Three sharp pops rang out and an electric buzz filled the air. Oakry, still holding his 1-year-old, screamed and collapsed to the ground as three Tasers hit him at once.
The Tempe Police Department on Tuesday insisted their officers had acted appropriately in subduing Oakry, who was described as being “verbally aggressive and non-compliant,” during a June incident captured on body camera footage.
“These innocent children and their mother were placed in harm’s way by the suspect and any suggestion that anybody else but this suspect put people in harm’s way is irresponsible,” Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said Tuesday at a news conference, according to the Arizona Republic.
But Oakry’s attorney, his relatives and activists argue that the 31-year-old and his family were victims of excessive force, sparking renewed calls for change to police department policy and demands that the officers involved be held accountable.
“What happened to Mr. Oakry should have never happened,” Heather Hamel, an attorney with the People’s Law Firm in Phoenix, told The Washington Post late Tuesday. “Him and all of his children are dealing with a lot of emotional and psychological trauma in the aftermath of this. Reliving it today has brought all of that up.”
On the morning of June 15, Tempe police officers arrived at the apartment complex south of Tempe where Oakry and his family lived in response to a domestic violence call. A woman identified as the mother of Oakry’s children had dialed the non-emergency line and later told police Oakry came home intoxicated and pushed her multiple times during an argument, according to an incident report. By the time police got to Oakry’s apartment, the woman had left the home, but she indicated her three children were still inside with their father, the report said.
In body camera footage, an officer knocks on Oakry’s door shortly before 6 a.m.
“Hey, what’s happening, man,” the officer says after Oakry answers.
“Nothing,” Oakry responds. Despite Oakry’s insistence that it is “his house,” the officer walks into the apartment and orders him to put his hands behind his back.
“Bro, you’re not allowed in here,” Oakry protests.
The officer then pulls out a yellow stun gun, aiming the weapon at Oakry. Nearby, two young children in the living room start screaming and crying. When a toddler wearing only a white diaper runs toward Oakry, he bends down and picks the child up.
“Put the baby down and put your hands on top of your head,” the officer says. “This is really simple my man.”
As the incident unfolds, Oakry grows increasingly agitated. At one point, he yells, “Look, you Tase me, I’m going to jam that s--- and we’re going to go.”
Soon, more officers enter the apartment and at least three of them point Tasers at Oakry, who refuses to put down his baby. Within moments, the officers have Oakry backed into a corner. A female officer with a Taser tries to grab Oakry’s arm and he screams, “Don’t touch me!”
That’s when the officers fire their Tasers. Once Oakry is on the ground, his fall cushioned by trash bags filled with clothing, an officer swiftly picks up the toddler and hands him off to his mother, who reentered the apartment during the episode.
“All you had to do was drop the kid,” one of the officers tells Oakry, who is now lying on his stomach in handcuffs. “This would have been so much easier.”
Oakry was arrested and charged with assault and child endangerment, police said. Hamel, his attorney, told The Post on Tuesday that both charges were dropped by the Tempe City Prosecutor’s office.
In a Tuesday statement to The Post, Tempe police stressed that Oakry’s young son had not been hurt and defended using nonlethal force against the father.
“Although Oakry was affected by the taser, the child was not injured and there was no evidence of the child being struck with the taser probes,” the statement said. It went on to note that the officers “developed a lawful right to enter the residence,” accusing Oakry of committing endangerment by picking up the toddler in the middle of the confrontation.
While an administrative review found the officers had not violated the use of force policy, they were still subjected to mandatory retraining, officials said.
“The Tempe Police department recognizes that training for every encounter is challenging; however, we will continue to evaluate and improve tactics, communication, and de-escalation techniques to achieve the highest standards,” the statement said.
Hamel disputed the department’s explanation. Police did not have a search warrant or consent from Oakry to enter his home, she told The Post, adding that the father’s outrage was justified.
“How would you respond if someone broke into your home and pointed a Taser at you?” she said. “He didn’t have any responsibility to comply with illegal police orders in his own home when they were there improperly. He had every right to assert his constitutional rights and demand that they leave.”
Oakry’s decision to hold on to his baby amid the chaos was logical, Hamel said.
“I wouldn’t hand over my child to people who were threatening me,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel like my child was safe with them and I wouldn’t feel safe doing so.”
Additionally, Hamel questioned the assertion that the 1-year-old wasn’t injured when his father was hit by three Tasers. If any part of the child was touching Oakry between the Taser prongs shot at him, electricity would pass through his body and into his son, Hamel wrote in an email to The Post.
On Tuesday, advocates with Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro called for “an immediate end to the use of force against children” and demanded the officers involved in Oakry’s arrest be fired. At a news conference hosted by the organization, Oakry’s mother, Lisa, blamed police for causing her family to suffer.
“You damaged my son and my three grandchildren,” Lisa Oakry said. “I thank God he didn’t have a gun in his hand 'cause their lives would have probably been gone.”