Protesters crowd Phoenix meeting to demand police reforms
PHOENIX (AP) — Protesters angered by a video of Phoenix officers who pointed guns and yelled obscenities at a black family they suspected of shoplifting crowded City Council chambers Wednesday to demand police reforms.
Scores of people began assembling about an hour before the regular meeting carrying signs and banners with slogans such as, "Fire the Police" and "Stop Police Brutality and Impunity."
Once the meeting began, speakers called on the council to fire the officers involved in the videotaped incident and to set up a board of civilians to oversee changes in police department procedures.
"You cannot pass the budget until you fire the cops," resident Jennifer Hernandez told the council, who was scheduled to discuss the city's annual spending plan. "It is our lives on the line."
The protesters shouted down City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, calling him a racist when he defended the police officers.
"You are anarchists and you are out to destroy the city," DiCiccio told the demonstrators in the audience.
The new protest followed a Tuesday night meeting that drew hundreds of people to a downtown church to address the video, which was taken by a bystander who watched police confront Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, who was holding their 1-year-old daughter. The couple say their 4-year-old daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge.
"Real change starts with the community," Police Chief Jeri Williams said Tuesday night to a sometimes-hostile crowd comprised mainly of black and Hispanic residents.
Williams, who is black, said the meeting would not be the last, adding: "We are here to listen. We are here to make change."
The race of the officers has not been made public.
Ames told the crowd Tuesday that he and his family were lucky to be alive after the incident.
Others who spoke included the father of Jacob Harris, a 19-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a Phoenix officer in January following an armed robbery.
Also on Tuesday, Phoenix police released surveillance video aimed at backing up their assertion that the adults and not just a child were shoplifting before the incident.
The heavily edited store video showed a man taking something from a display rack and examining it, but it's unclear what happened to the package when he walked off camera.
Another snippet of video showed a little girl with a doll in a box walking out of the store accompanied by adults.
A police statement last week about the incident in late May stated that Ames told police he threw a pair of stolen underwear out of his car. Police also say a woman traveling in a different vehicle was arrested separately for stealing aluminum foil.
The store decided not to prosecute, and no charges have been filed.
The couple filed a $10 million claim against the city alleging civil rights violations.
Ames has a pending case on charges of aggravated assault of a police officer in an unrelated incident that followed a traffic accident last year in suburban Tempe. Court documents say Ames unsuccessfully tried to kick officers several times when they arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Phoenix police have not responded to repeated questions about whether the officers on the video were aware of, or influenced by, Ames' earlier case. Civil liberties attorney Sandra Slaton has called the prior case irrelevant.
The police chief has said an investigation into the officers' actions is underway.