In August 2017, Phoenix police Sergeant Sean Coutts changed his Facebook profile picture to a screenshot of a news story about an anti-Trump protester who police had shot in the genitals with a rubber bullet.
Six years earlier, the family of Tony Arambula settled a lawsuit against Coutts and the city of Phoenix for $1.75 million after one of Coutts' officers shot Arambula in the back six times and Coutts tried to cover it up, according to the lawsuit.
Arambula had called the police for help after an intruder broke into youngest son's bedroom. Arambula was still on the phone with 911 when one Phoenix cop stormed in and shot him six times. That officer can be heard confessing to his mistake on the 911 recording — and Coutts can be heard telling him, "Don't worry about it. I got your back. We clear?" (The officer later told internal affairs Arambula had pointed a gun at him, which was not true.)
Coutts is one of 11 Phoenix police officers whose Facebook posts were included in a database of offensive posts who is also alleged to have been directly involved in either the death or serious injury of people they were called to detain or assist. The database was created by the Plain View Project in an effort to catalog bigotry and racism among police officers nationwide.
As Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams continues to grapple with the fallout from officers' posts, many of which called for violence against protesters, referred to black people as "thugs," and Muslims as rapists, a Phoenix New Times review of the 97 Phoenix cops whose posts were included in the database found that many of the officers who made offensive posts on Facebook have also been named in lawsuits alleging death or serious injury at the hands of the officers.
Four Phoenix cops in the database were named in lawsuits or news stories for causing the deaths of three different people who died while being detained. At least seven other officers have been accused of causing serious injuries, including breaking a man's arm while placing him in handcuffs and being charged with assault for punching a detained man in the face.
Chief Williams said the department's Professional Standards Bureau will review the Facebook posts for potential misconduct. Tuesday, Williams said she has taken officers who made particularly egregious posts off of their "enforcement assignments" and placed them on desk duty, though she declined to specify which officers or how many.
But police shooting victims and their families are skeptical that the officers will actually face any consequences for their actions and plan to hold a rally outside of Phoenix police headquarters on Friday. Members of the Black Lives Matter movement and Poder in Action also planned on addressing the Phoenix City Council about the offensive posts at the Council's weekly meeting today.
"I think this whole review for the Professional Standards Bureau is a joke. They're not firing anybody. One cop already was reviewed by internal affairs and they decided it wasn't misconduct," said Roland Harris, whose son, Jacob Harris, was shot and killed by Phoenix police officers in January. "When you stand by silently and allow your fellow officers to brutalize the community, you're just as guilty as them."
New Times checked the 97 Phoenix officers named in the database against federal court records, news clippings, and the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady list, a list of police officers who are so notoriously unreliable and dishonest that prosecutors must disclose the officer's reputation to defense lawyers. Eight Phoenix officers in the Plain View Project database are also on the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady list.
Phoenix police Sergeant Juan Hernandez was added to the Brady list in 2004, as was officer David Pallas. Hernandez has shared anti-Muslim memes on Facebook, including one from a page called "Ban Sharia Law in Your State," captioned: "The most common name for a convicted gang rapist in England is ... Muhammad."
Pallas was noted in the previous New Times story on Phoenix cops' Facebook posts for his many anti-Muslim posts as well, including calling a goat a "Muslim sex slave," saying "Please ban Islam," calling former President Barack Obama a "gay Muslim," and saying the Quran should be banned.
Another 31 of the officers have been named in federal lawsuits by citizens who allege the officers violated their rights, often by using excessive force.
Police officers Ryan Nielsen and David Head were included in the database for their respective posts joking about buying an AR-15 to protect his house from his "ghetto neighbors" and for saying two teenage boys who refused to go to school "need a good ass kicking." They were both named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2017.
On January 4, 2017, police were called to the Maryvale Community Center after 43-year-old Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin tried to enter a restroom with his service dog and got into an argument with a city employee who would not let him in. Once there, police found Muhaymin had a warrant out for his arrest.
Muhaymin asked police to call his sister to come pick up the dog, but the officers ignored him. Muhaymin refused to put the dog down, so cops knocked the dog out of his arms and forced him to the ground. Although Muhaymin repeatedly told officers he could not breathe during the forceful arrest, they ignored him, according to the lawsuit filed by his sister.
"Now you're gonna be charged with a felony, dumbass," says one officer as Muhaymin screams in pain, as can be heard on the videos released after his death.
Muhaymin had a heart attack and died while being detained. The lawsuit remains ongoing. Both Head and Nielsen were named among the officers who participated in Muhaymin's forceful detention, but it's not yet clear what role they played specifically.
Last month, Phoenix cop Timothy Baiardi was charged with aggravated assault after he was caught on video punching and slapping a shoplifting suspect. On Facebook, he posted a meme of former United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis captioned: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
"I'm really outraged with this stuff, what the police did changed my life," said Edward Brown, who was shot by Phoenix police officers last August and paralyzed from the chest down. Brown was unarmed. "They revived me in the ambulance [after being shot in the spine]. I woke up three days later and wondered why I couldn't move."
"It feels like there's no end to this police violence. We have to do something about it. It bothers me every day. Asleep, awake, every minute, it bothers me. I can't forget," Brown said.
Brown and Harris told New Times they all plan on attending the demonstration outside police headquarters on Friday. Francis Garrett, the mother of Michelle Cusseaux, a mentally ill woman who was shot and killed by Phoenix police officers in 2014, is also expected to attend.
In 2008, the parents of Igor Brik, a mentally handicapped adult with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old and an IQ of 56, called their son's adult day care program for help getting Igor to school. Because Igor wouldn't leave his room, his parents were advised to call a crisis counselor, who in turn asked for the assistance of a police escort.
Although the crisis counselor explicitly told police Igor was severely mentally handicapped and they should not enter the home until the crisis counselor arrived, Phoenix cop Shawn Henry barged into Igor's room, wrestled him to the ground, and tased him multiple times, according to the lawsuit filed by Igor's parents.
Henry dragged Igor out of the house barefoot and in his underwear. Igor's parents begged police to stop, but cops ignored their pleas and brought Igor to jail without his epilepsy medication. Igor experienced multiple seizures while in custody, according to the lawsuit filed by the family.
When Igor's parents were able to bail him out on July 14, he was rushed to a hospital and placed on life support. He was discharged two weeks later, but had changed into a more violent, withdrawn person. His family settled a lawsuit against Henry and the city of Phoenix in 2010, though the terms of the settlement were not readily available in federal court filings.
Still, in 2013, Henry posted a photo of a person standing in the sights of a rifle, saying only, "Sweet!" He also complained about being "cited" by another police officer (though it's unclear from his post what he was cited for) and posted a photo of a gun with the caption "Its because I'm black, isn't it?" "Haha! How many times have we heard this one?" wrote Henry, who is white.
Another officer included in the Plain View Project's database, Glenn Neville, is named in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Puente, a migrant rights group, for his actions during an anti-Trump protest in August 2017. According to the lawsuit, Neville "fired chemical munitions and weapons at the anti-Trump protesters without warning" throughout the night. He was included in the database for posting a photo of a skull in front of an American flag with the words "American infidel."
"That this is what goes on in the minds of individuals who are given literal power of life and death over us in our communities is very alarming," said Caroline Isaacs, program director of AFSC-Arizona, a criminal justice reform group. "Finger-wagging and reprimands don't change the fact that those officers genuinely believe this stuff. There's a whole lot of soul-searching that needs to be done. This is not bad apples. This is inherent in the institution of policing and the punishment system."
"We need to think about investing in the things that produce a feeling of community safety and that is not policing, it's investing in communities themselves," Isaacs said.
In an interview Tuesday, Chief Williams did not provide a timeline for the review of officers' posts.
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