A Phoenix couple is calling for justice after police pulled weapons and threatened to shoot them after their 4-year-old daughter took a doll from a bargain store, they said.
Dravon Ames, 22, and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, 24, said they were detained last month over allegations of shoplifting from a Family Dollar Store in Phoenix. Video released by police first showed the officers shouting at Ames and putting him into a patrol car, before turning their attention to Harper, who is visibly pregnant and was with the couple’s 1- and 4-year-old daughters.
The Phoenix police chief and Mayor Kate Gallego (D) offered public apologies, but the couple said it’s not enough.
“This feels like it’s a half-apology,” Ames said during a news conference Monday. “The officers are still working. It’s just basically a slap in the face.”
Phoenix police said that they learned last week that there was video of the incident, “showing extremely offensive and unprofessional language and actions by the officers during the arrests.” The officers have been assigned to desk duty during an investigation into their actions, the department said. On June 14, Police Chief Jeri Williams said on Facebook that she opened an internal investigation into the incident once she became aware of the footage.
“This incident is not representative of the majority of Phoenix police officers who serve this city,” Williams said.
The mayor said she was “sick” over what she had seen in the video and found the incident “beyond upsetting.”
“I’m going to put a cap in your a--,” one officer said to Ames as a second police officer, whose weapon was also drawn and pointed at Ames, walked up to the car, the video showed. “I’m going to shoot you in your f---ing face.”The couple, who are planning to file a $10 million lawsuit against the city and the police department, told the Arizona Republic that placing the officers on desk duty is not enough — they want the officers to be held accountable for their actions.
“Behind the desk is not good enough for me because, sooner or later, they’re going to be right back out on the streets,” Harper told the newspaper. Instead, she said, the officers “should be fired. Their job is to protect and serve."
Dravon Ames answers a question with his fiancee, Iesha Harper, standing next to him during a news conference at Phoenix City Hall on Monday. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
On May 29, Ames, Harper and their two children had gone to a Family Dollar Store, where their preschooler, Island, took a small doll without their knowledge, according to a notice of claim, which notifies a party that there is an intent to file a lawsuit against them. A police patrol unit followed their car as they drove to their babysitter’s apartment complex, then an officer approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and yanked open the door, according to the claim.
The claim said that despite police department rules that require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, the officers were not wearing them.
However, passersby recorded the encounter, showing one officer handcuffing Ames while another was shouting at Harper and the two young children.
Those statements were made in front of the couple’s children, who were in the rear of the vehicle, the claim said.
The first officer — who has not been named by the department — pulled Ames from the car, pushed his head to the pavement, handcuffed him and yelled that Ames had 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,” the claim said. Then, the officer dragged him upright and punched him in the back, according to the claim.
Once Ames was handcuffed and inside the patrol car, the officers focused their attention on Harper and the children, the claim said.
"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,” it 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 claim stated that the officer tried to rip Harper’s youngest child from her arms and, after she handed the children to a bystander, he threw her into the police car face first and handcuffed her. “I could have shot you in front of your f---ing kids,” he said, according to the claim.
Video shows police confronting parents in front of small children
Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper are suing Phoenix and its police department for an incident in May that took place in front of their 1- and 4-year-old daughters. (City of Phoenix Police Department)
The Phoenix Police Department told The Washington Post only that the investigation is ongoing and that the officers are still in “non-enforcement assignments,” but in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday, authorities contested many details in the claim. The department 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 claimed that 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 claimed that a woman in the vehicle said she believed the child stole the doll and that she heard officers tell “the driver to stop the car several times, but he didn’t.”
According to Phoenix police, no one was arrested for shoplifting because the store manager declined to prosecute.
Still, the couple said they believed that their lives were in danger, and they want the officers to be punished.
“This can happen to anybody,” Ames told the Arizona Republic about his 4-year-old daughter taking a doll. “I really, really would hate to see that happen to anybody or someone dies over that, because I really feel like my family would have died over this — a Barbie doll.”
Retired as a peace officer / academy instructor since 2008, I clearly saw law enforcement agencies training officers more as soldiers, and less of protecting and serving the geographic location(s) of their assigned post.
This meant, law enforcement officers were transitioning to more aggressive approaches with the public, and therefore, were seeing the public they are supposed to faithfully serve as their enemy.
I would have no part / involvement in this changeover.
Based on the premise of today's law enforcement officers, I recommend the public, when on the road, adopt the following practices when being pulled over by an officer:
Once stopped in a location / area that is safe for all parties, DO NOT look to retrieve your vehicle information. Keep your hands in plain sight at all times.
Watch the officer(s) approach your vehicle by glancing back and forth from your rear to side view mirrors.
Once the officer has arrived at your driver's side window, be polite and courteous. Follow all lawful commands issued by the officer.
The first words spoken by you to the officer should be, "Would you please make sure your dash and body cams are activated."
Should the officer refuse, mutual vexations between the officer and the motorist is sure to surface.
At this point the motorist must go into a defensive frame of thinking.
First, ask the officer, (repeatedly, if necessary), for a shift supervisor to arrive on scene.
Second, DO NOT ever give a law enforcement officer your voluntary permission to search your belongings and or vehicle.
In this way, the officer must have either a warrant and or "sufficient probable cause" to begin a search.
Be smart! Be polite! Be aware! And always be concerned for your safety.