Phoenix Cop in Viral Video: A Missing Gun, Car Crashes, and Citizen Complaints

Phoenix police officer Christopher Meyer
Phoenix police officer Christopher Meyer Photo from a citizen complaint against Meyer
In June, the Phoenix Police Department came under fire after cellphone video of an officer threatening to shoot an unarmed black man in the head in front of his family went viral. The footage brought a national spotlight to Phoenix's troubled police department and ignited public outcry, with thousands attending community meetings and protests demanding that Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego fire the officer at the center of it all: Christopher Meyer.

Despite the heightened scrutiny, little has been said about Meyer beyond his involvement in the Dravon Ames incident this past May and his similar encounter with another man, Dante Patterson, in January 2018.

Last week, Phoenix New Times obtained 402 pages of Meyer's personnel records spanning two and a half decades through a request under state public records law. The records fill in the background on an officer whose recent actions caught the world's attention, but whose past, up until this point, has been relatively unknown.

Though Meyer has been with the Phoenix Police Department for over two decades, much of that time —  particularly in recent years — was spent with the Firearms Training Bureau, meaning for the better part of his career, Meyer was not a patrol officer and instead spent his time teaching new recruits how to handle firearms.

However, when he was on a patrol squad in the early 2000s, and when he worked off-duty details last year, he received citizen complaints and written reprimands for using excessive force, crashing his police cruiser, and allegedly attempting to strike up a personal relationship with a woman while he was working off-duty at Castles N' Coasters amusement park. His file also notes that he was involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2002, but the details are sparse.

Meyer's history with the department begins in 1993, when he was a 23-year-old police recruit. Records show he was first officially hired on June 21, 1994, but three months later, on September 23, Meyer resigned.

"I believe I am not ready to handle the duties of a police officer," Meyer wrote in his resignation letter. "I am hereby resigning from my position as a police recruit."

click to enlarge Meyer's resignation letter - MEYER'S PERSONNEL RECORDS
Meyer's resignation letter
Meyer's personnel records
Before long, Meyer changed his mind again. On October 27, 1995, Meyer was rehired as a police recruit. Personnel records indicate that Meyer attended Cholla High School in Tucson; the college portion of the same form where Meyer filled in his high school name was left blank.

Performance reviews during Meyer's first stint in the police academy were decidedly lackluster. He received low marks (twos or threes out of six points possible) on performance-appraisal reports and failed to meet certain requirements. But it appears Meyer turned that around after he returned to the academy.

His scores improved over time, and comments from supervisors depict Meyer as someone who showed a remarkable amount of enthusiasm and initiative for the job, often taking on extra work or enrolling himself in outside classes to learn more.

On March 4, 1996, Meyer joined Phoenix's Desert Horizon Precinct and began routine police work.

Time and again, Meyer was praised by his superiors for throwing himself into his work — but with that praise came a note of caution. In performance reviews, supervisors told Meyer to "take the time to analyze before reacting so quickly" and to "step back and try to evaluate situations from an objective standpoint without getting emotionally involved.“ This advice appears to have gone unheeded nearly two decades later, when Meyer held a family accused of shoplifting at gunpoint, threatened to shoot the father in front his pregnant fiancée and their two children, and screamed so loudly his voice cracked despite facing no obvious threat.

The earliest record in Meyer's professional standards bureau file is his January 2018 complaint from Dante Patterson, which New Times previously reported. But performance reviews from Meyer's supervisors detail a series of citizen complaints, a car accident, and an officer-involved shooting between 2000 and 2002.

"Chris, you also received a citizen complaint the past year in November for excessive force during an arrest off duty," Meyer's supervisor wrote in a 2000 performance review. "The allegation was unfounded but you failed to notify a supervisor of the incident and that allegation was sustained."

There is no additional information on the citizen complaint in Meyer's file, nor is it included in his professional standards bureau file among the other, more recent citizen complaints.

On January 13, 2001, Meyer was "leaving a call at 1820 E. Deer Valley Road. Your windows were fogged over and the sun was in your eyes as you exited the private driveway," a written reprimand in Meyer's file states. "While exiting onto Deer Valley Road from the private driveway, you failed to yield to westbound traffic and collided with a passenger van."

According to the reprimand, the van wasn't damaged and there were no injuries. Meyer was found to be at fault and was warned that repeat incidents would result in harsher discipline.

There are notes of two other vehicle accidents from the mid-1990s in Meyer's file, but again, there are no details on what happened in either case. One incident involved Meyer and another officer, Sean Mattson, and was found to be "within the guidelines of departmental policy." In the other accident, Meyer was found to be not at fault.

"On 8/28/02, you were involved in a police shooting while working off duty," Meyer's supervisor wrote in a 2003 performance review. "You handled the situation in a professional and appropriate manner. This was recently re-confirmed when the Use of Force Board reviewed the incident as "in policy."

Asked why there is no additional information on any of these three incidents in Meyer's personnel records, Phoenix police spokesperson Sergeant Tommy Thompson told New Times, "there are numerous possible reasons why a personnel file contains no further mention of that twenty-year old complaint, including that the complaint was investigated and unfounded." Thompson did not respond to follow up questions.

It is possible the Phoenix Police Department has a records retention policy similar to the Mesa Police Department's, wherein officers are instructed to remove complaints from their internal affairs files if they are more than three years old.

There is also a strange, heavily redacted letter in Meyer's files that appears to document an incident in which Meyer used force to make an arrest. "On 8/11/05 at 1920 hours, I was attempting to arrest an individual at [REDACTED]," Meyer wrote. "This subject, later identified as William D. Kelley, was [REDACTED]. During my contact with Mr. Kelley, his [REDACTED]. Mr. Kelley was taken into custody."

"Phoenix Fire Department personnel responded to treat Mr. Kelley's injuries. They provided me with a sanitary wipe to clean the [REDACTED]," Meyer wrote, noting that he wrote this incident up at the direction of his supervisor.

click to enlarge Heavily redacted letter - MEYER'S PERSONNEL RECORDS
Heavily redacted letter
Meyer's personnel records

That same year, in 2005, Meyer transferred to the Firearms Training Bureau, where he helped run the Skill Builder Training Program and trained recruits on how to use weapons. Meyer's personnel records during this time mainly detail praise from his superiors for his commitment to the program and commendations for never taking any sick leave.

Then, in January, 2018, Meyer received his first citizen complaint regarding his actions working an off-duty detail at Castles N' Coasters. On January 16, Dante Patterson alleged that Meyer kicked him out of the amusement park and pepper-sprayed him without cause. The allegation was not sustained by the professional standards bureau, but Patterson claims their investigation was lackluster and purposefully misrepresented statements from his friend and witness.

Six months later, Meyer was investigated for neglect of duty after he failed to follow proper procedures regarding police-recruit firearms.

"On June 21, 2018, the Firearms Detail staff distributed firearms to police recruits in Class 514. One Phoenix Police Department Glock 17 firearm [REDACTED] was discovered to be missing after all weapons were distributed to the recruits," a summary of the incident in Meyer's file states.

Police searched the armory and checked with Firearms Detail staff, but they couldn't find the gun. The next day, the armory "was alarmed for the weekend." At that time, the gun still hadn't been located.

But on Monday morning around 6 a.m., an officer found the missing firearm on her desk.

"Officer Rees discovered the missing firearm fifteen to twenty minutes after the armory opened. A records check revealed Officer Christopher Meyer was the only individual to deactivate the armory alarm over the weekend. This occurred on Saturday, June 23, 2018, at 5:42 a.m.," a scheduled off-day for Meyer.

That same day, Meyer "inserted himself into a conversation between Sergeant Stacey Parks and two other Firearms Detail instructors" in which he "explained he took a recruit firearm from Vault #1 on June 6, 2018, with the intent to compare the Glock 17 (9mm) to his Glock 23 (.40 caliber) by firing both firearms at the range."

Meyer said he stored the gun in his cubicle and "claimed he returned the firearm to Vault #1 on June 7, 2018," which was clearly not the case. The incident summary ends there. It appears Meyer was given a written warning, but that is also not in his file. It does not appear he was disciplined for the incident. The incident is listed as "Unresolved Jan 10, 2019," though this file was printed for New Times in July.

In October, Meyer received another citizen complaint. A woman, whose name New Times is withholding, told Phoenix police that Meyer had "attempted to convert an enforcement contact into a personal relationship while working off duty at Castles N' Coasters," the incident summary in his professional standards bureau file states.

But one month later, police closed the complaint, saying the investigation "revealed no employee misconduct," despite the fact that the investigation seems to consist solely of Meyer's statements. Police say the alleged victim "refused" to cooperate after making the initial complaint.

Since the Ames incident, Meyer has been placed on a "non-enforcement assignment," according to Chief Williams, and is being investigated for potential misconduct by the department's professional standards bureau.

As New Times reported last month, Meyer also appears to be under investigation by the department's Special Investigations Detail, which could lead to criminal charges against the officer. 
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.