A Phoenix man and his pregnant fiancee rejected apologies from the city’s police chief and its mayor on Monday for an incident last month in which police were caught on cellphone videos manhandling them and threatening to shoot them in front of their two young children.
Dravon Ames, 22, and Iesha Harper, 24, who is six months pregnant, said during a news conference in Phoenix with their lawyers that Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego never apologized to them in person or on the phone for the incident they say has left both them and their two daughters traumatized.
The couple spoke out a day after Williams said in an interview with ABC affiliate station KNXV-TV in Phoenix that she has “apologized to the family. I’ve apologized to the community.”
But Ames and Harper said they haven’t been contacted by Williams or Gallego, and plan to confront them both face-to-face at a community meeting over the incident that the mayor has scheduled for Tuesday.
“We’ve been aware of apologies from the mayor and the chief and, honestly, it hasn’t done anything to help us because it feels like a half apology. The officers are still working. It feels like a slap in the face. It’s like putting some lemon juice on an open wound,” Ames said.
“Nothing is being done for us as far as seeing any justice. The officers are still working after they did that and everyone is really wanting [the] officers to be fired,” Ames continued. “Everyone knows they are not fit to be policing. Just like any other job, everyone is held accountable and those officers aren’t being held accountable at all.”
Both Ames and Harper said they feared they were going to be shot.
“I thought something bad was going to happen to me and my children. I thought I was going to be shot, like he [an officer] told me,” Harper said.
A $10 million notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, was sent to the city of Phoenix by attorneys for the couple.
The episode unfolded on May 27, when Phoenix officers responded to a report of a shoplifting incident at a Family Dollar store.
When the officers arrived at the store to investigate, a clerk told them about an unrelated shoplifting incident that had just occurred and were directed to three adults and two young children getting into a car in the parking lot, Williams said.
An officer ran out and tried to speak to the occupants of the car, yelling orders for the driver to stop, but the car kept going, Williams said.
The driver stopped and let out a passenger, a woman who had warrants out for her arrest, the chief said. She was taken into custody.
Officers then caught up to the vehicle suspected in the shoplifting at a nearby apartment complex. That’s when the incident quickly escalated and witnesses pulled out cell phones and started recording.
In one video, an officer can be heard yelling at Ames to get his hands up. The officer, identified by Phoenix police officials as Officer Christopher Meyer, is then heard yelling at Ames, “I’m gonna put a f——- cap in your f——- head.”
A second video of the incident shows Ames on the pavement outside his car with the same officer, Meyer, on top of him and placing him in handcuffs. The officer, according to the video, then yanks Ames off the ground and pushes him against a patrol vehicle before sweep-kicking Ames’ legs apart, causing him to almost fall down.
“When I tell you to do something, you f—— do it!” Meyer is heard in the video yelling at Ames.
Ames responded that he was complying and then told Meyer, “I’m sorry.”
Both videos show other officers pointing guns at Ames’ car, where Harper was in the backseat with her two daughters, a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old.
When the officers yelled at Harper to get out of the car, she told them, “I have two kids.” One officer responded, “I don’t give a s—, put your hands up.”
Harper got out of the car holding her 1-year-old. An officer charged up and attempted to pull the toddler from her arms, according to the video. A neighbor, who was a stranger to the couple, intervened and agreed to take the children, which police allowed before arresting Harper.
The videos surfaced online last week, and Chief Williams posted them on Facebook on Friday.
The officers involved in the incident were not wearing body cameras.
Harper said the incident stemmed from her 4-year-old daughter taking a doll from the store without her knowledge. Police claimed that Ames also stole a pair of underwear.
No charges were filed against the couple after the store manager declined to press charges.
Williams immediately ordered an investigation and placed Meyer and the other officers involved in the incident on desk duty. The names of the other officers were not released.
“It was very terrifying for me and my children because they’ve never been through nothing like that … especially where they had guns pointed at them,” Harper said on Monday. “I’ve always taught my [4-year-old] daughter to depend on the police if something’s happening. But she had to find out herself not to depend on the police, which is a very sad situation because my daughter is terrified to this day of the police.”
Rev. Jarret Maupin, a community activist who also spoke at Monday’s news conference, accused the police department leadership of being dishonest with the community. He said he is calling for a “mass action” protest in the city on Thursday.
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Britt London released a statement Monday asking the community to be patient until all the facts of an investigation come out.
“Every day, Phoenix police officers interact with thousands of members of the public in neighborhoods across the city. In each instance, we do our best to protect residents, uphold the law, and keep families and our community safe,” London’s statement reads.
“The vast majority of these interactions go unremarked upon,” London added. “On occasion, an interaction receives intense scrutiny by the public, the media, the city and the department. That is as it should be — as police officers, each of us must be held accountable under the law. However, accountability first requires the completion of a thorough, fact-based investigation. To hold court using only emotion, without obtaining facts, or ignoring facts, does not benefit our community.”