An Arizona police chief said she has apologized to a black couple arrested on suspicion of shoplifting after cell phone videos surfaced showing one police officer threatening to shoot a father as other officers point guns at his pregnant fiancee and their young children.
"Every time I look at that video, it's extremely unsettling," Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in an interview with ABC affiliate station KNXV-TV in Phoenix on Sunday. "It's not in keeping with what I expect from our employees."
The chief's statement came just days after a $10 million notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, was sent to the city of Phoenix on behalf of Dravon Ames, 22, and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, 24, the couple seen in the videos being arrested by Phoenix police last month.
"It's troubling," Williams said of the incident. "It's challenging and definitely not representative of the 2,900 officers we have in Phoenix."
The episode unfolded on May 27, when Phoenix officers responded to a report of a shoplifting incident at a Family Dollar store.
When the officers arrived at the store to investigate, a clerk told them about an unrelated shoplifting incident that had just occurred and were directed to three adults and two young children getting into a car in the parking lot, Williams said.
An officer ran out and tried to speak to the occupants of the car, yelling orders for the driver to stop, but the car kept going, Williams said.
The driver stopped and let out a passenger, a woman who had warrants out for her arrest, the chief said. She was taken into custody.
Officers then caught up to the vehicle suspected in the shoplifting at a nearby apartment complex. That's when the incident quickly escalated and witnesses pulled out cell phones and started recording.
In one video, an officer can be heard yelling at Ames to get his hands up. The officer, identified by Phoenix police officials as Officer Christopher Meyer, is then heard yelling at Ames, "I'm gonna put a f------- cap in your f------- head."
A second video of the incident shows Ames on the pavement outside his car with the same officer, Meyer, on top of him and placing him in handcuffs. The officer, according to the video, then yanks Ames off the ground and pushes him against a patrol vehicle before sweep-kicking Ames' legs apart, causing him to almost fall down.
"When I tell you do something, you f------ do it!" Meyer is heard in the video yelling at Ames.
Ames responded that he was complying and then told Meyer, "I'm sorry."
Both videos show other officers pointing guns at Ames' car, where Harper, who is pregnant, was in the backseat with her two daughters, a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old.
When the officers yelled at Harper to get out of the car, she told them, "I have two kids." One officer responds, "I don't give a s---, put your hands up."
Harper got out of the car holding her 1-year-old. An officer charged up and attempted to pull the toddler from her arms, according to the video. A neighbor intervened and agreed to take the children, which police allowed before arresting Harper.
The videos surfaced online last week, and Chief Williams posted them on Facebook on Friday.
The officers involved in the incident were not wearing body cameras.
Williams immediately ordered an investigation and placed Meyer and the other officers involved in the incident on desk duty. The names of the other officers were not released.
"I, like many others am sick over what I have seen in the video depicting Phoenix police interacting with a family and young children," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement. "There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting."
Gallego has called for a community meeting on Tuesday to discuss the incident.
While police said Ames confessed to stealing a pair of underwear from the Family Dollar and Harper said her 4-year-old daughter took a doll from the store without her knowledge, no charges were filed against the couple because the store manager declined to press charges.
On Wednesday, the couple's attorney, Tom Horne, a former Arizona attorney general, filed a notice of claim with the city on behalf of Ames, Harper and their two children.
In the letter, Horne said the couple never resisted the officers and attempted to comply with their orders.
"The police officers committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights," Horne wrote in the letter.
"This case can settle for $2.5 million for each of the four claimants or a total of $10 million," Horne wrote.