Victims of police violence call for ‘Bill of Rights’ in Arizona | Phoenix New Times


Victims of police violence call for ‘Bill of Rights’ in Arizona

The legislation would bring sweeping transparency, support to people injured by police or relatives of those killed.
Mussallina Muhaymin said legislation helping relatives of people killed by police would provide "basic human rights."
Mussallina Muhaymin said legislation helping relatives of people killed by police would provide "basic human rights." TJ L'Heureux
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Mussallina Muhaymin has fought for years to bring attention to her brother's death and the difficulty getting information about what happened when Phoenix police killed him in 2017.

Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin, a Black Muslim man who was unsheltered at the time, was carrying his service animal, a chihuahua named Chiquita. He tried to use a public restroom at the Maryvale Community Center but a staff member refused to let him enter the restroom with his dog and called police. Officers trying to detain Muhammad Muhaymin forced him to the ground and put their knees on his neck. “I can’t breathe,” he told them.

When officers got off his neck several minutes later, Muhammad Muhaymin was dead.

The Phoenix City Council later approved a $5 million payout to settle a lawsuit over Muhaymin’s death, but none of the 10 officers named in the case faced any disciplinary action for what happened despite pressure from activists and national attention.

“I realized that I have to be part of a solution so that no other family has to live through this,” Mussallina Muhaymin said Thursday.

Holding back tears, her voice was strong but filled with sorrow.

“We, the family, are blocked from information and instead are questioned by the very department that murdered our loved ones, and we’re made to feel that we wronged them,” she added.

Mussallina Muhaymin's comments came during a press conference at the Arizona State Capitol in which two lawmakers — Sen. Anna Hernandez and Rep. Analise Ortiz — announced the "Family Bill of Rights." The legislation would provide greater police transparency for victims of police violence and family members of people killed by police.

Hernandez and Ortiz — both Democrats who represent the same Phoenix district — were surrounded by activists from the Family Justice Collective, which is primarily an organizing group for family members of Arizonans slain by police officers.

After the press conference, the lawmakers and supporters walked into the Capitol complex to formally file the legislation as SB 1074 and HB 2432.
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Rep. Analise Ortiz (left) and Sen. Anna Hernandez proposed the "Family Bill of Rights" during a press conference at the Arizona State Capitol on Thursday.
TJ L'Heureux

What the ‘Family Bill of Rights’ would do

The bill’s stated goal is “to preserve and protect the rights of victims of peace officer violence.” It guarantees that family members of those killed by officers “have free, quick and unredacted access to information, materials and findings that are relevant to the victim's injury or death,” including unedited body camera footage from officers. The legislation also calls for family members to be “free from intimidation, harassment and abuse following an injury or death resulting from a peace officer interaction."

Additionally, the "Family Bill of Rights" requires:

  • Free access to legal support and mental health care following the incident for victims of police violence and their family members.
  • A 24-hour period in which police can't interview the victim's family members.
  • Police provide an interpreter to non-English-speaking family members during the course of the investigation.
  • Access to the employment files of officers involved in the incident.
  • Notification of any investigative milestones and conclusions at least 24 hours ahead of public release.
  • The creation of a victim advocate in municipalities independent of law enforcement agencies.
  • A delay in publicly releasing details about an incident until the victim or victim's family has had an opportunity to review body-worn camera footage and incident reports.
  • Law enforcement agencies to refer to people who experience police violence as victims and not as suspects in incident reports and investigative materials.

The legislation defines a critical incident as one with police officers that results in the physical injury or death of a civilian. It defines the victim's family as a partner, child, parent, sibling or other lawful representative.
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State Rep. Analise Ortiz (center) and Sen. Anna Hernandez (right) and members of Family Justice Collective walk through the state House on Thursday.
TJ L'Heureux

Facing endless roadblocks

For Hernandez, the legislation isn’t merely a matter of policy. Her own brother was killed by Phoenix police in 2019.

She said family members seeking answers have been treated “without dignity” and experienced a “continuous lack of communication from local police departments and city officials.

“What we learned as we came together to support each other on this path is that what we were experiencing after losing such beloved members of our families is that our experiences were the norm and not the exception,” Hernandez said. “As we navigated the system in looking for answers and accountability on police violence, we faced endless roadblocks in obtaining police reports, investigative reports, personal belongings of our loved ones and access to resources.”

Hernandez highlighted that law enforcement officials have a bill of rights, enshrined in state law, while those they kill and their families do not. She called the bill “the bare minimum” of what Arizona lawmakers owe families whose loved ones are killed.

In 2023, Phoenix police shot and killed 12 people, an increase from the 10 killed in 2022. For years, the police department has been known as one of the most violent forces in the country. In 2018, police shot and killed 23 people — the highest number in any U.S. city.

While Hernandez and Ortiz were giving their press conference on Thursday, Phoenix police shot and killed a man, the agency's second fatal shooting in a week.
click to enlarge Katie Baeza and Anna Hernandez
Katie Baeza (left) called on state lawmakers to pass the "Family Bill of Rights," which is co-sponsored by Sen. Anna Hernandez. Both women had brothers killed by Phoenix police.
TJ L'Heureux

‘It’s basic human rights’

Ryan Whitaker was shot and killed by Phoenix police in 2020, despite the fact that he was complying with officers.

At the press conference on Thursday, Whitaker’s sister, Katie Baeza, addressed likely pushback to the legislation from the leaders of both legislative chambers.

“I would ask the Senate president and House speaker, ‘How would you want to be treated if this happened to you?’” Baeza said. “And before you think this can’t happen to you, it happened to my brother, who in the words of (Maricopa) County Attorney Allister Adel ‘did nothing wrong,’ and in the words of (Phoenix) Councilman Sal DiCiccio ‘did everything right."

She applauded the legislation from Hernandez and Ortiz.

“Justice has to come in the form of change,” Baeza said.

Other family members with relatives killed by police, including Roland Harris — the father of Jacob Harris, whom Phoenix police killed in 2019 — surrounded the speakers, holding roses and framed pictures of the loved ones they lost. Others displayed a poster with the hundreds of names of people killed by Phoenix officers since 2014.

“We’re not asking for anything extreme,” Mussallina Muhaymin said in an interview with Phoenix New Times. “It’s basic human rights, and we’re asking that those rights are protected.”

Baeza emphasized to New Times that her brother, who was killed at the door of his own home and was complying with officers, isn’t an outlier.

“Don’t think for a second that it couldn’t happen to you,” Baeza said.

The legislation comes as the city of Phoenix is publicly pushing back against any independent oversight sought by the U.S. Justice Department. The federal probe has been investigating Phoenix police for nearly 30 months over patterns in use of force by officers, discriminatory policing and treatment of unsheltered and disabled people.
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