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Black hotel worker held at gunpoint by Tempe officer plans to sue for $2.5M

PHOENIX – A Black hotel employee is planning to sue the city of Tempe for $2.5 million after being held at gunpoint at his workplace by a police officer searching for a white suspect.

Lawyers for Trevonyae Cumpian said Wednesday they’d filed a notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, about the incident that took place Aug. 29 at the Hawthorn Suites near Southern Avenue and Price Road.

The notice says a payout would cover treatment for Cumpian’s psychological damage as well as send “a message to the police department that this behavior is not acceptable.”

Officer Ronald Kerzaya responded to a hotel manager’s report that a man pointed a gun at an employee, according to a Sept. 2 press release from the Tempe Police Department.

The manager told Kerzaya that the suspect was a white male wearing a black shirt and tan pants, police said.

When the officer was looking for the suspect outside the hotel, Cumpian exited the building in the area where Kerzaya was searching.

Cumpian didn’t match the race of the suspect and identified himself as an employee, police said, but Kerzaya held him at gunpoint for several minutes until he could get Cumpian’s employment status verified.

The actual suspect was never found, police said.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also has worked with the family of George Floyd, who died after a Minnesota police held a knee on his neck, and Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back by police in Wisconsin, is representing Cumpian.

Crump also works with the family of Breonna Taylor and was in Tempe to announce Cumpian’s lawsuit on the same day it was learned that a Kentucky grand jury decided against charging officers for Taylor’s shooting death during a drug raid.

The grand jury only charged fired Officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes during the raid on the night of March 13. The FBI is still investigating potential violations of federal law in the case.

Crump said during a press conference that cases such as Taylor’s and Cumpian’s are evidence that “systematic racism and oppression” exists.

“That’s why we’re filing this lawsuit, to take on the entire system,” he said.

On Sept. 3, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods issued a statement saying an investigation into the incident was still underway but a review of Kerzaya’s body camera footage was “both disturbing and disappointing.”

“The fact that no one was injured is a great relief, but that does little to reduce the dissatisfaction with this incident,” he said.

Two weeks after the incident, the city announced that Police Chief Sylvia Moir had submitted her resignation.

Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching said the decision to change chiefs came following a series of conversations around the need to resurrect the structure of the city when it comes to race, policing in America, social justice, systemic racism and other issues.

On Wednesday, the city announced that Ching selected a retired commander to serve as interim chief. Jeff Glover will be the East Valley city’s first Black police chief when he takes over next month.

The hotel incident occurred about two weeks after Woods announced he was forming a public safety task force aimed at examining and innovating policing in the city.

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