Phoenix, AZ – The mayor explained to angry citizens on Wednesday night that the Phoenix City Council doesn’t have the authority to fire police officers without giving them due process.
A family who was arrested after the father and daughter were both caught shoplifting has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city and demanded that the officers who arrested them be fired.
The incident occurred on May 27 at the Family Dollar store on McDowell Road and 36th Street after store employees notified police about several shoplifters who were leaving the store, the Arizona Republic reported.
Surveillance video from the store showed that numerous members of the family were actually shoplifting.
Phoenix Police Officer Nicholas Welch was already at the Dollar Store dealing with another shoplifting complaint when the manager pointed out 22-year-old Dravon Ames, 24-year-old Lesha Harper, their two young daughters, and 48-year-old Renita Lynn Biscoe and said they had stolen a bunch of toys, according to the incident report from the Phoenix Police Department.
Store surveillance video showed that prior to the store manager’s intervention, Biscoe and the four year old were standing near the checkout inside the store.
The little girl was carrying a Baby Alive doll.
All of a sudden, Biscoe put down the items she was holding and left the store. The four-year-old girl followed her, still carrying the doll which had not been paid for.
A second surveillance video showed Ames inside the Family Dollar as he appeared to be shopping for underwear.
In the video, Ames was holding a package before he turned his back to the camera, and then when he turned back around, the package was gone, the Arizona Republic reported.
That’s when the store manager notified the officer who was already there in response to another shoplifting call.
When the suspects saw Officer Welch looking at them, they fled to their vehicle in the parking lot, but the officer managed to stop Biscoe from leaving, the Arizona Republic reported.
Biscoe put down the foil she had been holding before she left the store, so the officer didn’t see her actually steal anything from the Family Dollar, but it turned out that she was already wanted on warrants by Phoenix, the city of El Mirage, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), according to the police report.
Officers attempted to stop Ames, but he fled from them in his vehicle.
An officer located Ames driving after he fled, and initiated a high-risk traffic stop on him at a nearby apartment complex.
The officers ordered the occupants to put their hands up.
Ames began yelling at police that he hadn’t done anything wrong and then reached for something between the seats, according to the police report.
The officer pulled his weapon and ordered them again to put their hands up while saying, "You're gonna f---ing get shot!"
Officers continued to use profanity while giving orders to the family.
Ames started to comply by placing his hands on the steering wheel, but Harper yelled “I have my child in here. I am not putting my hands up!” according to the police report.
Backup officers arrived and Ames complied with orders to get out of the vehicle and was taken into custody.
A cell phone video filmed by a bystander showed Ames lying on the pavement on his stomach while an officer handcuffed him, KPNX reported.
Then the officer stood Ames up and pushed him up against side of a police SUV and ordered him to spread his legs apart.
The video showed the when Ames failed to spread his legs far enough apart, the officer kicked Ames’ right leg out further out, and the man fell to his knees.
Police found the stolen doll in the backseat of the suspects’ vehicle, according to the police report.
Harper told police she was in the grocery store next door and her aunt, Biscoe, had taken her four-year-old daughter into the Family Dollar.
She said she knew the doll had to be stolen when she saw it because she knew her aunt and daughter had no money when they went into the store, according to the police report.
Harper said she heard Officer Welch tell them to stop, and that she told Ames to stop, but that he ignored her and continued to flee.
Police did not arrest Harper and she was released shortly thereafter.
When police interviewed Ames, he admitted to stealing a pair of underwear from the Family Dollar, according to the police report.
He said that he threw them out the window somewhere between the store and the apartment complex.
The police report said Ames admitted to officers that he ran because he was scared because his license was suspended from a DUI.
Ames was issued a citation for driving on a suspended license and released. His car was impounded, according to the police report.
No one was arrested for shoplifting because the store manager declined to prosecute, The Washington Post reported.
Maricopa County court records showed that Ames was involved in a car crash on Oct. 31, 2018 and was arrested in connection with assaulting two officers who responded to the scene, the Arizona Republic reported.
Ames and Harper attended a city council meeting on Wednesday night and demanded that the city fire the officers who had stopped them.
The couple has tried to make the issue over accusing a toddler of shoplifting and a rough arrest of Ames rather than the fact the father fled police because he didn't have a driver's license.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego explained that the city council cannot fire administrative employees under the city’s charter, the Associated Press reported.
City legal staff also explained that the memorandum of understanding between the city and the police union guarantees officers the right to due process.
The officers are the subject of an internal affairs investigation into the incident and their futures are in the hands of Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and the police department’s professional standards bureau, the Associated Press reported.
At a meeting on Tuesday, the city council voted to research software that could identify problem officers.
The city council also voted to consider doing a survey of the community’s attitudes toward the Phoenix Police Department, according to the Associated Press.
Ames said he was disappointed but not surprised by the city’s response to his complaints.
“People been dying in the streets of Phoenix for years and they don’t do anything about it,” Ames said. “We knew nothing was going to happen because it's been happening for years, but we’re going to keep fighting and hope for some change.”
Ames and Harper were accompanied to the meeting by the Reverend Jarrett Maupin, a liberal Baptist minister and self-proclaimed civil rights activist, the Associated Press reported.
Maupin insisted the city council could have voted to change its policies to give themselves the power to fire the officers in violation of the officers' union contract.
“Maybe we can move forward on a legal challenge and make things more equitable in the city for people of color that are facing an uphill battle against police that have exceptional and extremely immoral protections,” he suggested.