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Hands tied, Phoenix City Council doesn’t act on petition to fire officers

From left, Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper, Tom Horne and Jarrett Maupin appear before the Phoenix City Council meeting Wednesday, July 3, 2019. (KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix City Council, restricted by the city charter, didn’t act Wednesday after considering a citizen petition to fire the officers involved in the shoplifting case that became national news after video of the incident when viral.

Rev. Jarrett Maupin, the civil rights activist advising the family involved, submitted the petition during the July 19 council meeting.

The petition urged the council to “Direct the city manager to terminate the employment of ‘Officer Meyer’ and ‘Officer John Doe’ and suspend without pay/demote/retrain all other officers involved” within 15 days.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the city’s legal staff said the council doesn’t have the authority to issue such orders under Chapter III, Article 4 of the city charter, which reads as follows:

Neither the Council nor any of its Members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, office by the City Manager or by any of his subordinates, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of officers and employees in the administrative service of the City. Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council and its Members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the City Manager and neither the Council nor any Member thereof shall give orders to any subordinates of the City Manager, either publicly or privately.

Any Member of the Council violating the provisions of this section, or offering a resolution or ordinance in violation of this section, shall be removed from office as in this Charter elsewhere provided.

The city’s legal staff also said state laws and a memorandum of understanding with the police union prevent termination of officers without due process.

The council didn’t say much about the petition, although Councilman Sal DiCiccio reiterated his staunch support for police during the meeting and afterward on Twitter.

Wednesday’s public comment session on the item was subdued, a contrast to recent meetings in the wake of the video making the rounds and the family filing a $10 million claim against the city.

Maupin, Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper were among the handful of citizens who showed up at the Orpheum Theatre, the site of the meeting because of a power outage at council chambers, to address the agenda item regarding the petition.

Maupin criticized the employment protections afforded police officers and asked the council to look into ways to address the issue short of termination.

“What about demotion? What about retraining? What about removing the city-issued service weapons that you’ve given them? What about suspending them without pay?” he asked.

“What can you do? Have any of you asked city staff … what lengths you can go to punish these officers?”

During a press conference earlier Wednesday, Tom Horne, the family’s attorney, said Ames and Harper had been asked by a police detective handling the case two weeks ago if Ames and Harper wanted charges to be filed.

Horne said the family said yes, even though a conviction could make it more difficult to collect damages from the city.

“The final decision was that our clients do want the police officers to be prosecuted because the most important thing is that this never happen again, and a prosecution would serve that end,” he said.

Horne said it was ultimately up to prosecutors to decide whether charges will be filed and what kind.

“We were asked for our input. I have no idea whether our input carries weight or not,” he said.

He said any decision on charges wouldn’t change his plans for the lawsuit against the city.

The family filed notice of its intent to sue on June 13, with the dollar amount sought based on $2.5 million per family member: Ames, Harper, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old.

The Phoenix Police Department said it was investigating the incident after being provided bystander cellphone videos that caused a national outcry. (The officers involved hadn’t yet been issued body cameras.)

The video shows one officer with his gun pulled making threats and using profanity toward the pregnant Harper while she held the baby. Another officer can be seen roughly handling Ames and kicking his leg.

Ames and Harper say they didn’t resist at any time.

On Tuesday night, during a council policy session, Chief Jeri Williams released a five-point plan on how her department can improve in the wake of this and other recent incidents of alleged police misconduct.

The plan called for improved communication of job expectations for police officers, better and more modernized technology and public feedback about their job performance.

She also said department leaders have met with officers over the past two weeks to discuss the incident involving Ames and Harper.

Williams and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego have previously apologized to the family for the incident.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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