Phoenix Police Chief Jeered After Promising Changes

The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, left, arrives with Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and one of the family’s two daughters, 1-year-old London, at a community meeting Tuesday in Phoenix. (AP photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Police Chief Jeri Williams promised change in her department after being booed by hundreds of people gathered Tuesday night to discuss a videotaped police encounter that has caused a national outcry.

The meeting at a downtown church was called by the city after the release of a bystander’s video of police officers who pointed guns and shouted obscenities last month at a black family. Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancée Iesha Harper, who was holding their 1-year-old daughter, say their 4-year-old daughter had stolen a doll from a store without their knowledge.

“Real change starts with the community,” Williams said to a sometimes hostile crowd of mainly blacks and Latinos.

“Real change starts with the firing of the officers! Fire them!” one woman shouted toward the stage, where Williams, who is black, was seated next to Mayor Kate Gallego and other Phoenix city leaders.

Appearing frustrated at times, Williams assured those gathered that the meeting would not be the last.

“We are here to listen, we are here to make change,” she said.

The couple has called for the officers to be fired.

Ames addressed the crowd briefly, drawing applause when he said he and his family were lucky to be alive after the incident.

“No one should ever try to justify what happened that day,” he said.

“We matter,” said Harper, holding the couple’s 1-year-old.

The father of Jacob Harris, a black 19-year-old man who was shot to death by a Phoenix officer in January after an armed robbery at a fast food restaurant, also spoke at the meeting, as did others who have had loved ones killed in police shootings.

Earlier Tuesday, Phoenix police released surveillance video aimed at backing up their assertion that adults and not just a child were shoplifting before the incident.

The store video is difficult to follow because it has been edited and the subjects’ faces are blurred. It shows 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 shows 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 states that Dravon Ames told police he threw a pair of stolen underwear out of his car. Police say a woman traveling in a different vehicle was arrested separately for stealing aluminum foil.

A bystander’s video that came to light last week shows officers aiming guns and yelling profane commands at Ames and his pregnant fiancée as she held their 1-year-old daughter. They say their 4-year-old daughter had taken a doll from a store without their knowledge.

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 as a precursor to a lawsuit. The race of the officers has not been revealed.

Ames has a pending case on charges of aggravated assault of a police officer in an unrelated case springing from a traffic accident in suburban Tempe  last year. Court documents say Ames unsuccessfully tried to kick officers several times when they arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.

One Tempe officer used a stun gun on Ames because he thought he was trying to grab the other officer’s gun, according to documents.

Phoenix police have not responded to repeated questions about whether the officers in the videotaped encounter after the alleged shoplifting were aware of, or influenced by, Ames’ earlier case. Civil liberties attorney Sandra Slaton said the prior case was irrelevant.

The police chief said an investigation into the officers’ actions is under way. The Phoenix police union is urging calm, saying it will not express an opinion until the investigation is complete.

The bystander’s video comes amid an investigation by police departments in Phoenix and other cities into a database that appears to catalog thousands of bigoted or violent social media posts by active-duty and former officers.

Williams has moved some officers to “non-enforcement” assignments while the department looks into Facebook posts she called “embarrassing and disturbing.”

A database published by Plain View Project this month included nearly 180 posts tied to current Phoenix police officers that disparage Muslims, black people, transgender people and other groups.

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