Dozens of local and national organizations are calling on the Phoenix police officers involved in the fatal arrest of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. in 2017 to be fired and prosecuted. The groups also allege that the cops mocked Muhaymin's religion, Islam, before they killed him.
Back in 2017, Muhaymin, who was 43 at the time, was killed by Phoenix Police officers after they tried to arrest him due to an outstanding warrant stemming from his failure to appear in court on a misdemeanor possession charge of a marijuana pipe. The police were called after he tried to enter a bathroom at a community center in west Phoenix with his dog. Several officers held him down while he resisted arrest including putting knees on his head and neck, and he died in a pool of his own vomit. He can be heard to say "I can't breathe" in the bodycam footage before he died.
The involved officers were cleared of any criminal charges by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Now, Muhaymin's family is suing over the incident. Their lawsuit claims that Muhaymin suffered from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that the dog he tried to take into the bathroom was his service dog.
In an August 20 letter directed to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, a whopping 61 organizations from Arizona and around the country demanded that "actions finally be taken to hold Phoenix Police officers accountable for the killing of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr." They called for a criminal prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the murder, for the Phoenix Police Department to fire the involved officers, and for the officers to be immediately arrested and charged in Muhaymin's murder.
"Change starts at home, Mayor Gallego and County Attorney Adel. If you want to show your residents that justice is within reach, it starts by delivering justice for the Muhaymin family," the letter states.
Groups that signed the letter include the Center for Disability Rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Human Rights Campaign, and local organizations, like Puente Human Rights Movement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, and Poder in Action.
The letter also cited body camera footage from the incident released by one its signatories, the Washington D.C.-based Muslim Advocates, that according to the group shows one of the arresting officers mocking the fact that Muhaymin was Muslim.
In the footage (around the 6:10-minute mark), Muhaymin can be heard saying "Please Allah" after struggling with officers who were trying to arrest him. In response, one of the officers appears to say, "Allah? He’s not going to help you right now. Just relax."
"Muhaymin was a family man, a Black man, a Muslim man, and a disabled man. The footage and subsequent news reporting shows officers either mocked or disregarded all of these aspects of his identity before they killed him," the letter states. "Despite this, none of the four officers directly responsible for this death — Oswald Grenier, Jason Hobel, Ronaldo Canilao and David Head — have been disciplined in any way shape or form."
It goes on to claim that officers disregarded Muhaymin's need of a service animal and "singled him out for criminal enforcement."
"A case in the death of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. was submitted to this office in 2017 and a determination was made at that time to not file criminal charges against the officers," said Jennifer Liewer, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. "This decision was made under the prior County Attorney. There is not an on-going investigation into this matter."
County Attorney Adel was appointed to office in October 2019, she noted. "Should a law enforcement agency submit the case to our office for a second review, we would then review any new facts and evidence and determine if criminal charges are warranted," Liewer said.
Director of communications for Mayor Gallego, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, declined to comment on the letter, citing the pending litigation.
In a statement, Phoenix Police Department spokesperson Mercedes Fortune disputed the letter's interpretation of the officer's comments on the body camera footage, calling it "inaccurate."
"The officers did not mock or target Mr. Muhaymin based on his religion, race, or any other factor," Fortune said. "To the contrary, when Mr. Muhaymin is heard to say 'Please Allah.' The officer responded, 'Allah? We’re trying to help you right now dude so relax. Relax dude. Stop moving. Stop resisting, you understand?'"
At least one signer of the letter doesn't entirely buy into its demands as literally written. Civia Tamarkin, president of the Arizona branch of the National Council of Jewish Women of Arizona, told Phoenix New Times that she supports suspending the involved officers while a special prosecutor investigates the case before they are charged and arrested, as opposed to "immediately" firing them, as the letter states.
"Nobody wants to abdicate due process here," Tamarkin said. "The intent of this letter is to have accountability. So whether they are temporarily terminated, whether they are put on leave, one has to follow a process."
"There is little doubt based on the video that there was inappropriate excessive force deployed on an unarmed individual," she added. "We signed on because it is very clear that what is necessary here is full accountability, transparency, and justice."
In a statement issued on August 21, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, slammed the involved officers' conduct and how local officials have handled the case.
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"The only thing more disturbing than footage of police officers mocking and murdering a mentally ill man is the fact that these officers have not been fired or charged in the three years since this horrific incident happened,” he said “It is not too late to pursue justice for Mr. Muhaymin and his loved ones. The City of Phoenix should fire the officers involved and arrange for an independent criminal investigation into the officers."
(Update: Muslim Advocates released a statement on August 21 in response to the Phoenix police interpretation of the bodycam footage, saying, "Today, they’re on the record lying about what’s clearly stated on camera. The Phoenix police cannot simply rewrite this homicide and cruelty. The Phoenix Police Department has shown that it has no interest in holding the officers who killed Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. accountable and that it is willing to lie about it.")
Read the letter below: