“I Thought We Were Going to Be Executed”: Police Held Family at Gunpoint After 4-Year-Old Took Doll

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An African-American family is suing the city of Phoenix, Arizona, after police held them at gunpoint because their 4-year-old daughter had allegedly taken a doll from a Family Dollar store. In a video that has since gone viral, officers point guns and yell at the family, and one officer even threatens to shoot the 4-year-old girl’s father, Dravon Ames, in the face. The girl’s mother, Iesha Harper, is heard saying she is unable to hold her hands up because she is holding a child and that she is pregnant. Phoenix’s mayor and police chief have both apologized for what happened, and criticized how the police officers handled the situation. Activists in Phoenix say this is just the latest incident in a police department plagued by issues of police violence and killings. Last year, the city had 44 police shootings, nearly double that of the previous year, and led the nation in police shootings among cities of its size. We speak with Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper, as well as a family spokesperson, Rev. Jarrett Maupin. On Monday, the couple filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We go now to Phoenix, Arizona, where an African-American family is suing the city after police held them at gunpoint because their 4-year-old daughter had allegedly taken a doll from a Family Dollar store. Shocking video shows officers pointing guns and yelling at the family outside the store. One officer even threatened to shoot the girl’s father in the face.

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of the [bleep] car!

DRAVON AMES: OK. I’m not doing anything.

WITNESS 1: You recording it?

WITNESS 2: Yeah, I’m recording it.

POLICE OFFICER: Put your hands up.

IESHA HARPER: I don’t have nothing, officer.

POLICE OFFICER: I don’t give a [bleep]. Put your hands up!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The 4-year-old girl’s mother, Iesha Harper, is heard saying she’s unable to hold her hands up because she’s holding a child, and that she is pregnant. On Monday, Iesha Harper and her fiancé, Dravon Ames, spoke about what happened.

DRAVON AMES: I was very much so in fear for my family’s life and my life. I thought we were all going to be executed. And by the luck of God or by graces, someone was there to video this. You know what I mean?Even if we were going to be executed that day, someone would have had it on film. And honestly, I don’t think that it would have helped or anything.

IESHA HARPER: Yeah, it’s very traumatizing, you know, because, like, with all of this going on, I still have to see the video. You know, it’s very sad. You know, it shouldn’t have happened over a baby doll, or whatever the case might be they want to say. Like, it still doesn’t justify their action.

AMY GOODMAN: Phoenix’s mayor and police chief have both apologized for what happened, and criticized how the police officers handled the situation. Activists in Phoenix say this is just the latest incident in a police department plagued by issues of police violence and killings. Last year, the city had 44 police shootings, nearly double that of the previous year, led the nation in police shootings among cities of its size.

Well, for more, we are joined by the family, Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper, along with their family spokesperson, Reverend Jarrett Maupin of the National Action Network. On Monday, the couple filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! This is just an astounding story. Iesha, if we could start with you? Talk about when this happened—the video just came out for the public to see, but when this happened—and the police officers surrounding you all, explain what they told you to do. You have a 4-year-old, who they say took a doll from the dollar store, and your 1-year-old. You were holding your 1-year-old in the car?

IESHA HARPER: Yeah. Well, she was in her car seat. And as I’m getting her out of her car seat, that’s when the officer runs to the driver’s side door and was like being very aggressive. And at that moment, I didn’t know what was going on. I already had her in my hands. And he’s screaming and yelling. My other daughter jumps on me, like she didn’t know what was going on. So, it all started like that, before everything else escalated.

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re telling you to put your hands up when you’re holding your child, and you’re telling them—I don’t know if everyone could hear it in the video—”You’re overdoing this. You’re overdoing this.”

IESHA HARPER: Yes, because I just thought that, like I didn’t know what were they doing and if we was the right people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Dravon, when they approached Iesha, where were you, specifically, and what was their interaction with you?

DRAVON AMES: I was in the driver’s seat. And his interaction with me was, he first came to my door. He opened the door, no problem. He’s telling me to put my hands up. I do that instantly, because he had the gun drawn. We don’t know who he is. I’m just taking commands from anyone, unidentified person at this point. I don’t know if I’m being mugged, robbed or anything. I’m just hands up. I’m not trying not to die with my family, so…

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and in the video at one point, an officer is seen kicking your legs out from under you. Could you talk about what happened subsequently?

DRAVON AMES: Yeah. So, he yanks me out the car while I have a gun drawn on me in front of me, and then he throws me to the ground, cuffed me. No resistance. I’m fully compliant. Then he hits my head against the car door. Then he throws me against the car, and then he says, “Spread your legs.” And in the video, you see me open my legs or spread them. And then he just kicks me and blows my leg out. So, at that point, I’m just—I’m still complying, like, “I’m complying with you, sir.” Even though he does that, I’m just like, OK, he wants to get—he’s trying to provoke me to do something so he can justify this all. And I’m just showing him that I can at least just hold my composure a little bit more to show that he’s fully wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Iesha, what happened to your children, your 4-year old and your 1-year-old? You were holding the 1-year-old. What did you do with her?

IESHA HARPER: I had to give her to a complete stranger, because the officer was being so aggressive and loud and yelling. And he like tried to grab her out of my arms, which I did not want to give her to that aggressive officer. So I gave her to a complete stranger. And then—

AMY GOODMAN: A stranger who came up. We see—

IESHA HARPER: —from there, I just didn’t know what was going on.

AMY GOODMAN: We see the bystander footage, and one of the people who’s behind filming is saying, “I’ll take the child. I’ll take the child.” So you handed her to a stranger. How is your 4-year-old processing this?

IESHA HARPER: I mean, she—like, all she kept doing was like trying to watch me. And she didn’t know what was going on. And, like, she had no clue. Like, it’s all about her taking that Barbie doll. Like, she was just so shocked and shooked.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Jarrett Maupin, put this in a broader context, with the Phoenix Police Department, what the African-American and Latino communities there have experienced at the hands of the police department, and what this case signifies for you.

REV. JARRETT MAUPIN: Well, extreme violations and a complete disregard for their inherent worth and dignity as human beings. You know, 44 shootings and killings last year, 15 more this year, more than 60 substantiated complaints of brutality and excessive force, but nothing as shocking as what we saw on this videotape with this family. That was a complete failure to respect any of their rights.

You know, if you listen to the beginning of the tape, when the officers approach the car with guns drawn, they tell Dravon to—you know, one says, “Put your hands up.” And the other one says, “Open the door.” Well, you know, that’s a perfect combination for an execution. These officers were intent on violating this family.

Meyer, the officer who was sort of the lead thug in this, has a terrible track record. In fact, at the rally last night, a young man came forward to say that he has a videotape, and shared it, of Officer Meyer abusing him. So you have police with records of abuse that continue to be employed by the department.

Phoenix has the highest number of police on the Brady list than any other city, five times more police violence against people of color in Phoenix than cities of comparable size. It’s the fifth-largest city in America, larger than Philadelphia. It’s systemic and institutional, the violence, the racism. The police department is 73% white. No diversity training, no sensitivity training, no body cameras. No hope. We must have something change. And it takes advocacy and litigation, but intervention. You know, if we had been under President Obama and Attorney General Holder, this police department would be in receivership of the Department of Justice.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego issued a statement saying, “I, like many others, am sick over what I have seen in the video depicting Phoenix police interacting with family and young children. It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional. There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting. I am deeply sorry for what this family went through, and I apologize to our community. This is not who we are, and I refuse to allow this type of behavior to go unchallenged.” So, Reverend, what’s happened to the police officers? Are they all off—have they all been taken off the streets?

REV. JARRETT MAUPIN: They have not been fired. They’ve been suspended with pay, which is an insult to the family.

The mayor, her apology is lacking all substance, and it’s been rejected by not only this family, but the entire community, and especially the civil rights community. She lied to the national media. She said, by August, that all precincts in the city would have body cameras. That’s very misleading. There’s a difference between all precincts having a handful of cameras and all patrol officers having a body camera that they’re required to use. Who cares if a precinct has 15 cameras and 60 officers? There were 10 officers that responded, including a lieutenant. Not one had a body camera, even though they came from a precinct that was a “test” precinct for body cameras in this city.

We have a police union that exercises tremendous control over the City Council. It’s easier to fire the police chief or the city manager than it is to fire a rank-and-file officer. Something is wrong—policies, procedures, employment contracts. That’s what the city needs to look at. But the mayor and the chief have seen fit to come to our community again and ask us for answers. You know, we are—after 44 shootings, 15 more just this year, umpteen rallies, marches, lawsuits, they know what we want. The mayor represented South Phoenix, District 8, for six years, before she was elected mayor. That’s the highest concentration of black residents in the city. She was estranged to us then. But she knows what we’re demanding.

So, this is the politics of placation and smoke and mirrors, the finest we’re seeing played on poor, urban residents anywhere in the country. And it’s a shame. You know, the police’s—the chief, she’s a black woman. She said the other day that she gets how people feel. I would hope so. But that doesn’t mean she’s doing anything about it. Sometimes a black chief can be the best window dressing in prevention of bringing in needed reforms. The proof is in the dead bodies and the broken bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to get into more details, but we’ll have to do that in Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper, we want to thank you for being with us, suing the city of Phoenix, Arizona, for $10 million, after being stopped and held at gunpoint by police because their 4-year-old daughter allegedly took a doll from a Family Dollar store. And, Reverend Jarrett Maupin, thanks so much for being with us, family spokesperson. That does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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