An African-American family says they’re “traumatized” after Phoenix police officers’ violent response to an alleged shoplifting incident late last month.
Now, they’re taking the department to court for $10 million.
A notice of claim filed last Thursday accuses Phoenix officers of engaging in police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, and civil rights violations when they roughed up a 22-year-old father and pointed a gun at his fiancée and their two children while investigating a report of a theft, according to CBS 5. The harrowing incident was reportedly sparked by a toy doll mistakenly swiped from a Family Dollar store.
According to the notice, couple Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper did not realize their 4-year-old daughter had taken the doll until they were in the car. The family drove to their babysitter’s home at a nearby apartment complex, where a police car pulled up behind them with “no sirens or lights,” court documents state.
The family said that’s when an officer approached Ames, who was in the driver’s seat, pulled his gun on him and threatened to “put a cap in your ass.” The officer also said, “I’m gonna shoot you in your (expletive) face,” according to the claim.
The couple’s 1-year-old and 4-year-old daughters were in the back seat at the time.
“We’re talking about a little doll that’s worth maybe $5 and the horrors that came from the overreaction to that,” said Tom Horne, a former Arizona attorney general who’s representing the family.
Witness video of the incident, released by the Phoenix Police Department last week, shows one officer slam a handcuffed Ames, 22, against a marked police car before kicking the victim’s leg out from under him, causing him to stumble.
“When I tell you to do something, you f—–g do it!” the officer shouts, accusing the man of not complying with his commands.
Ames insisted he wasn’t resisting, but said that didn’t stop the officer from dragging him out of his car, kicking him and punching him in the back.
“He kicked me pretty hard,” Ames told CBS 5. “I’m still limping.”
Meanwhile, a second officer is seen on video approaching the suspect’s car with his gun drawn, after which Harper emerges with her two young girls. The officer pulls her to the side, where they talk for a few moments before the officer tries handcuffing her.
Harper, who is five months pregnant, is heard screaming and trying to get away as the officer reaches for her children. The woman claims the officer told her, “I could have shot you in front of your f—–g kids,” according to the filing.
“After this, me and my daughters will never be the same anymore or feel the same for police because it seems like every police is out for blood or something,” Harper told the station. “We wasn’t really doing anything.”
In their filing, the parents said the incident has caused their kids emotional distress and that their 4-year-old now suffers from nightmares.
A portion of the harrowing incident was caught on video, however, the couple said nearly 10 minutes had passed from when the officers first approached and when bystanders started recording.
Both parents were detained, but no charges were filed after the store declined to prosecute after the stolen property was returned, police said.
Video of the incident sparked a widespread backlash, as well as calls for the officers involved to be fired. The situation even drew a response from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who called the recordings “deeply disturbing.”
“I am deeply sorry for what this family went through, and I apologize to our community,” Gallego said on Twitter. “This is not who we are, and I refuse to allow this type of behavior to go unchallenged.”
Gallego went on to blast the officers’ behavior as “completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional,” and said as a result, the city will be quickening its efforts to equip its entire police force with body-worn cameras. She has also scheduled a community meeting with the city’s chief of police.
“We owe it to our residents to give them an open forum to discuss their concerns with us and to propose solutions,” she said.
Police Chief Jeri Williams also reacted to the incident and said an internal investigation into the matter is underway.
“I, like you, am disturbed by the language and the actions of our officer,” Williams said in a video posted to Facebook last week. “I assure you that this incident isn’t representative of the majority of Phoenix police officers who serve this city.”
In their version of events, the department said officers were at Family Dollar investigating another shoplifting incident when they were tipped off by an employee just as Ames and Harper’s car was leaving the store parking lot. Police followed them.
Officers approached the couple at a nearby apartment complex, ordering the parents to show their hands. In an incident report, officers wrote that they feared the pair was armed because Ames “began to reach towards the center of the vehicle between the front seats” and Harper refused to show her hands.
“I feared that she was hiding something or reaching for a weapon,” the officer wrote, adding that Harper later became “loud” and verbally abusive.”
No weapons were recovered from the family’s car.
Although no one was arrested, authorities said Ames’ car was impounded because he was driving on a suspended license.
In her statement, Williams said, “I stand by my commitment of transparency and accountability as we continue to complete this internal investigation.”