Lawsuit: Black Teen Received Burns When Phoenix Cops Held Her on Hot Street

A Black teenager allegedly received second-degree burns while she was arrested by Phoenix police.
A Black teenager allegedly received second-degree burns while she was arrested by Phoenix police. Ash Ponders
A Black 17-year-old girl allegedly received second-degree burns when a Phoenix police officer held her on scalding hot concrete during a 2019 arrest, a new lawsuit states.

The suit, filed on August 31 in Arizona U.S. District Court, describes how Phoenix cops responded to a call on August 20, 2019, of a fight between high school students on a toasty 113-degree day. Roniah Trotter, who is now 18, was allegedly involved in an argument with a classmate on a school bus before the driver booted them from the vehicle and called dispatch. Outside, Trotter and the girl got into a physical fight that didn't result in any serious injuries.

But when police arrived on the scene, Trotter was allegedly grabbed by a police officer and held face down on the sidewalk while she was arrested. She was held down so long that she suffered second-degree burns on her shoulder and arm.

“My face was burning,” Trotter told The Guardian, the first to publish a report on the suit. “When they did eventually get me off the floor, the pavement had burned my skin off.”

She described her skin as "literally hanging off" her arm, but only received a gauze bandage from police officers on the scene. She was eventually booked and charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Only after Trotter was released did her mother take her to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns. She also has lasting scars from the arrest.

Heather Hamel, the attorney representing Trotter, told Phoenix New Times that police at the scene were wearing body cameras, but they have not received the footage from the department despite requesting it.

Trotter is suing the city of Phoenix and the involved officers, alleging excessive force.

The Guardian, which obtained police reports documenting the incident, reported that officers described Trotter as "erratic" and violent, claiming that they had to take her to the ground due to her behavior. The reports did not note any injuries sustained by the officers or the other girl involved in the fight, and the only mention of Trotter's burn injuries was described this way: “It appeared Trotter sustained a scrape to her left shoulder as well as her right arm.”

As Hamel tells it, Trotter was held face-down on the sidewalk, causing the burns to her arms and shoulder. But she held her head off the concrete, leaving her face unharmed. New Times has asked Hamel for medical records and an interview with Trotter; the story will be updated when Hamel responds to the requests.

Sergeant Mercedes Fortune, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, wrote in an emailed statement to New Times that Trotter was "taken down to the sidewalk" for her aggressive behavior and was handcuffed "within 33 seconds" before she was "walked over to a shaded bus bench."

"There was probable cause to arrest Trotter for the resisting and aggravated assault charges against the officers. When the first officer arrived, one of the females immediately complied with the officer. Trotter continued to be aggressive and refused to listen to the officer," she wrote. "Fire personnel responded and treated Trotter. At that time officers were advised Trotter did not need to be hospitalized."

According to Trotter's complaint, the doctor who eventually treated her noted that the "precipitating cause" of her injuries was "contact burns from the hot pavement. She had to undergo a "medical debridement," which involves medical personnel scrubbing and scraping dead skin off a wound to reveal raw tissue underneath.

Read the full complaint here:
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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety