Citizens voice concerns with Phoenix police during community meeting

Jun 18, 2019, 10:19 PM | Updated: Jun 27, 2019, 7:09 am
(KTAR News/Peter Samore)...
(KTAR News/Peter Samore)
(KTAR News/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX — Dozens of concerned citizens voiced their frustrations with the Phoenix Police Department during a community meeting at a downtown church Tuesday evening.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego were among the city leaders who heard from citizens at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church following a spat of recent allegations against police, including the use of excessive force in a shoplifting incident and offensive social media posts.

Most asked for change, including the firing of officers who were deemed to have used excessive force against fellow citizens.

Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and their two children were also in attendance and spoke during the 3-hour town hall.

Ames is the man who is seen on cellphone video getting his legs sweep kicked out from under him by a Phoenix police officer while handcuffed.

The videos also show an officer with his gun pulled threatening Harper, who is pregnant, and using expletives while she is holding the baby.

The family said the incident started over a stolen doll.

“No one should ever try to justify what happened that day,” Ames told the crowd.

Harper, holding the couple’s 1-year-old child, said, “We matter.”

Williams and Gallego were booed and interrupted during their time to speak.

Williams personally addressed some speakers whose concerns she had written down in a notebook.

Among the speakers was the father of Jacob Harris, a black 19-year-old man who was shot and killed by a Phoenix officer in January following an armed robbery at a fast food restaurant.

Williams was met with more boos when she said that change won’t start with her department, but rather the community.

“We are here to listen, we are here to come back with this community and we are here for change,” Williams said.

Gallego, the last speaker, spoke for less than a minute. She acknowledged that the citizen concerns wouldn’t go unnoticed.

“This is a very difficult conversation and it will continue,” Gallego said. “We are going to come back in 30 days with recommendations.

“We have listened to you. We will come back with recommendations.”

Both Williams and Gallego have publicly apologized to the family for the conduct officers used during the incident.

The family filed a claim of notice last week, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, seeking $10 million.

Ames and Harper accused the officers of battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and violation of the civil rights in the claim (warning: explicit language).

Before the claim was filed, the Phoenix Police Department said it launched an internal investigation of the officers’ response after seeing the videos.

Williams said city officials would have more town halls with citizens in the near future, but didn’t offer any specifics.

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski of District 7 said in a statement Tuesday night that the meeting made it clear to him that the community’s frustration goes much further than this one incident.

“While I know the actions of a few are not representative of our entire police department, I also know that we must dig deeper into the issues that were brought up tonight,” he said.

“We must find ways to ensure we are more transparent and forthcoming with information and that we are holding our officers accountable to the highest of standards.”

Councilwoman Laura Pastor of District 4 said in a statement Wednesday morning that she heard the anger of the people who attended the meeting.

She said if the city committed itself to fully implementing the tenets and recommendations of the Community Police Trust Initiative, she and others may have found themselves in a better state today.

“As difficult as it was to hear the stories, we all needed to hear them, to hear you. I believe you, and I will continue to push for the changes you have called for,’ she said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Citizens voice concerns with Phoenix police during community meeting