TUCSON, Ariz. — A former Fargo Police chief now leading the Tucson Police Department handed in his resignation Wednesday, June 24, after an April in-custody death, but city leaders and the victim’s family have denied the request, saying Chris Magnus should stay on as chief there.
Magnus, called a "maverick for pushing progressive changes" by The New York Times, was chief of Fargo Police from 1999 until 2006, when he moved to California. He moved to Tucson in 2016.
At a time when Black Lives Matter protests began gaining momentum across the country, Magnus blazed a trail of forward-thinking judicial reform with community policing, bans on chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles, and implementing policies that curbed police brutality and overall crime.
Magnus is also believed to be the first openly gay police chief in the country that married his longtime partner in 2014, Terrance Cheung, the director of planning, research and evaluation at Arizona Superior Court.
But after the April in-custody death of Carlos Adrian Ingram-Lopez, a cooking school graduate in Tucson, Magnus offered his resignation by saying that he did not immediately watch the body camera footage of the incident, as per departmental policy. The incident took place at the "start of the most intense period of the COVID-19 pandemic," Magnus said, adding that the time was chaotic, which contributed to the department’s lack of transparency for nearly two months.
"As chief, I accept responsibility for these two serious missteps," Magnus said during a Wednesday press conference. "But I realize that given the times we’re in, any mistakes of this kind are viewed with great suspicion and contribute to the lack of trust in police."
His resignation was rejected by the city, but the three officers involved in the incident — both white and black policemen — resigned after video footage showed they restrained 27-year-old Ingram-Lopez while he was handcuffed and lying face down for about 12 minutes, asking for help and a drink of water.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the best way to honor Ingram-Lopez’s memory was not to allow Magnus to resign, but to come together to build a better, more just community. Nathaniel Sigal, senior policy advisor for Tucson, said the family also stood behind keeping Magnus as chief of police.
"By city charter, it is the city manager’s responsibility to accept resignations or fire department directors. After listening to the feedback of my colleagues on the council, I do not believe the chief should resign," Romero said in a press release.
"Chief Magnus has brought forward thinking changes to Tucson Police Department policies, practices and trainings, and has built strong relationships with our community since he joined the department in 2016. Now is the time to work together and rebuild public trust in our police department by increasing transparency, ensuring accountability, and re-imagining how we provide safety to our community. I look forward to working with Chief Magnus to accomplish these reforms."
The Forum's attempts to reach Magnus by phone and email Friday were not successful.
During a Wednesday press conference, Magnus said Ingram-Lopez had a "high level of cocaine in his system" and went into cardiac arrest. Officers tried to revive him, but he died at the scene. Criminal and administrative investigations proceeded immediately after the incident and concluded last week, he said.
The medical examiner’s report listed Ingram-Lopez’s cause of death as unknown, Magnus said.
"But it really is irresponsible and unfair for anyone to conclude that Mr. Ingram was murdered by the police or that he 'died at the hands of police,'" Magnus said, adding that he’s also asked the FBI to review the incident.