Phoenix Police Narrative on Viral Incident Filled With Glaring Omissions

Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper, and their children at a press conference.
Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper, and their children at a press conference. Via AZFamily

By now, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the shocking footage of Phoenix police officers violently accosting a black family whose 4-year-old daughter allegedly stole a doll from a dollar store. On Friday afternoon, Phoenix police released a report detailing the incident and identifying the officer who told 22-year-old Dravon Ames "I'm gonna put a fucking cap in your fucking head" as Phoenix police officer Christopher Meyer.

But the police narrative leaves out significant details of the events captured on video by concerned residents of an apartment complex where police surrounded the couple. The report also confirms that the incident, which has made international news, all took place because Ames' daughter walked out of a dollar store with a doll.

Video of the encounter near 36th and Roosevelt streets show several Phoenix police officers, some with guns drawn, surrounding the car of Ames, his pregnant fiancée, Iesha Harper, and their two young children. 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!"

One officer, now identified as Meyer, can be heard saying, "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.

"We're thinking we're gonna get shot cause he kept threatening, 'I'm gonna shoot you in the face,'" Ames told Phoenix New Times on Wednesday "We were so scared."

The incident report states that on May 27 (not May 29, as the couple has previously said), Phoenix police officers responded to an unrelated shoplifting call at the Family Dollar on North 36th Street. While there, store employees informed police of another shoplifting incident and directed officers toward two women, Iesha Harper and her aunt, and Harper's two young children, who were getting into their car outside.

"The employee said they had just taken 'a bunch' of toys without paying," the report states.

The officer approached the vehicle, but it backed out of the parking space and headed out of the lot. Police followed, and the vehicle stopped to let Harper's aunt out. One officer stopped the woman, questioned her, checked her ID, and found she had warrants out for misdemeanors; she was then arrested. (Police say surveillance footage later showed the woman was standing by the front door with some items in her hand, but put them down when she saw police. A store employee "could not verify anything was taken in addition to the doll.")

Meanwhile, the officer radioed other Phoenix cops and relayed details about the vehicle Harper, her children, and Ames were still in. In Meyer's write-up of the incident, the officer said he followed Harper and Ames' vehicle into the parking lot of an apartment complex.

"The driver pulled into a parking space and I made contact on the driver side of the vehicle, as the driver's door opened. I gave loud verbal commands for the occupants of the vehicle to get their hands up," Meyer wrote.

"Dravon began to yell at me that he did not do anything wrong and began to reach toward the center of the vehicle between the front seats. I drew my handgun to contact ready and continued to give him loud commands. Dravon began to comply and put his hands up above the steering wheel," Meyer wrote.

He left out that Dravon had repeatedly said his hands were up and that Meyer had told him "I'm gonna put a fucking cap in your fucking head" and "You're gonna fucking get shot!"

"I could see at least two other people in the backseat," Meyer wrote. "I gave commands to Iesha to raise her hands in the air. She refused to get her hands up and stated, 'I have my child in here, I am not putting my hands up.' She continued to refuse to put her hands in the air and continued to keep them down by the seat. I feared that she was hiding something or reaching for a weapon," Meyer wrote.

No weapons were found, and Harper clearly states in the video that she could not put her hands up because she was holding her 1-year-old baby.

Dravon got out of the vehicle, Meyer wrote, but Meyer failed to document the fact that he forced Ames against the hot pavement to handcuff him, slammed him against his patrol car, and kicked him in the legs — after he was already handcuffed.

Meyer wrote that he told Harper "to set the child down" and she "became loud, verbally abusive, and refused our commands." He left out that he grabbed Harper and her baby by their arms and tried to pry the child from Harper's arms. After handing her children off to two residents of the apartment complex, Meyer handcuffed Harper and put her in the back of his police vehicle.

"I located a box with a doll in it in the back seat of the vehicle that matched the description of what Officer Welch had described to me,"  Meyer wrote.

In the back of the vehicle, Harper said she saw the police following them, but "she was scared and did not know what to do. She stated that she is very sorry for her behavior and that it was not appropriate," Meyer wrote. She was then released.

Meanwhile, Ames was read his Miranda rights while handcuffed in the back of another cop car. He told the officers "He was scared when he saw the police officer and he wanted to leave. He stated that he knew that they had shoplifted from the store and that he threw the pair of underwear out of the window because he knew it was stolen."

Ames told New Times the only thing that was "stolen" was the doll his daughter walked out with. Store personnel also said that was all that was stolen, per the police report. Meyer did leave out important details from the report, so his statement about Ames shoplifting may not be entirely accurate.

Meyer also wrote that Ames "stated that he was sorry and that he was very scared."  Ames was then given a citation for driving on a suspended license. Police impounded his car.

"A review of video surveillance showed a four-year-old girl walking out of the store with a baby doll, passing all open and operating points of sale, without anyone attempting to pay for the item," the report states. "The vehicle containing the girl and her parents was later located and the doll was recovered. Following the review of the surveillance, store employees advised they did not desire prosecution. The doll was recovered and returned to the store."

Phoenix police spokesperson Tommy Thompson told ABC15 that both officers (the one who pointed a gun at Harper and her children, and Officer Meyer) are still working but are on "non-enforcement assignments."

Ames and his family filed a notice of claim against the city of Phoenix on Thursday. The family is seeking $10 million in damages. Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is representing the family.

"The police officers committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution," the claim states.

Ames, who works at a warehouse, said he has suffered physical injuries as a result of the encounter. The family also alleges that one of the officers injured their 1-year-old child when he attempted to yank the baby out of Harper's arms.

"The first officer pulled the baby by the arm to get her away from the mother, which injured the arm, in a condition known as 'dead arm.' Island [the couple's 1-year-old child] has been having nightmares and wetting her bed, which she has not done before this incident," the notice of claim states.

Footage of the incident spread quickly online and sparked backlash, with dozens of people, including a few state lawmakers, criticizing the department for having officers on the force as irrationally aggressive as the ones seen in the video.

Around 2 p.m. on Friday, the Phoenix Police Department released a statement containing more information about the events preceding the altercation. The statement indicates the officers did not believe the family to be in possession of any weapons. Police say they pursued the family because they allegedly stole food and underwear from a dollar store. 
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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.