Five people appear tied to fatal shooting in Scottsdale


All five suspects tied to a deadly shooting in Scottsdale appear to be in custody after a monthslong investigation.

Scottsdale police on Thursday arrested the fifth, Tyshaun Larae Tatum, 27, on charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy.

Turns out, the other four had already been arrested months ago, including two who were booked in connection to a separate shooting, albeit the same day as the homicide.

Authorities determined Tyohn Imar Higgins, 20, and Joseph Isaac Vitela, 20, who were arrested May 31 in connection with a shooting near 91st Avenue and Camelback Road (Daily Independent, June 4, 2019, page 4), were allegedly involved in the homicide of Richard Chavez, 26. Police on June 14 also arrested Joshua Levi Bird, 21, and Sergio Valdez, 20.

Around 4 p.m. May 25, Scottsdale police responded to a check welfare call at the Scottsdale Highlands Apartments, 15255 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. A female told police she had stopped at her brother’s apartment but found broken glass outside. Responding officers forced their way into the unit after no one answered and found Mr. Chavez shot to death.

Police had been in the area in the early morning when two people reported hearing gunshots, someone yelling “go,” and someone screaming, court documents state. Officers checked the area but could not find any evidence or a possible victim.

After finding Mr. Chavez later in the day, police sent out a press release and said while they did not have any suspect information to provide, the attack did not appear to be random.

Court documents released Friday appear to agree.

Police said they found content on Mr. Chavez’s phones that confirmed he was involved in illegal drug sales and appeared at odds with multiple “illicit business partners.”

That may have come as a surprise to family of Mr. Chavez. A sister told media outlets after the shooting that Mr. Chavez had no enemies. He was planning to marry his fiance and also had a child.

However, according to court documents, police interviewed family members who said Mr. Chavez had a falling out with Joshua Bird, but didn’t know why.

Police tied Mr. Higgins and Mr. Vitela to the homicide after a shell casing left at the scene matched one found at the scene of a drive-by shooting in west Phoenix, roughly an hour after the Scottsdale incident. Police had also impounded a vehicle belonging to Sergio Valdez that was at the scene of the Phoenix shooting.

Mr. Higgins and Mr. Vitela had been arrested in the Phoenix case May 31 and denied involvement in the Scottsdale homicide. However, the latter said both had fired their rifles in the Phoenix shooting.

Police also tied Mr. Bird and Sergio Valdez to the crimes. They were arrested June 14.

Mr. Bird admitted limited involvement, court documents state. Police learned his cell phone was in the vicinity of Mr. Chavez’s apartment between 11 p.m. May 24 and 1:10 a.m. May 25.

Mr. Valdez said he drove his accomplices to the apartment but stayed in his vehicle while Mr. Higgins and Mr. Vitela, who were armed, went inside. Mr. Valdez reported hearing gunshots, and then the two armed accomplices running back to the vehicle. Mr. Vitela reportedly said he had shot Mr. Chavez.

Authorities learned there was a price on Mr. Chavez’s head — reportedly $10,000 — due to Mr. Chavez allegedly being the mastermind of a drug robbery in Chandler.

In the Phoenix shooting, police had said a man by the name of Jesus Varela was the driver of Mr. Valdez’s vehicle. However, court documents for Tyshaun Tatum indicate Mr. Valdez was the driver. Mr. Varela had only been booked on hindering prosecution and unlawful flight. The distinction is being made here because court documents for Mr. Higgins’ arrest in May indicate the driver in the Phoenix incident shot at the victim. It does appear there were four people in the vehicle at that shooting.

In continuing the investigation, police learned Mr. Vitela had been in contact with a man whose house police searched July 24, where police found the alleged murder weapon. The man had no personal knowledge of the Scottsdale murder or the Phoenix shooting but had handled the firearm the past several months.

Police learned the man had been receiving calls from Mr. Higgins and Mr. Vitela, who were looking for Tyshaun Tatum. Police searched the man’s phone, finding messages between him and Mr. Tatum, in which Mr. Tatum believed his name would come up in the investigation. He had thought about turning himself in, records state, and he also showed the man screenshots of news articles describing the arrests of Mr. Higgins and Mr. Vitela for the Phoenix shooting.

Mr. Tatum was arrested Thursday after leaving a residence in Phoenix. He denied knowledge of the homicide, robbery or conspiracy. When confronted about his phone being at the crime scene, he said it had been stolen.

Mr. Tatum initially denied knowing any of the other suspects, but then said he had been to Mr. Vitela’s residence and seeing Mr. Valdez and Mr. Higgins around the neighborhood. He couldn’t explain the presence of fingerprints on Mr. Valdez’s vehicle other than he liked to lean on cars.

He also said him shaving his head had nothing to do with the numerous arrests. Mr. Tatum also wouldn’t say why he changed his phone number.

Mr. Tatum was jailed in lieu of a $750,000 bond. He is due in court Aug. 8 and 12.

The other four defendants have pleaded not guilty to their charges.

Scottsdale police on Aug. 4 said they are unable to provide clarification or updates due to the ongoing investigation.