The term shocking is oft used to describe surprising or eye-popping viral videos. There may be no more ‘shocking’ videos than these of Phoenix police pulling guns on a young black family in a parking lot over the alleged shoplifting of a 99-cent Barbie-like doll from a dollar store.
On May 27, Dravon Ames, 22, his pregnant fiancée Iesha Harper, 24, and their daughters, Island, 4 and 1-year-old London, were held at gunpoint by several screaming Phoenix police officers. Police were responding to an anonymous caller about a possible shoplifting incident of a dollar store Barbie doll. Court documents show that the dollar store did not call for police. With guns drawn, and screaming orders rife with foul language, cops surrounded the family at their car, pulled guns, and threatened to kill them.
“I thought we were all going to be executed,” Ames said. “I haven’t been able to sleep …it just keeps flashing back, the gun …the barrel pointed at my face.”
You can watch the video of the incident below:
The full video released by the family’s lawyers shows more of the incident:
The police were either not wearing body cameras or had them shut off, and did not file a report, a court document states.
“This is everything that’s wrong with (law enforcement) today,” AZ State Senator Martín Quezada tweeted, adding the “community deserves better than this type of inexcusable and unjustifiable rage and abuse of power from the Phoenix police.”
There are a number of videos from various angles. In one, officers can be heard screaming and cursing at the couple in front of their children to “put your f*****g hands up.” A cop is seen pointing a gun at the car, with children inside, while another cop yells, “You’re gonna f*****g get shot!”
An officer is seen slamming Ames’ face against a cruiser and kicks his legs and punches him in the back while he’s pinned to the police car. “When I tell you to do something, you f*****g do it,” the cop yells at Ames a number of times. Ames says he’s com lying and is seen in the video complying. The other officer is seen trying to snatch Harper’s baby out of her arms. He screams at her to put her hands up while she’s holding her baby. Then screams at her to put the baby down on the pavement.
Harper said that a cop told her he could have “shot you in front of your fuc*ing kids” as she was arrested, handcuffed and placed inside a police cruiser.
The chilling threat that can be heard on the video that has stunned people the most from police called to a possible shoplifting incident, is this: “I’m gonna put a cap right in your f*****g head!”
Phoenix police refuse to name the officers, but in the complaint obtained by Heavy, which can be read in full here and below, it’s believed the cop that threatened to kill Ames is named Myer, Meyer or Meyers.
Late Friday afternoon, police issued a statement. They claim that the couple had stolen underwear from the dollar store and say that they “quickly” drove away and were pursued. The couple told police about the doll, police admit in the statement. But police also claim “the man,” presumably Ames, threw a pair of “stolen” underwear out of the car window. Police also admit they did not believe the family was armed. They said that since the dollar store wasn’t interested in prosecuting the couple, no charges were filed. But Ames, police allege, was driving with a suspended license and that led to his car being impounded. Police described the entire incident, the violent arrest and threats to shoot the family, as, “a man and woman in the car were taken into custody and detained.”
It’s reported that one of the officers involved is on desk duty.
The full statement is below.
Then Friday night, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams posted a video statement to Facebook. She spoke about her officers “making contact” with the couple. She said, “like you, I’m disturbed by the language and action of our officer,” saying the incident is “not representative of the majority” of the police department.
The full minute-long video is below.
Heavy obtained a police report titled ‘shoplifting excessive force incident report.” It’s says it’s a “redacted” report, but it is not redacted; it has blank spaces for identifying information.
The relevant portion is written by officer Christopher Meyer.
Meyer wrote what has been the narrative so far: the couple’s child took a dollar store Barbie-like doll and the family was pursued based on that shoplifting incident. But it reads that the couple were combative and non-complaint, despite the videos all showing the opposite. It also reads that they admitted to having a stolen $.99 doll in the car and, the report reads, Ames said there was a pair of underwear that had been taken. The report states that the officer, presumed to be the named “Myer, Meyer or Meyers,” wrote that he feared that Harper was reaching for a weapon when she said she could not put her hands up because she was holding her baby. What the report does not state is that police gave mixed commands, held the family at gunpoint, threatened to shoot and kill them, and manhandled, indeed assaulted, court documents allege, Ames, Harper and her baby she was holding.
Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego tweeted out a forceful statement late Saturday condemning the officer’s actions and promising body-worn cameras will be used by all officers by summer’s end and she has called for the police chief to meet with the public and “listen directly to concerns.”
“Three is no situation where this behavior is ever close to acceptable,” she wrote.
Here’s what else you need to know:
People Were Worried Ames ‘Was Going to End up Dead’
A local clergy member advocating for, and speaking on behalf of, the family says that the Phoenix police department’s claim that it will investigate to see whether excessive force was used is stunning in its audacity.
“Clearly, excessive force was used. Clearly, policies and procedure were not followed. Clearly, body cameras were not being utilized. Clearly, the officers felt empowered to be disrespectful and abusive,” said Reverend Jarrett Maupin. “What we demand to know is, what kind of background these officers have? They held toddlers and a pregnant woman at gunpoint, grabbed a mother and infant by the neck, dislocated a 1-year-old’s arm, endangered a delicate pregnancy, terrorized and tortured a young father, and nobody was charged or jailed. These officers must be held accountable. We want justice.”
In an email to Heavy, Maupin said, more than 10 independent eyewitnesses have agreed to come forward and cooperate with the family’s lawyers and with any investigations that may be conducted.
“We have an unprecedented number of citizens coming forward to share footage and give eye-witness accounts. So many residents were shocked to see police being so abusive with a pregnant mother and kids. So many people were concerned that the father was going to end up dead because of police brutality and the violence of officers,” Maupin said.
Officers never recovered the allegedly stolen doll.
In the second video, which Maupin believes “is worse than the first …officers are acting like bullies and thugs. They endangered an unborn child and traumatized two toddlers. Shame on them and shame on the department for not suspending them immediately – without pay.”
Ames’ older brother is worried about his sibling.
“We want to know, are any of these sickos on the so-called Brady List of known rogue or problem officers? Are any of these cops part of the 75 identified social media racists who kept their jobs? What happens to officers when they are caught on tape violating policies and procedures and how fast does it happen,” Maupin asked rhetorically. “The culture of wilding within the Phoenix PD is making a mockery of police everywhere.”
With Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne as Their Attorney, the Family is Suing Phoenix For $10 Million. Jay-Z & Roc Nation Have Offered Financial Assistance to the Family
“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,” the claim reads in part.
The claim states that Ames and Harper had been shopping at the dollar store and were pulling in to their babysitter’s building a few blocks away when police pulled in behind them: “There had been no sirens or lights prior to that indicating that they should stop their car. A police officer, who we believe is named Meyer, came to the front driver side of the car with a gun pulled, pulled open the door, and stated to the father: “I’m going to put a cap in your ass.’ Later he stated ‘I’m gonna shoot you in your fucking face.’ Both statements were in front of the children in the back of the car.”
Jay-Z and his company Roc Nation have committed to help support the family. Roc Nation Managing Director of Philanthropy Dania Diaz said the incident was “absolutely sickening.”
“There is no place for that behavior in our world – let alone our justice system – and we are calling for the immediate termination of the police officers in question,” Diaz said. “We are committed to supporting the family to ensure that justice is served.”
The Lawsuit Says Phoenix Police Officers ‘Committed Battery, Unlawful Imprisonment, False Arrest, Infliction of Emotional Distress, & Violation of Civil Rights …’
The complaint goes on to describe the accounts of Ames, Harper, and what is seen and heard clearly on the videos:
“The police officer then went to the back door on the driver side but could not open it because it was malfunctioning. He banged on the rear window. The mother and the two children were in the backseat on the driver side. The police officer said
‘open the fucking door.’ The mother said, ‘the door won’t open.’ The police officer said “put your fucking hands up”. The mother said ‘my hands are up,’ which they were at the time.”
“A second officer came with a gun to the front seat on the driver side and pointed it at the father. The first officer pulled the father out of the car. The father did not resist in any way then or at any time. The officer put the father on the ground, and pushed the father’s head onto the hot pavement. The father tried to protest that he was complying and not resisting. The officer stated, falsely, that he was resisting. The officer stated “you have to do what I fucking tell you”. The officer handcuffed the father on the ground. There was no resistance. The handcuffs were too tight. The first officer then yanked up the father by his hands, threw his head against the door of the car which closed the door, and then threw him up against the back of the car. He told the father to spread his legs, which the father did. The officer kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed, and then the officer yanked him back up. He kept his knee between the father’s legs. He punched the father very hard in the back for no reason.”
“More officers arrived, put the father in a police car, and kept them there for an hour. They did not loosen the handcuffs until after 1/2 hour in the car. They asked him “did you steal the fucking car”. He responded that he owned the car, which was a true statement. The first officer issued a ticket but put another officer’s name on the ticket. The car was impounded with no justification. The father now was unable to get to work. He had been gainfully employed at a warehouse. He is limping, cannot stand straight or carry weight. All of this is reducing his earning capacity.”
Meanwhile, as the interaction with Ames was occurring, the other officer went for the mother.
“The first officer then pointed the gun again at the mother and the children. The second officer walked around the car and continued to point a gun at the mother and the children. The mother was pregnant, which was obvious from her appearance.
The mother and children exited from the rear driver side. 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. 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 first officer pulled the baby by the arm to get her away from the mother, which injured the arm, in a condition known as ‘dead arm.'”
“The mother gave the child to a lady bystander. The officers then handcuffed her, which hurt her arm. The mother and father both had bruises on her arms. The officer threw her into the police car face first. She was kept in the car for 15 minutes. The first officer, Myers, came back and yelled at her. He kept saying “I could have shot you in front of your fuc*ing kids.”
Attorney Horne wrote that the dollar store “made no complaint, and the police proceeded on the basis of what they were told by some anonymous alleged witness.”
Horne wrote that the Phoenix police “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 …”
Tragically, the child, “Island has been having nightmares and wetting her bed, which she has not done before this incident.”
“Just think, that four-year old girl, one of her *first memories* will be of a cop pointing a gun at her mommy while threatening to kill her. Think about that. That’s important here. Poor child. How will she ever feel safe again?”
The Outrage Over the Phoenix Officers’ Conduct is Omnipresent
A seemingly global sense of outrage is shared in tweets like these:
“@phoenixpolice I’d like to report an assault on May 29th,” one Twitter user wrote. “Suspect is a white male wearing a Phoenix Police Officers uniform. He was seen threatening to shoot a family of black people outside a dollar store. Suspect is ARMED and DANGEROUS and remains at large within the PPD!”
“I don’t like speaking like this,” another user tweeted, “Because I only say what I mean. This officer or any other that points a weapon in the direction of my children would have to defend their life. He is very fortunate these people are not trained and armed as many of us are.”
And another example from Twitter, from which there thousands more: “Guns should be drawn over imminent PHYSICAL threats.
A Barbie Doll theft is NOT a physical threat, but rather a PROPERTY crime. Let me know if you need help with training your officers.”
“What in the world are you training your officers to do that they treat a woman with a baby like this,” another Twitter user asked. “Unbelievable!”
Phoenix Police Have Said They’re Investigating & Offer Their Version of Events
Phoenix TV news quoted Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson as saying Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams “has called for an investigation by the Professional Standards Bureau.”
In a Facebook post, Thompson wrote:
“On June 11, 2019, we were provided video of an officer taking two individuals into custody while investigating a shoplifting incident in the area of 3200 East Roosevelt Street. This occurred after the suspect vehicle was stopped a short distance from the scene of the theft. It involved a man and a woman with two small children. Please be advised, there is some language which might be considered offensive. The video is intentionally blurred for redaction purposes.”
Many noted that of the other videos available of the incident, Phoenix police Sgt. Thompson used this video, where bystanders can be heard.
“You take this seriously, Sgt. Thompson, then these officers are fired with no further review and without pension or benefits of any kind. This is all the evidence that is necessary, and then some. You should probably be fired as well.”
“I lost quite a bit of respect for you guys regarding this post. First you mute/ blur down the video to flip the story a bit ..then I see the actual unaltered clip…you need to admit that you have a rogue cop with serious anger issues that will eventually cost someone their life.”
“The Phoenix Police Department takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and for this reason, this incident is currently being investigated by the Professional Standards Bureau.”
The comments on this post are almost entirely critical of police.
“Disgusting behavior on the police officers’ part, and in front of children, AND the woman is pregnant. Those police officers need to be fired and the rest of the department needs to go through intensive training. This is absolutely unacceptable. SHAME ON YOUR ENTIRE DEPARTMENT FOR HIRING THESE PEOPLE AND FOR THE LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRAINING. You need a major overhaul if this is how our tax dollars are being spent.”
“FIRE THIS OFFICER IMMEDIATELY. Everyone in the department is also in question. Including whoever chose this version of the video to post.”
“You are not protecting. You are harming. You are the thugs and people to fear. Fire these officers and agree to prosecute. How dare you do this to children.”
“Both officers used overly excessive force! Why did your officer kick his leg then told him he wasn’t cooperating?? Why are your officers threatening to shoot this woman?? Wtf!! I want to see both officer FIRED!!”
Per a report from Phoenix New Times, Phoenix police released a statement noting officers “did not believe the family to be in possession of any weapons” They were pursuing them because they “allegedly stole food and underwear from a dollar store.”
“On May 27, 2019, at approximately 11:17 a.m., a Phoenix Police Officer was investigating an unrelated shoplifting at a store in the area of 1600 N. 36th Street, when he was advised by store employees of another shoplifting. The officer was directed to some individuals who were getting into a vehicle. He observed a woman drop a “food foil,” when she saw him. As he walked towards the vehicle, the car quickly backed up and started to leave parking lot. It stopped at McDowell Road, and one of the women got out and the car drove away. The woman was detained by the officer. It was later found the woman he detained had three misdemeanor warrants for her arrest. She was later booked for the warrants.
“A description of the vehicle was broadcasted over the radio. The vehicle was located a short distance from the store near 32nd Street and McDowell Road and it was followed into the parking lot of an apartment complex in the area of 3200 E. Roosevelt Street, where a man and woman in the car were taken into custody and detained. After being advised of her rights, the woman who had been detained, said her aunt and child went into the store and when she saw her child walk out of the store with a doll, she believed they had stolen it, because they didn’t have any money.
She heard the officer who approached the car in the parking lot tell the driver to stop several times, but he didn’t. After being advised of his rights, the man said he knew they had shoplifted from the store and that he threw a pair of underwear out the window, because he knew they were stolen. In addition, he stated he knew he was driving on a suspended driver license. Because the property was returned, the store employees said they did not desire prosecution, so no one was charged with the shoplifting. The man however, was cited and his vehicle was impounded, due to his driving on a suspended license.”
Friday night, the police chief posted a video statement to Facebook.
The responses to Williams’ statement were mostly from incredulous residents.
Rob Jones wrote: “Every word that officer spoke and every single action he made is disgusting. Nice question about insinuating that the car was stolen… telling them to keep their hands up but wanting them to open the door to get out…pulling a gun on them WHY??? If I was in the car, I would be seriously in fear of being shot. That officer is nothing more than a menacing, terrorizing criminal hiding behind a badge. And unfortunately I would NOT have had the same experience if it was me because I am white.”
Facebook user Cyn Tyler-Felt, wrote simply, and as one person pointed out, “profoundly,” that: “In this day and age I guess the bright side is we’re not talking about a dead family.”
Among the more than 3,500 comments that had the most social engagement on the Phoenix police Facebook post from Williams were:
“You know…’I apologize on behalf of the Phoenix PD’ would go a long way. I hope this family wins a very large settlement from your Police Department and can move somewhere they don’t have to fear for their lives.”
“Thank God for the citizen who recorded this incident. Hopefully an actual investigation is taking place rather than another “we investigated ourselves and found no wrongdoing.”
Meanwhile, as was reported by Meg O’Connor of the New Phoenix Times, Williams’ assurance that the actions witnessed in the video are not representative of the majority of police officers may not ring entirely true.
“I assure you this incident is not representative of the majority of Phoenix police officers who serve this city,” it’s just representative of the 8 or so officers who were on the scene & allowed this all to happen, & this isn’t representative of PPD either…”
Ames and Harper say that the neither the police nor the mayor have personally apologized.