The police claim that a man killed in a shootout with police officers had an extensive criminal record and was guilty of shooting and killing or injuring three police officers. William Ray Thornton, 28, was killed when he allegedly fired on police officers who were investigating him as part of a suspected attempted murder from February.
Thornton’s former girlfriend claims that he was the victim of a difficult childhood and that he was left to foster care for most of his adolescence. His background elicited sympathy from many: his father allegedly stabbed his mother in the head in front of him and his sister when the boy was seven. However, this pity only extended so far and Thornton’s life came to a tragic end when he ran afoul of police officers and was shot during an alleged attack.
Three detectives were on a stakeout near 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road looking for Thornton as part of an attempted murder investigation. They spotted the suspect who, upon noticing the police, allegedly attempted to flee. A short pursuit ended in a crash after which Thornton allegedly shot at the police officers. In the exchange of gunfire, he was shot and killed. One of the police officers was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital, and another police officer remained in intensive care with his injuries.
Thornton was using drugs by the time he was 9 years old and was arrested at 15 for attempted aggravated assault. He was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted armed robbery in 2003. He was released and almost immediately charged with stealing a truck and attempting to elude police officers.
Despite Thornton’s record, he was able to hold down jobs in roofing, landscaping, painting and even telemarketing sales. His girlfriend also stated that while he could be “warm-hearted” he abused meth and other drugs and had once brandished a gun to frighten her.
The latest incident involved a confrontation with a man outside an apartment complex on Camelback Road. Thornton allegedly argued with the man before shooting him in the chest. At that point, police began looking for him.
Ultimately, Thornton’s death illustrates a frightening reality: when police officers believe that a suspect has a violent history and may be aggressive, they may be predisposed to use deadly force. While it appears that Thornton attacked the officers, it remains to be seen what an investigation will reveal.
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