Man plans to seek $11.5M from Phoenix in police brutality lawsuit

Jun 8, 2020, 3:00 PM
Dion Humphrey...
(Facebook Screenshot/Dion Humphrey)
(Facebook Screenshot/Dion Humphrey)

PHOENIX (AP) — A young black man who claims he was hit with rubber bullets and wrestled to the ground in January by four white Phoenix police officers in a case of mistaken identity said Monday that the encounter did more than long-term physical damage.

Dion Humphrey, 19, spoke with reporters after his lawyers announced had filed a notice of claim for a lawsuit that will seek $11.5 million in damages.

The notice is a required precursor to a lawsuit involving a municipality and the claim names the city of Phoenix, its police department and officers.

“I feel towards the police that I’m not safe,” Humphrey said. “Every single time I see them, my heart will start to race and I will start to feel like I’m panicking.”

Humphrey was hit with the rubber bullets in his chest near his heart and in his groin after he dropped his sisters off at their school and was mistaken for a half-brother wanted by authorities, the claim said.

He was hospitalized for more than 20 days and will need heart surgery, said the claim, which accuses the officers of excessive use of force, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence.

“I personally believe if he wasn’t African American, this would not have happened to him,” said Humphrey’s father, William. “He has a staggered walk. They had to have seen he’s not a threat.”

Humphrey on Jan. 10 was walking his sisters to school when he said he was frightened by a loud noise from a vehicle and took off running. The noise was a flash grenade fired by officers who identified him as the suspect they were looking for.

Humphrey said officers hit him with the rubber bullets and wrestled him to the ground. He fell to the floor clutching his stomach.

“I told them that I couldn’t breathe and I told them I needed help. But then they told me I had the right to remain silent,” Humphrey said.

He was taken in for questioning and then driven home, police said.

The claim alleges Humphrey was held for at least four hours without receiving any medical care.

Police at the time confirmed the officers used a flash grenade because they thought they were dealing with an armed suspect who had previously been violent. Humphrey also didn’t comply with initial commands before running, a police spokesman said.

The police mistook Humphrey for an older half-brother, one of four suspects in the robbery and shooting of a 66-year-old man, according to William Humphrey.

William Humphrey has said that the two siblings look nothing alike. Dion Humphrey weighs 120 pounds and “appears pre-pubescent,” the claim said. The half-brother, Khalil Thornton, has facial hair and tattoos.

Like many police departments across the U.S., Phoenix police have been the target of angry protests of police brutality, specifically toward unarmed black people.

The department is already facing outrage over the May 25 death of Dion Johnson, a black man fatally shot by an Arizona state trooper after being found passed out in his car. Johnson died the same day as George Floyd, whose killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited the ongoing protests.

Attorneys said Humphrey is asking for a settlement of $10 million, along with $1.5 million for his father, to cover past and future medical expenses and mental anguish.

Jarret Maupin, a local activist working with the family, said he wants a review of the case by county prosecutors and for the officers to be fired.

Maupin also complained that no police report has been made public about the incident involving Humphrey, saying it is an example of how Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams should be more transparent about her department’s actions. Williams, Maupin noted, is black and has talked about having two black sons.

“Well, here’s a black son and he’s completely vulnerable and innocent,” Maupin said.

Nickolas Valenzuela, a spokesman for Phoenix’s city government, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

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Man plans to seek $11.5M from Phoenix in police brutality lawsuit