Phoenix, AZ – Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced Tuesday that she was terminating an officer involved in a controversial shoplifting arrest captured on video even though a review board didn’t think he should be fired.
Chief Williams told reporters at a press conference on Oct. 22 that the Disciplinary Review Board had completed its investigation into the actions of two police officers who were on the scene of the May incident.
She said the review board had offered her its recommendations but that it’s ultimately her job to determine the appropriate level of discipline.
The Disciplinary Review Board recommended that Phoenix Police Officer Chris Meyer be suspended for his role in the incident, according to the chief.
“The Disciplinary Review Board – DRB - recommended [Officer Meyer] receive a six-week unpaid suspension, but the decision on discipline is mine,” Chief Williams said. “And after meeting with the officer, Chris Meyer, personally and considering all the facts of the case, I have notified him of my intention to terminate his employment.”
“In this case, a 240-hour suspension is just not sufficient to reverse the adverse effects of his actions on our department and our community,” she said.
But the chief wasn’t as unforgiving with everybody.
“One of the officers used inappropriate language but made an attempt to deescalate the situation. The DRB recommended a written reprimand and I agree with their decision,” Chief Williams told reporters.
The chief said the officers involved in the incident were “employees who did not live up to expectations.”
“I expect more, you deserve more,” she said.
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--king 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 – later identified as Officer Chris Meyer - 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, Officer Meyer 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 almost immediately demanded the Phoenix City Council fire all of the police officers who were involved in the event, and had to be informed that the officers were entitled to due process.
But after the investigation and disciplinary process was completed, Chief Williams decided the review board’s recommendation for Officer Chris Meyer wasn’t enough punishment to suit her, so she fired him anyway.
“We wear this badge as a symbol of our commitment to a higher standard,” the chief said, and then lamented the fact that the Phoenix Police Department’s “brand” had been “tarnished” by Officer Meyer’s actions.
Ames and Harper have filed a notice that they plan to sue the city for $10 million, which includes $2.5 million for their two children, KNXV reported.