A family has filed a $10 million civil rights suit against the Phoenix Police Department (PPD), the city of Phoenix, and a local police officer following the release of viral video footage that shows the officer brandishing his gun and threatening to shoot a pregnant woman and her fiancé whose 4-year-old daughter was suspected of stealing a Barbie from the Family Dollar store.
"It was not until the parents got back into their car that they realized" their daughter had taken the doll, according to the suit.
On May 27, Iesha Harper, 24, and her fiancé Dravon Ames, 22, along with their 1- and 4-year-old daughters, were followed by police as they drove away from the Family Dollar. Upon parking at their babysitter's residence, they were approached by two officers, at least one of whom is seen with his gun drawn.
"Get your fucking hands up," the officer can be heard saying. "I'm gonna put a fucking cap right in your fucking head!"
"My hands are holding my babies," Harper replied.
"Get out of the fucking car," the officer replied. "You're gonna get shot!"
A PPD incident report written by the officer omits any mention of his brandished weapon and paints both Ames and Harper as a confrontational threat. Specifically, it alleges Harper was "verbally abusive" and that the officers feared she had a weapon. She did not.
That same report acknowledges that Ames complied with the officer's commands. But in an apparent attempt to justify the use of force, the report claims Ames was "verbally loud" in saying "that he had done nothing wrong."
Additional footage shows a different officer throwing Ames against the side of a squad car. After commanding Ames to spread his feet, the officer forcefully kicks his right leg while Ames struggles to maintain his balance. At one point, the footage shows at least five officers at the scene.
No charges were filed against any party for shoplifting. Police officers issued Ames a traffic ticket and impounded his car for driving with a suspended license.
The $10 million lawsuit claims that an officer—referred to as Meyer—"punched the father very hard in the back for no reason." Now, Ames "is limping, cannot stand straight or carry weight," the suit says, all of which have affected his "earning capacity" as a warehouse employee. It accuses the officers of committing "battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14 amendments."
It further states that the officers were from the Central City Precinct, and that "the rules are that they should have body cameras."
"My understanding is that because that's a high crime area, they should have been wearing body cameras," Tom C. Horne, the family's attorney, tells Reason. "They did not." In 2018, the Phoenix City Council authorized the implementation of body cameras city-wide. So far, only one in five officers have been equipped with them.
After Harper exited the vehicle with her children, the suit says that an officer "grabbed the mother and baby around both of their necks" in an attempt to remove the 1-year-old child from her arms. Harper refused to do so, allegedly because the baby is too young to walk and the pavement was hot. The officer then pulled the baby by the arm, injuring her limb. The 4-year-old, Island Drake, has since been having nightmares and wetting the bed, Horne writes in the lawsuit.
"I, like many others, am sick over what I have seen in the video depicting Phoenix police interacting with a family and young children," Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted on Saturday. "There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable."
Gallego said she will expedite the implementation of police body cameras and that all precincts will have them by August. She will also hold a "community meeting" this evening, during which residents can air concerns and discuss potential solutions. She has asked the police chief to attend.
The Barbie was returned to the Family Dollar without upset, NPR reports.