"If you guys want to sit here and stand by these cops that are putting these racist posts on Facebook, then you're just as racist as they are," said Roland Harris, whose 19-year-old son, Jacob, was shot and killed by Phoenix police in January. Harris was one of roughly two dozen protesters gathered outside police headquarters in downtown Phoenix on Friday.
Harris and Marisela Aion, the sister of 29-year-old Hector Lopez, who was shot and killed by Phoenix police officers last month, spoke out on Friday against what they perceived as a complete lack of accountability from the department and its officers. Both Harris and Lopez's family expressed frustration with the lack of transparency surrounding the deaths of their loved ones and felt that certain police officers had unnecessarily used lethal force while other officers simply looked on and allowed it to happen.
"There are officers out here who are out here to do their job, to protect you, to protect your children," said Harris. "But if they stand by silently and allow these dirtbags who got these badges and guns to do what they're doing, they're just as bad as they are."
The protests, spearheaded by activist Jarrett Maupin, came about after hundreds of questionable Facebook posts from Phoenix police officers surfaced last week. Two hundred and eighty-two posts from 97 current and former Phoenix police officers were included in a database created by the Plain View Project in an effort to catalog bigotry and racism among police officers nationwide.
The posts show how some Phoenix police officers frequently referred to black people as "thugs," called for violence against protesters, denounced Muslims as rapists, and joked about refusing to help citizens who criticized the police. On Wednesday, a Phoenix New Times investigation found four of the officers whose posts were included in the database had also been accused of killing people. Seven of the officers have been accused of seriously injuring people.
Thirty-one of the 97 officers whose posts made the database had been named in lawsuits, mostly for excessive force, while eight were included in the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady list, a list of police officers who are so notoriously unreliable and dishonest that prosecutors must disclose the officer's reputation to defense lawyers.
Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams said the department's Professional Standards Bureau will review the Facebook posts for potential misconduct. Tuesday, Williams said she took officers who made particularly egregious posts off of their "enforcement assignments" and placed them on desk duty, though she declined to specify which officers or how many.
Harris said he still hasn't been able to see a copy of the police report. Police say they shot his son after pulling him over, suspicious that he had been involved in an armed robbery, then shot him when he exited the vehicle and appeared to be reaching for a gun. But Harris questions that narrative, adding that the autopsy showed his son was shot twice in the back.
The family of Hector Lopez also questions the police's version of events surrounding Lopez's death.
Police were responding to a trespassing call in the early morning hours of May 9 near Seventh Avenue and Buckeye Road. When Lopez opened his car door, a gun fell to the ground. Police say that Lopez lunged for the gun and that he was killed in the ensuing struggle.
But his family says Lopez was disabled and question whether he could have done what the police claim he did.
The two officers who killed Lopez have been identified, but a police spokesperson previously told the Arizona Republic that neither was wearing a body camera. The officers are on administrative leave and an internal investigation is underway.
Marisela Aion, Lopez's sister, was in the passenger seat when her brother was killed. She remembers things very differently.
"I remember opening my eyes, and they were banging on the window. It was the Phoenix police department. They opened the door to the driver's side. A gun fell out of the car. They got upset immediately. They pulled my brother out of the car and starting beating him. I yelled at them to stop," Aion said.
"I kept yelling at them and telling them to stop. They laughed. They were laughing," Aion said on Friday, crying so hard that her words were difficult to make out.
Other family members stood by Aion, who spent most of the protest holding her young son in her arms. They held signs saying, "Fighting for justice for Hector Lopez, who was beat, tased, and shot to death, leaving three kids behind," and, simply, "Stop Murder!" next to four pictures of Lopez. Another sign has a photo of Lopez cradling two of his children in his arms.
"And they said, 'Lets tase him, let's tase him,'" Aion said. "So they pulled out the taser and tased my brother. When they tased my brother he wasn't moving no more. Then they said, 'shoot him.' I just remember hearing the gun shots."
"I just want justice for my brother. He's never going to come back. He left his family and his kids, and he loved his kids. He was a great dad," said Aion.
The Phoenix police department did not immediately respond when asked about the claims made by Harris and Aion on Friday.
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