An Arizona couple will receive a $475,000 settlement a year after they were violently confronted by the police over a stolen doll.
The Phoenix City Council approved the settlement with a 6-2 vote on Wednesday. The incident grabbed headlines in May 2019 after a viral cellphone video showed Phoenix police officers pointing guns and yelling obscenities at Iesha Harper, Dravon Ames and their two daughters.
The altercation occurred after employees at a Family Dollar store told officers already on the scene at the store for unrelated matter that the couple’s 4-year-old daughter stole a doll. Harper and Ames would later claim it was an accident and they did not know their little girl had the toy. By the time the police received the report, the couple was gone. The family traveled to an apartment complex to drop their daughter off with a babysitter. The cops followed them there and approached them shouting commands with guns drawn.
“Next thing you know, a police officer … comes up, open the door, banging on the window with a gun, saying he’s gonna shoot us in the face, telling us to get out of the car,” Ames recalled at a news conference.
Video taken by a witness showed a cuffed Ames lying on the ground. Moments later, an officer snatches him up to lean him against a cruiser. A few seconds later, the officer hits him in the knee so hard he fell.
“He told the father to spread his legs, which the father did,” a notice of claim filed by the couple stated. “The officer kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed, and then the officer yanked him back up. He kept his knee between the father’s legs. He punched the father very hard in the back for no reason.”
While Ames was being roughed up, another officer forced Harper and her daughters to get out of the vehicle at gunpoint. Harper was holding her 1-year-old at the time and the officer demanded she place the baby on the hot asphalt so she could be detained. The mother of two refused, so the officer yanked the baby’s arm before she was eventually given to a bystander.
Ames and Harper were detained for 30 and 15 minutes, respectively, before a lieutenant showed up and allowed them to go free. No charges were filed against the couple. Officer Christopher Meyer was fired four months after the incident. The police department also enacted a policy requiring officers to document every instance of a gun being pointed at a civilian.
The notice of claim, a precursor to lawsuit, was filed in June 2019. In the documents, the couple’s attorney requested $10 million from the city for excessive force and violation of civil rights.
“I just want to say I’m glad we got justice. It’s been hell dealing with my kids and everything that happened,” Harper told the media on Wednesday.
The Phoenix Police Department has been under scrutiny for several incidents related to excessive force. In 2018, Phoenix officers fired at civilians more than any other law enforcement agency in the United States, the Arizona Republic. On average, there was a shooting every eight days that year. Black people and Native Americans were disproportionately targeted compared to other demographics. Fourteen percent of people shot between 2011 and 2018 were Black, even though African-Americans make up a mere 7 percent of Phoenix’s population.