Recently released video of Phoenix officers drawing their weapons on a family and threatening to shoot has led to an internal police investigation and a $10 million lawsuit against the city and its police department.
In a statement posted online Saturday, Phoenix police offered their own account of the incident, which began with allegations of shoplifting. The police chief, however, said she was “disturbed by the language and the actions” of the officers, and Mayor Kate Gallego called for change.
“There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable,” Gallego said in a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday. “As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting.”
On May 29, Dravon Ames and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, said they went on a family outing with their two children, London, 1, and Island, 4. Without their knowledge, Island took a doll from a Family Dollar Store, according to a notice of claim dated Wednesday that was filed by former Arizona attorney general Thomas Horne, who is representing Ames and Harper.
A police patrol unit followed the couple’s car. Once the family members entered their babysitter’s apartment complex, an officer approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and yanked open the front door, the claim said.
Despite department rules that require police to wear body cameras, the Phoenix officers were not wearing them, the claim said. But passersby recorded the encounter. The police released one video this week, but there are others online.
“I’m going to put a cap in your a--,” one officer said to Ames as a second policeman, whose weapon was also drawn and pointed at Ames, walked up to the car, the video shows. “I’m going to shoot you in your f---ing face.”
Both statements, Horne wrote in the claim, were made in front of the couple’s children, who were in the rear of the vehicle.
The first officer — who has not yet been named by the department — pulled Ames, 22, from the car, pushed his head to the pavement, handcuffed him and yelled that Ames better follow orders, according to the claim. The officer threw Ames against the car, ordered him to spread his legs and “kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed.” Then, the officer dragged him upright and punched him in the back, the claim said.
Once Ames was handcuffed and inside the patrol car, the officers focused their attention on Harper and the children, according to the claim.
The two officers pointed their weapons at the visibly pregnant 24-year-old Harper and her children, the video shows and the claim stated.
"The first officer grabbed the mother and the baby around both of their necks, and tried to take the baby out of the mother’s hand,” the claim alleged. “He told her to put the baby on the ground, which she was unwilling to do because the baby could not walk, and the ground consisted of hot pavement.”
The officer tried to rip Harper’s youngest child from her arms, the claim stated. Eventually he threw Harper, who had handed the children to a bystander, into the police car face first and then handcuffed her.
“I could have shot you in front of your f---ing kids,” he said, according to the claim.
Since May 29, the 4-year-old has been having nightmares and is wetting the bed, and Ames, whose car was impounded, has been limping and is without transportation to get to work, the claim stated.
Neither Ames nor Harper were arrested or ticketed, though they were detained by the police, the Phoenix New Times reported.
The notice of claim alleged that the police officers “committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution.”
Horne told The Washington Post that the city has 60 days to respond before he files the lawsuit.
The Phoenix Police Department did not return The Post’s request for comment, but in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday contested many details in the claim. It said the incident occurred on May 27, not May 29, and began when a store manager alerted authorities of alleged shoplifters.
Officers located the vehicle at an apartment complex about a mile away and claim the “male driver” told officers he had stolen a package of underwear, which he had thrown out the window, and that he was driving with a suspended license. Police claim a woman in the vehicle said she believed the child stole the doll and that she heard officers tell “the driver to stop with car several times, but he didn’t.”
According to police, no one was arrested for shoplifting because the store manager declined to prosecute.
Horne denied the department’s version of events.
“There are some things that are true and some we dispute,” he told The Post. “None of the discrepancies affect the outrage as to the way the officers treated these people who never resisted and were always compliant.”
Phoenix police said they became aware of the video on June 11, “showing extremely offensive and unprofessional language and actions by the officers during the arrests,” who have been assigned to desk duty while their actions are being investigated. On June 14, Police Chief Jeri Williams said on Facebook that she began an internal investigation into the incident once she became aware of the video.
“This incident is not representative of the majority of Phoenix police officers who serve this city,” Williams said.
Gallego said she was “deeply sorry for what this family went through” and would quicken the deployment of body cameras in the police force.
“This is not who we are, and I refuse to allow this type of behavior to go unchallenged,” she said, announcing a community meeting with Williams on Tuesday to discuss concerns.
In 2018, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, was involved in a record number of police-involved shootings, nearly doubling numbers from 2017, according to the Arizona Republic. Phoenix police officers were responsible for more than half of them.