Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix is calling for the firings of Tempe police officers who repeatedly tased a black man in his own apartment while he was holding his 1-year-old baby.
The use-of-force incident from June 15, which can be seen in body camera footage posted online, followed a tense, five-minute standoff between the officers and the 31-year-old father, Ivaughn Oakry, who demanded they leave and refused to let go of his child. Oakry was later arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly pushing the mother of his children while intoxicated, and with child endangerment for picking up his baby before he was tased. Tempe city prosecutors dropped both charges in August.
The Oakry family, Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix, and the People's Law Firm in Phoenix held a press conference this morning to call for the firings of all the officers involved and "an immediate end to the use of force against children."
Lisa Oakry, Ivaughn Oakry's mother, said during the press event: "My son and his family had an encounter with an American monster dressed as a Tempe police officer."
Ivaugh Oakry did not speak or take questions during the press conference.
Tempe police published its own press release at about 10 a.m., denying the child was hurt. In its statement, the police department said no use-of-force violations occurred, but that it has implemented new training procedures in light of the incident. Tempe PD's full statement at the bottom of this story.
The dramatic body camera video was posted to YouTube on November 4 by Renaissance the Poet, an artist affiliated with Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix.
A spokesperson for the Tempe Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The People's Law Firm, which started representing Oakry in July, sent Phoenix New Times the police report and a link to the video on Monday evening, asking that it not be published until the next morning. The firm sent the call audio on Tuesday. The attorneys representing Oakry have not yet filed a notice of claim with the city of Tempe, the first legal step before filing a lawsuit against a government entity.
The incident was captured on the body camera of Officer Ronald Kerzaya:
Prior to the tasing, Tempe officers responded to Oakry's home in June 2019 after the mother of his children, MeKayla Brand, had called a non-emergency line to allege that "someone" had "put his hands" on her, according to audio of the call. Oakry can be heard in the background shouting at Brand to leave the home.
"Get off me" a woman's voice says in the 911 recording released by the law firm.
"Get your fucking ass out!" a man's voice yells.
As he yells for her to "get the fuck out," kids can be heard crying and screaming in the background. The caller tells the man she's getting her shoes, and to leave her alone, and he again screams at her to get out. She later tells the dispatcher the man she's fighting with is Oakry, the children's father. She says she's outside the home, but her three children are inside.
Later in the day, Brand told police that Oakry had pushed her multiple times.
At least three officers entered the home without a warrant, according to Heather Hamel of the People's Law Firm, which is representing Oakry. The mother of the children was outside the house at the time the officers entered.
In the footage, Officer Kerzaya knocks on Oakry's door. When Oakry answers, Kerzaya says, "Okay, what’s happening?"
Oakry responds, "Nothing."
Kerzaya says, "Well that’s not what I’m being told." After Oakry says that he is in his home, the officer walks through the door without warning and orders the 31-year-old to put his hands behind his back. At least two other officers appear in the screen during the confrontation with Oakry.
Oakry refuses Kerzaya's demands and says, "Bro, you're not allowed in here."
As Kerzaya advances toward Oakry, two children can be seen and heard crying behind a couch, their faces blurred to protect their privacy. About 10 seconds after Kerzaya enters the apartment, he orders Oakry to put his hands behind his back, pulls out his taser, and trains it on the father. A red laser marker appears on the 31-year-old's t-shirt.
Oakry repeatedly pleads for the officers not to tase him in front of his children. At one point he says, "Bro, if you tase me in front of my baby." At another point, Oakry says, "What the fuck?"
About 46 seconds after Kerzaya enters Oakry's home, the father's 1-year-old baby walks up to him and Oakry picks him up. Kerzaya orders Oakry to put his baby down and says, "Look, you're going to get tased."
Another officer walks up to Oakry and places a hand on his shoulder. She then takes the two children behind the couch and walks them out a back door.
"There's no other adult in here," Oakry says. "We're going to talk about this."
Kerzaya continues to order Oakry to put the child down, a demand that Oakry refuses. At about 3:40 in the video, Brand, the woman who called police after her altercation with Oakry, can be heard saying, "He didn't do anything." It is unclear at what point in the video Brand enters the apartment.
Shortly after Brand returns, Oakry says, "You hear her? Get the fuck out of my house. Get the fuck out of my house."
"That's not how this works," Kerzaya responds.
At about 4:35 in the video, Brand repeats that "nothing happened."
Kerzaya responds to Brand: "No, that's not how this works. You called us out here. You need to get out of the apartment now."
Oakry then pulls out his cellphone and appears to begin recording. At this point, at least three officers have tasers trained on him. As Oakry continues to refuse to put down his baby, the officers back him into a corner.
One of the officers holding a taser approaches Oakry and touches him on the shoulder, to which he responds, "Don't touch me. Stop fucking touching me."
About one second later, an off-screen officer says, "Do it. Do it. Do it." Three officers then deploy their tasers on Oakry, causing him to scream and fall into a pile of clothes as he holds his baby. One of the officers quickly grabs the baby and hands him to Brand.
Oakry rolls over a box of clothes and lies on his side. Kerzaya orders Oakry to get on his stomach and appears to deploy his taser again. Oakry screams, "Ow. Ow. Ow." Then three officers surround him as one of them handcuffs the father.
"This is my house," Oakry shouts as he is on the ground.
"All you had to do was drop the kid. This would have been so much easier," Kerzaya responds. Kerzaya walks onto a balcony, where he appears to have a conversation with another officer. The audio shuts off and the video runs without sound for about four minutes before ending.
Oakry was arrested and booked into Tempe city jail.
According to the report, Brand told Fernandez that she had three children with Oakry and lived with him for several years. Maricopa County Superior Court records show the couple dealt with child-support issues back in 2012.
Brand said that about a half an hour before police arrived at the apartment, she had a verbal altercation with Oakry after he returned home intoxicated in the early hours of June 15.
Brand said Oakry pushed her with two hands against their kitchen sink, causing her to land on her back. Oakry allegedly pushed Brand again in their son's bedroom and "multiple times in the living room," according to the report. At one point, Brand alleged that Oakry said: "I am the man and you are not." When Brand said she was going to call the police, Oakry allegedly pushed her out the apartment door.
Brand also said she pushed Oakry in self defense. Fernandez wrote that Brand did not have any visible bruises. Brand declined to aid in the prosecution of Oakry.
Hamel, the lawyer representing Oakry, alleged to New Times that Tempe police did not have a right to enter Oakry's home that day, a point disputed by police. She said they did not have a warrant or permission.
"The Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from entering a home without a search warrant or consent unless there are exigent circumstances," Hamel wrote in a statement. "Tempe PD cannot argue such circumstances exist here because the woman who initiated a call was outside of the home when the police arrived."
Valeena Beety, a law professor at Arizona State University, agreed with Hamel's assessment. Beety said that under the Fourth Amendment, police could enter the home with a warrant, with consent, or under exigent circumstances. Because Brand was not in the home, she could not give consent, Beety said. And Oakry explicitly denied consent when he told Kerzaya, "Bro, you're not allowed in here."
Beety also said she did not believe the officers had "exigent circumstances" to enter, observing that Brand was outside the home at the time of the police contact. "Exigent circumstances is supposed to be when you’re responding immediately to a harm," she said.
In addition to the Fourth Amendment question, Beety said she believe Tempe police could have de-escalated the situation better. "They got a call. They responded. Good. That’s what we want law enforcement to do," she said. "That doesn’t mean law enforcement can come straight into the home. It’s incredibly destructive. It just seemed like there were ramp down possibilities there."
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Tempe police, in its statement released by Detective Natalie Barela, said it needed to "clarify" information released to the media about the incident:
"Although, Oakry was affected by the taser, the child was not injured and there was no evidence of the child being struck with the taser probes," the statement says, adding that police had responded that day to "a call for service regarding a domestic violence assault."
"Officers developed a lawful right to enter the residence to contact involved party, Ivaughn Oakry, for a domestic violence-assault investigation," the statement goes on to say. "While attempting to speak to Oakry, he became verbally combative with officers. During this time, Oakry committed endangerment by picking up his one year old child who walked up to him and refused to put the child down... Officers on scene decided to deploy their tasers on Oakry on the opposite side of his body from where he was holding his child. When officers deployed their tasers and hit Oakry, he fell onto a pile of clothing in trash bags while holding the child. Oakry continued to resist but was eventually taken into custody by several officers. Officers were able to safely retrieve the child and bring the child to his mother."
A Tempe Fire Medical Rescue team told police that neither the child nor Oakry were injured, the statement says, and that no evidence shows "the taser barbs or cords made contact with the child Oakry was holding."