arrested 13 times between March 1991 and November 1992 for charges including kidnapping, sexual assault, aggravated assault, domestic violence and using the telephone to threaten or intimidate, court records show.
In 1992, he was convicted of aggravated assault for trying to strangle his girlfriend as she testified against him in a Superior Court preliminary hearing on accusations that he had committed domestic violence against her in an earlier incident, said O’Connor.
Lafitte, who was handcuffed, jumped up as the woman was in the witness box and wrapped his handcuff chain around her neck, O’Connor said. She was injured, but recovered.
Lafitte served five years in prison on that conviction and was released Oct. 12, 1995.
Carmona is a former head of Pima County’s health-care system. He is a commissioned deputy who is on contract with the Sheriff’s Department as a surgeon.