An Arizona State University professor whose videotaped arrest in 2014 stirred national outrage now says the former campus cop who abused her is harassing people in his new job as a Pinal County deputy.
Ersula Ore is an assistant professor of African and African American Studies and Rhetoric, and also ASU's Lincoln Professor of Ethics in The School of Social Transformation. On December 28, she sent a letter to Pinal County officials alleging an ongoing pattern of abuse by the white officer who arrested her.
Stewart Ferrin was put on an eight-month leave after the Ore arrest and resigned from the ASU police department in February 2015. He began work last March as a deputy for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
"Officer Ferrin is a man with a gun who has a history of violence, poor judgment, and even worse discretion. Hiring him is criminally negligent, as it places innocent people in the path of a reckless and lethal force," Ore wrote to Sheriff Mark Lamb and all five county supervisors. "Officer Ferrin is on a deadly path, and I fear for the next person he contacts and engages."
Her letter — which she sent to Phoenix New Times on Monday — gives a brief reference to her own case, then outlines two 2017 confrontations between Ferrin and the public she says she heard about. One of the alleged victims confirmed her story to New Times.
In one case, Ferrin "assaulted" motorist Oliver Mwamba during a traffic stop, she wrote. A month later, she wrote, Ferrin "assaulted" another motorist, local businessman Thom Petteruti, who thought the deputy "was under the influence of drugs." she wrote.
As with Ore's 2014 case, the details in her new complaint raise tough questions about perceptions of police interactions with the public, and the often-vague line between appropriate use of force by an officer and police brutality.
PCSO officials dispute Ore's depiction of Ferrin and the two cases she outlines.
Sheriff Lamb and others at PCSO have talked to Ferrin about his interactions with the public and the concerns some people have raised, but they don't see a problem, PCSO spokeswoman Navideh Forghani said.
Lamb "stands by Ferrin," Forghani said, adding that Ferrin's employment remains probationary for two more months. "We are monitoring him. We are making sure he stays within our practices and is acting professionally... We feel very confident he's going to do a really good job."
The professor, however, disputes the idea that Ferrin's doing a good job.
In the letter, Ore pointed out that ASU had sent Ferrin an "intent to terminate" notice in 2015 that cited the officer's "resistance to sound supervisory counseling, coaching, and instruction, and a "lack of good judgment and discretion" in arresting Ore.
Ore's encounter with Ferrin on College Avenue in Tempe on the evening of May 20, 2014, went unnoticed by the public at first. Then a dash-cam video of it went viral the next month.
Viewers could see how Ferrin's accusation of jaywalking turned into a yelling match that ended violently, with Ferrin taking Ore to the ground in front of his patrol car.
ASU suffered a tidal wave of bad publicity and complaints about the video and arrest, which had obvious racial overtones to many observers. Examples of media coverage include a Vice News story headlined, "Video of Cop Assaulting Black ASU Professor Should Prompt More Than Outrage," and a prominent mention in an Essence magazine article, "Brutalized but Unbroken."
Ferrin had already been cleared of wrongdoing in the incident, but ASU opened a new investigation that found that he had no legal basis for the arrest. The young officer then resigned, having been on the force about three years.
The Arizona Peace Officers Training and Standards (POST) board later suspended Ferrin's officer status for six months based on several complaints from the public, including a complaint by Ore. His status was reinstated in July 2015, making him re-eligible to be hired by any agency.
The action against Ferrin ended ASU's PR nightmare, but Ore didn't leave the affair looking like a hero. She was charged with obstruction of a public thoroughfare, felony aggravated assault (for kicking Ferrin), and resisting arrest. She later pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and received nine months of probation. Ore kept her job but vowed to sue ASU for $2 million for failing to back her initially. She didn't follow through on the lawsuit threat.
Some people who saw the arrest video sided with Ferrin. Ore's critics insisted that the professor should have heeded Ferrin's commands.
Whatever the bottom line on public opinion, it's clear that the 2014 incident still deeply affects Ore, an expert on America's dark lynching past and institutional racism.
Ore sketched out her feelings in a December 2015 online article, writing:
"My name is Ersula Jawanna Ore, and I’m the one who told a white man with a badge and a gun to go fuck himself all the while remembering how Jordan Davis’ 'Fuck You! Turn that shit up!' got him riddled with bullets; all the while knowing that black bodies enacting self-respect and civic personhood end up hanging from trees, raped, jailed, murdered in jail, and dead in the streets ... I am still not whole, still not healed, but I am, unlike so many others, still alive."
Her recent letter to Sheriff Lamb states that she's "alarmed and troubled" by PCSO's decision to hire Ferrin, asserting that Ferrin continues to bully the public.
For example, she wrote, east Valley resident Oliver Mwamba recently told her how he'd been pulled over and "assaulted" by Ferrin.
Ore got a few details incorrect in her letter, like misspelling Mwamba's name and misidentifying where the stop took place. But her point is that according to Mwamba, Ferrin "made him fearful for his life."
In a separate email to New Times, Ore said that Mwamba "was told by Officer Ferrin that 'you people' cause problems" and that Mwamba "was beaten after being forced to exit the car under the influence of a taser pointed by Officer Ferrin."
Ore told Lamb that she could scarcely believe he was once again a peace officer. Mwamba couldn't be reached for comment.
Businessman Petteruti also contacted Ore late last year with a story about Ferrin handcuffing him during a traffic stop for no apparent reason, she wrote.
On Monday, Petteruti told New Times that he'd been driving near the intersection of Empire Boulevard and Ellsworth Road at about 8 a.m. on December 11, and noticed Ferrin working an accident scene. As he passed the officer, Ferrin suddenly ran to his patrol car and chased after Petteruti's GMC Denali, Petteruti said..
When Petteruti pulled over, Ferrin "threw me out of the car and handcuffed me," he said. "His face was red. He said, 'I'm the boss. I'm in charge.'"
Petteruti said he told Ferrin to "calm down," but that only made the officer angrier.
"He ransacked my truck," Petteruti said. "He hadn't even asked for my my ID."
He asked Ferrin the reason for the traffic stop: "He said, 'I didn't like how you merged.'"
Then Ferrin uncuffed Petteruti, shook his hand, and said, 'Man to man, I think you've learned a lesson here."
Petteruti posted about the incident on Facebook — he's since taken it down — and that drew a call from Sheriff Lamb, the friend of a friend.
"I said, 'Mark, this kid's going to kill someone,'" Petteruti said he told the sheriff, adding that Ferrin was "lying" that Petteruti had tried to "elude" the patrol car.
Lamb said he would "handle" Ferrin, Petteruti said.
Ferrin "is not a normal cop," Petteruti said. "He really is a loose cannon."
Sheriff Lamb didn't return a message from New Times on Monday. Neither did Ferrin.
But Lamb's spokesperson, Forghani, said that the two cases did not happen quite as Ore described them.
Mwamba had been speeding, then refused to roll down his window completely or get out of the car as ordered, Forghani said. When Mwamba unexpectedly turned and reached for something in his back seat, Ferrin "pulled him out of the car," she said.
Ferrin cited Mwamba for failing to obey an officer, speeding, and resisting arrest. Mwamba's case is still pending in Pinal County Justice Court.
Petteruti, before his stop, had cut off other drivers in traffic near the accident scene, prompting Ferrin to give chase. Ferrin let off Petteruti with just a warning, Forhani said. Lamb did chat with Petteruti about the incident over the phone, and subsequently talked to Ferrin about it, she said.
Besides those two unofficial complaints, three citizens have complained officially, "mostly about him being rude on traffic stops" since Ferrin began work in late March, Forghani said. Two of the complaints were deemed unfounded, and the other one is pending.
Yet Ferrin has made an impressive 2,570 public contacts since he started with PCSO, she said, and his record of official complaints is below the agency average for the number of contacts he's had.
Ferrin made an above-average number of stops at ASU police while he was there, too; his supervisors considered him a "go-getter."
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In Ore's mind, though, Ferrin is a menace who shouldn't be a cop. So far, especially given Lamb's support of Ferrin, it appears her grievance is going nowhere. The only reaction from Pinal County, Ore said, is that PCSO contacted ASU's general counsel and complained that her letter was written on official ASU letterhead.
Ore didn't write the complaint originally on ASU letterhead, she said, adding that one of her colleagues copied it to the logo-bearing ASU stationery before emailing it to Pinal County officials.
Ore said she's spreading awareness about Ferrin now "in the interest of public safety." She invites anyone who's witnessed Ferrin acting badly to contact her.
"Ferrin has had a chance to reform," she said. "His repeat offense and Pinal County’s depraved indifference maintain that Ferrin is unfit to serve and protect and that Pinal County Sheriff’s Office needs to be held accountable for aiding and abetting a serial offender."