A Phoenix couple at the center of a viral-video confronted the city's mayor and police chief at a community meeting Tuesday night about why police officers who pulled guns on them and their children last month and threatened to shoot them weren't fired.
The event gave Dravon Ames, 22, and Iesha Harper, 24, who is six months pregnant, a chance to vent face-to-face with city leaders over the way they were treated during the now-viral encounter with police on May 27. Both Ames and Harper said they feared they were going to be shot during the encounter.
"It just makes me sick to my stomach. I have nightmares of barrels being pointed in my face and all I could think was, 'How can I save my daughter?’"Ames told city officials at the meeting. "No kid should ever see that, nor should she see terror like that."
Mayor Kate Gallego ordered the community meeting, held at the the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Phoenix, after cellphone videos surfaced last week showing officers screaming profanities at Ames and Harper, manhandling both of them and pointing guns at them and their children, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, after they were accused of shoplifting at a Family Dollar store. The names of the officers were not released.
"Police were trying to hurt us because she took a doll," Ames said. "It hurts to see that this is what happens when someone's shoplifting. If you think it's about stealing or whatever … mass murderers get walked down and without a scratch."
Civil rights activists and community organizers urged victims who had been shot by Phoenix police officers and families that had lost loved ones to officer-involved shootings and/or police brutality to attend the meeting.
"We owe it to our residents to give them an open forum to discuss their concerns with us and to propose solutions," Gallego said in a statement.
Among the attendees were Edward Brown, 35, who was paralyzed on Aug. 5, 2018, when he was shot in the back by a Phoenix police officer investigating drug activity in an alley; the family of Jacob Harris, a 19-year-old shot to death by an officer on Jan. 11 after he was suspected of being involved in an armed robbery; and relatives of Michelle Cusseaux, 50, who was fatally shot by a police officer sent to her apartment as part of a court-ordered mental health pick-up in 2014.
One resident, Dante Patterson, said he had a dangerous encounter in January 2018 with one of the same officers allegedly involved in the couple's apprehension last week.
"I tried twice to file a complaint through the Professional Standards Bureau so he does not do that conduct again and you guys ignored me and look what happened," Patterson said, addressing the police chief directly. "You guys didn't listen to me, and just know that I'm not going to stop until something is done."
At a Monday press conference, Ames and Haper said they rejected apologies from Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams.
"We've been aware of apologies from the mayor and the chief and, honestly, it hasn't done anything to help us because it feels like a half apology. The officers are still working. It feels like a slap in the face. It's like putting some lemon juice on an open wound," Ames said.
A day earlier, Williams said in an interview with ABC affiliate station KNXV in Phoenix that she has "apologized to the family. I've apologized to the community."
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Britt London released a statement Monday asking the community to be patient until all the facts of an investigation come out.
"On occasion, an interaction receives intense scrutiny by the public, the media, the city, and the department," London said. "That is as it should be -- as police officers, each of us must be held accountable under the law. However, accountability first requires the completion of a thorough, fact-based investigation. To hold court using only emotion, without obtaining facts, or ignoring facts, does not benefit our community."
Hours after the couple's press conference on Monday, Phoenix police released new surveillance video from inside a Family Dollar store in Phoenix purportedly showing Ames shoplifting a pair of socks and his 4-year-old daughter walking out of the store with a box containing a doll.
The video also shows an unnamed woman at the store with Ames, Harper and their two children tossing items back on a shelf before walking out with the young girl holding the doll.
Attorney Sandra Slaton, who is representing the couple along with former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, said Monday that even if allegations of shoplifting were true, "it still would not justify the horrific, barbaric action of this police department."
No charges were filed against the couple, and a $10 million notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, was sent to the city of Phoenix by attorneys for the couple.