Last year, Dante Patterson decided to spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Castles N' Coasters amusement park in Phoenix with his friend and colleague, Miguel Rosario, and Rosario's family. Their fun night ended, Patterson said, with him being forced out of the park and pepper-sprayed by Phoenix police officer Christopher Meyer.
Patterson made a complaint about Meyer's conduct with the Professional Standards Bureau, but he says the department's lackluster investigation into their own officer found no misconduct. Now, Meyer is under investigation again, this time for telling a young father, "I'm going to put a fucking cap in your fucking head!"
Court records, police reports, and interviews with Patterson and Rosario show that on January 15, 2018, Meyer was working off-duty, in uniform, at Castles N' Coasters. Patterson, then 22, got into a minor argument on a bumper boat ride. When some kids kept bumping into him and splashing him, Patterson cursed at them and told them to leave him alone.
One of the children's mothers immediately complained about it, and a park employee contacted police. Patterson and Rosario headed out of the park to smoke a cigarette, then came back in to get some food. Meyer first approached Patterson at the food court and asked him if he had been kicked out. Patterson said he hadn't.
Moments later, Meyer approached Patterson a second time, this time with a park employee in tow. Meyer stopped the ride that Patterson was on and demanded he get off.
"He was very aggressive," Patterson said. "Meyer was screaming, 'You lied to me! You lied to me! He escorted you out!'"
"I was like, 'Hey man, calm down, talk to me as you would want to be talked to,'" Patterson said.
Patterson alleges that Meyer then pushed him and told him he had five seconds to get out, or Meyer would pepper-spray him.
So Patterson started walking.
"I'm walking away from him this whole time, and he's following me saying, 'This is my park! How dare you!'" Patterson said. "I turned back toward him and I was like, 'Man this is crazy, it's cause you have that badge on you think you can do whatever you want.'"
"And he said, 'Yup, you're damn right I can do whatever I want,' then he maced me," Patterson recalled.
Surveillance video doesn't show the moments that led up to the pepper-spraying, but it does appear to contradict Meyer's story. In the police report of the incident, Meyer claimed that Patterson turned around to face him and "postured with his fists clenched, raised in front of him, in a fighting stance, squared off towards the officer. Patterson then stepped toward officer Meyer," the report states. So Meyer pepper-sprayed him.
Meyer then held Patterson at taser-point and called for backup. Video shows that at least seven other officers arrived, handcuffed Patterson, and took him into custody. Police charged Patterson with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and trespassing.
In the end, Patterson pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The aggravated assault and trespassing charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to six months' unsupervised probation. Patterson said the charges were dismissed because Meyer's statements contradicted other statements made in the police report and the surveillance footage.
Court records indicate that other witnesses described Patterson as walking away and occasionally "flailing" his arms in frustration, but none, besides other police officers who arrived after the fact and spoke with Meyer, said Patterson had raised his fists. Even the park employee who had accompanied Meyer to kick Patterson out of the park described Patterson as "standing with his hands in front of him at his waist."
Photos of Patterson and his hoodie from that night clearly show that most of the pepper spray hit his back.
Meyer also claimed in the report that he was "eight to ten feet away" from Patterson when he sprayed him. Patterson's lawyer argued in court filings that Meyer had no basis for an aggravated assault claim against someone who was allegedly standing eight to 10 feet away with raised fists.
"They tried to charge me with aggravated assault on a police officer — after he pepper-sprayed me!" Patterson said. "I never did that. I lost job opportunities because of this. I've had interviews, but no one wants to hire me, because all they see is that charge, and in their minds, I'm convicted."
Patterson made two complaints with the Professional Standards Bureau about Meyer's behavior, but the investigations never went anywhere. Patterson and his friend and witness, Rosario, said police seriously misrepresented Rosario's statements to the bureau.
"They wrote that I said Dante did do that, Dante is that type of person, but I said Dante didn't do that and Dante would never raise his fists at a police officer," Rosario told Phoenix New Times.
"This incident was looked into by the Professional Standards Bureau and no misconduct was identified," said Sergeant Tommy Thompson in a statement emailed to New Times. "Apparently, Mr. Patterson was escorted out of Castles and Coasters by employees for disruptive behavior. Mr. Patterson illegally reentered the property. The officer was contacting Mr. Patterson for violation of trespassing. As he was escorting him to the exit he was disruptive, cursing and flailing his arms. At one point, he turned towards the officer with clenched fists in a fighting stance. His behavior was witnessed by employees of the facility. He was sprayed with OC spray and he was ordered to the ground and taken into custody. He was also found to have a loaded .45 caliber pistol in his front waist band."
Patterson was legally allowed to carry the firearm, and he said that's just another reason to question Meyer's account. He said he would never be foolish enough to start a fight with a police officer while he was also carrying a gun.
Rosario, who had invited Patterson to join him, his wife, his 3-year-old-son, and his sister-in-law at the amusement park, told New Times Patterson never raised his fists and was trying to leave the park when Meyer pepper-sprayed him.
"It was very, very disgusting and uncomfortable to watch because I was worried about Dante, how he can't breathe because this officer is using, like, the whole can of mace on him. It was overkill, way overkill," Rosario said.
"He just abused his power as a police officer, and then he tried to cover it up," Rosario said. "My son saw all of that. My family saw all of that ... Dante's practically family. My body turned cold watching that. Just remembering the smell of the mace in the air makes me sick to my stomach."
Meyer is now under investigation once again, this time for his viral encounter with 22-year-old Dravon Ames, his pregnant fiancée, Iesha Harper, and their two young children on May 27. Video of the encounter, filmed by residents of the apartment complex, has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times worldwide and has brought renewed scrutiny to a department already reeling from the revelation that 97 officers had shared offensive, sometimes racist, posts on social media.
The Ames-Harper family has filed a $10 million notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the city of Phoenix. Phoenix police released a report regarding the incident on Friday afternoon that left out many key details.
In the video, officers can be heard screaming and cursing at the couple in front of their children to "put your fucking hands up." Ames repeatedly says, "My hands are up! My hands are up!"
"My hands are up! My hands are up!" 22yo Dravon Ames says as a Phoenix police officer yells to "get your fucking hands up." The same officer later says "You're gonna fucking get shot!"— Meg O'Connor (@megoconnor13) June 12, 2019
Ames says the officers stopped him after his child walked out of a Dollar Store with a doll. pic.twitter.com/Nlkd7IXsyc
Officer Christopher Meyer can be heard saying, "I'm gonna put a fucking cap in your fucking head" and "You're gonna fucking get shot!" Another officer can be seen pointing a gun at the car with the children inside. Meyer later attempts to yank Harper's 1-year-old daughter out of her arms and screams at her to place her baby on the scorching hot pavement.
Ames, Harper, Patterson, and a handful of others who say they were unjustifiably victimized by Phoenix police all spoke at a community meeting on Tuesday night. Dozens of other community members vented their frustrations with a police department responsible for a record-high number of police shootings. Many decried the department's lack of transparency surrounding the deaths of their loved ones.
This is the line outside the community meeting at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix right now. Mayor Kate Gallego, police chief Jeri Williams, Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper are expected to be here (also it’s 101 degrees) pic.twitter.com/5jLpvSAmI4— Meg O'Connor (@megoconnor13) June 19, 2019
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When Police Chief Jeri Williams did take the mic, she was quickly drowned out by boos and infuriated yells from the crowd. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was also met with boos when she finally spoke at the end of the three-hour meeting. She promised to come back with recommendations in 30 days.
On Wednesday, dozens of protesters spoke at a City Council meeting to demand elected officials do something to rein in the city's police department.
Patterson said he complained to the department about Meyer because he didn't want Meyer to do what he did to him to anyone else.
"No apology is going to fix this; you just ruined this young man's life," Rosario said. "They have labeled him with that charge for the rest of his life, and it's the cop that abused him."