Phoenix police Officer Nick Erfle survived two bouts of cancer to put back on his uniform and patrol the city’s streets.
On Tuesday, a jaywalker shot him in the face and killed him.
The gunman, an illegal immigrant who had been deported last year, fled after shooting Erfle, commandeering a stopped car at gunpoint and ordering the motorist to drive. About an hour later, a Phoenix police tactical team surrounded Erik Jovani Martinez, 22, on a west Phoenix street and shot him dead as he pointed a gun at the hostage. The hostage was not hurt.
Erfle was the second Phoenix police officer killed since July and the third Valley officer killed this year. He was married with two children and had a large extended family.
“This is another tragic day for the citizens of Phoenix. We have lost one of our family,” said Dave Siebert, the city’s vice mayor. “This has happened way too many times in the city of Phoenix. . . He was one of our finest.”
Martinez, who had three children, was a gang member with a history of drug abuse, police say. He was convicted of theft in 2004 and served a short stint in prison in 2006. Immigration officials confirmed he had been deported in March 2006.
A deadly morning
Police say Erfle, 33, and Officer Rob Rodarme were patrolling in a two-man car around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when they saw three people jaywalking across 24th Street near Pinchot Avenue, interfering with traffic.
The two officers stopped the three, a man and two women, on Pinchot to talk to them and asked for identification. Police rarely issue citations for jaywalking, telling people instead to just cross at a safer spot in the future, Tranter said.
The man didn’t have identification but gave officers a name and birth date that Erfle ran through a police computer. That search turned up a misdemeanor warrant for shoplifting out of Tucson.
Police would later find out the man hadn’t given his real name. Martinez likely used an alias because he was trying to hide the fact he had felony warrants for aggravated assault and false imprisonment, stemming from a 2006 domestic-violence incident.
But the officers didn’t know any of that and tried to arrest him on the misdemeanor warrant.
That’s when Martinez shoved Erfle to the ground, pulled a gun and fired multiple times. Police said it all happened in a matter of seconds.
“There was three shots, and there was a pause, and then one more shot,” said Bob Newnum, who lives nearby.
Rodarme ran after the fleeing suspect but couldn’t return fire because the area was too crowded, Tranter said.
Police flooded into the area. Newnum said Erfle’s body was facedown across a sidewalk, with his feet partly in the street. His partner was kneeling over Erfle, cursing.
“Oh, my God, there was just blood all over the place,” Elliott said. “I can’t even describe it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“There was no movement at all. . . I’m sure he was dead.”
Elliott said it took three officers to pull Rodarme away from his partner. Paramedics pumped on Erfle’s chest before whisking him away in an ambulance.
“It was just a feeling I will never, ever forget,” Elliott said. “I just cannot believe it. . . It’s such a stupid thing.”
After the shooting, the assailant ran to the intersection of 24th Street and Thomas Road, where he carjacked the sedan. Witnesses were able to give police a description of the vehicle and a license plate.
One hour later, a tactical officer in an unmarked car spotted the stolen vehicle with a passenger matching the suspect’s description. Officers began a covert surveillance of the vehicle and managed to box it in near 27th Avenue and McDowell Road.
The suspect raised his gun to the hostage, and an officer fired through a window once, killing him, Detective Bob Ragsdale said.
A life cut short
Erfle had been an officer for eight years. He was pronounced dead at 9:30 a.m.
In Erfle’s north Phoenix neighborhood Tuesday night, Tiana Iannuzzi, 17, tearfully remembered the officer as a playful and patient family man who never raised his voice. Iannuzzi baby-sat for Erfle’s two sons, ages 3 and 5, and said the officer was “a great guy.”
Erfle had twice battled testicular cancer.
“He and his wife were still making the plans all young couples make,” Gordon said.
Her eyes welled when she heard Erfle had been killed.
“I feel sorry for his family,” said Roper, whose son-in-law is a Chandler police officer.
“They work so hard, and their life is always on the line,” she said. “It’s just very sad. Very, very sad.”
Gary Dubay watched the aftermath from the parking lot of Phoenix Bicycle, where he works.
“I don’t know how to react to something like that,” Dubay said. “He was just stopping those people, and all of a sudden that breaks out. It’s pretty crazy.”
A series of tragedies
This has been a particularly violent year for Valley police officers.
Glendale police Officer Anthony Holly was shot and killed during a traffic stop in February. Phoenix police Officer George Cortez Jr. was killed in July after responding to a call about a bad check.
“You can contact someone for anything, a speeding ticket, jaywalking, walking down the sidewalk. What initially may be perceived as a simple contact, you could be dealing with a dangerous suspect.”