Phoenix police are investigating several officers after cellphone videos captured them threatening to shoot a 22-year-old black man while screaming and getting rough with his pregnant fiancé and two young children.
In the footage, one officer can be heard yelling, “You’re going to fucking get shot!” while others wave their guns at and grab one of the couple’s young children.
The videos sparked outrage in the community and on social media, and prompted the family to file a $10 million claim against the police department this week.
On May 29, Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper, and their two children, 1-year-old London Drake and 4-year-old Island Drake, were driving to a babysitter after shopping at a Family Dollar when a police car pulled them over, according to a complaint filed by the family’s attorney, former Arizona attorney general Tom Horne.
The officers were responding to a shoplifting report, the department said in a statement on Facebook. The parents said their daughter walked out of the store carrying a doll, which they did not realize until they were in the car.
In their police report, the department said that shortly after 11:15 a.m. on May 27, officers had been responding to a separate shoplifting incident at the Family Dollar when they witnessed two women with a "food foil," and as soon as she saw them, drop the item "before leaving the store without paying for the item" and run into a red Hyundai Santa Fe. As the car was backing out of the parking lot, the woman, who is Iesha Harper's aunt, jumped out and the officers apprehended her and discovered she had three misdemeanor warrants out for her arrest, the report said.
The officers then followed the car, which Ames was driving, and after waiting for an additional unit, hopped out and approached the family once they pulled into a nearby apartment complex and parked the car.
According to a complaint filed by Ames' attorney, the police pulled up behind them, without lights or a siren, before the officers jumped out with guns and started yelling at the family.
In his incident report, the officer said he gave "loud verbal commands for the occupants of the vehicle to get their hands up."
"Dravon began to yell at me that he did not do anything wrong and began too reach towards the center of the vehicle between the front seats," the report said, prompting the officer to draw his gun and "Dravon began to comply."
Ames, however, disputes this narrative. In their complaint, Ames said one officer approached him aggressively, pulling the door open and yanking the 22-year-old from his car while shouting repeatedly for him to put his hands up and screaming, “I’m going to put a cap in your ass.”
Several residents in the apartment complex recorded most of the encounter on their cellphones, which show one officer pressing Ames into the ground, handcuffing him, and then yanking him off the pavement, pushing him against the back of the car, and then kicking his leg so he collapses.
In his report, the officer said that Ames began to tense his arms and turn his back toward as he was being escorted to the police vehicle, prompting the cop to make "him spread his feet" and do a pat down search.
It is hard to discern this from the recordings, but, according to the cell phone footage, Ames is facing the police car and leaning against it when the officer knocks his leg out from under him.
“If I tell you to do something, you fucking do it,” you can hear the officer shout in Ames’ ear while he is handcuffed.
“Yes, sir,” he replies, while trying to explain that he had been complying. “I am! I’m sorry.”
Ames’ attorney claims that the officer punched the father “very hard in the back of the head” for no reason.
In video footage, the officer continues to yell that Ames is not complying, and one officer can be heard screaming, “You’re going to fucking get shot.”
Meanwhile, another officer approaches the red SUV and screams at Harper, who is sitting in the back seat with her two children, to “get your fucking hands up.” A third officer then runs into the video frame, gun drawn, and yells, “Get out of the fucking car!”
The mother responds in tears that she is trying, but that she is holding her baby and pregnant and the “door won’t open.”
“I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything!” she tells the officers.
She and her two children exit the car and, according to the complaint, an officer grabs her and her 1-year-old around their necks and tries 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,” Horne said. “The first officer pulled the baby by the arm to get her away from the mother, which injured her arm.”
One video shows the hysterical mother handing over her baby to a resident as the police officer grabs and handcuffs her. At one point, an officer shouted at her, “I could have shot you in front of your fucking kids.”
"It was very terrifying for me and my children. They had never been through something like that, especially with guns pointed at them," Harper said at a press conference on Monday. "My daughter is terrified, to this day, of the police"
In their incident report, police said that Harper had been "loud, verbally abusive" and refused their commands to put her child down in the shade. After the mother handed her children over to residents in the parking lot, officers detained her and read her her rights.
According to police, Harper told the officers that they had gone to Food City and while she and Ames were shopping, her aunt and her four-year-old daughter went to the Dollar Store. The mother knew that they didn't have any money, so when she saw them return to the car with the doll, "she knew they had to have stolen it."
When she saw the police car behind them, she told her fiancé several times to stop, but he didn't because he was scared. She stated that she wanted to get out of the car but she didn't because of her kids and she was also scared and didn't know what to do.
After detaining the couple, officers searched the car and found a doll in a box and returned it to the store, which did not want to press charges.
Ames, the officers said in their report, said he was frightened when he saw the officers and knew that his family had shoplifted from the store and threw a pair of underwear out the window because he knew it was stolen. He apologized and said he was frightened and had not heard the officers the first time.
"Because the property was returned, the store employees said they did not desire prosecution, so no one was charged with the shoplifting," police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
The father had been driving on a suspended license from a prior DUI.
The police department said it is investigating the incident. Two officers, including the one who kicked Ames’ leg, are “on a non-enforcement assignment right now,” but the department would not elaborate if officials had taken disciplinary action against any of the other officers, nor would they identify anyone involved.
“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,” Thompson said. "In addition, please understand, I am not defending the officers actions, which are under investigation. As a police department, we have been very transparent about this incident."
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams addressed the incident in a video on Sunday, saying that she, too, is disturbed by "the language and the action of our officer." She also assured the public that as soon as she saw the videos, she immediately started an internal investigation and asked for the community's patience as they continue the probe.
The city's mayor, Kate Gallego, also called footage of the arrest "beyond upsetting" and said she is "deeply sorry for what this family went through."
"I, like many others, am sick over what I have seen in the video...," she said in a statement. "It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional. There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable."
The cellphone videos of the incident went viral, sparking outrage and demands that the department take immediate action.
Many on social media questioned why officers would lash out and wave guns at a woman and her children, calling the conduct “disgusting” and “insane.” They also questioned the officer’s emotional health.
According to their complaint, the officers never filed an incident report and impounded the family’s car “with no justification,” preventing Ames from getting to work.
Furthermore, the parents allegedly incurred injuries from the arrest, their arms bruised from the officers’ treatment. Ames is limping and cannot stand straight or carry weight, Horne said, further hindering his ability to go to work and provide for his family.
Police said that the family had not reported any injuries to the department.
Horne is demanding the city pay the family $10 million, $2.5 million for each “traumatized” member.
At a press conference on Monday, Ames said he hasn't been able to sleep. He keeps seeing the gun, "the barrel pointed at my face.”
"I thought we were all going to be executed and by the luck of God...someone was there to video this," he said. "Even if we were going to be executed that day, someone would have had it on film...now that we are alive we can speak up and say something and give our side of the story."