Victims cited in DOJ report on Phoenix police brutality call on city to implement mandated reforms

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix residents who have spoken out against police brutality hailed on Friday a scathing U.S. Justice Department report outlining a pattern of excessive force and racial discrimination, saying it lays blame not just at the feet of law enforcement but the leaders of the nation’s fifth-largest city.

Jarrett Maupin, a Phoenix-based activist known for working with victims of police violence, said the city owes the impacted families an apology and financial compensation.

“The city owes these families an apology. And more than that, they owe them, literally and figuratively, millions of dollars because of the injuries sustained, the deaths they’ve sustained, the losses they’ve sustained,” Maupin said.

The sweeping civil rights investigation found “overwhelming statistical evidence” that Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people, as well as unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force. The report says investigators found stark contrasts in how officers enforce certain — especially low-level — crimes depending on a person's race and that officers tended to fire their weapons unnecessarily or “unreasonably delay” aid to those they injured.

Dravon Ames, who received a payout from the city after officers pointed their guns at him and his pregnant fiancée in 2019, told reporters Friday that he finally felt like his voice was being heard. At the time police cited having shoplifting suspicion, but no one was ever charged. The couple says that, unbeknownst to them, their young daughter had taken a doll from a store. He hopes the city of Phoenix will go along with federal court-ordered reforms.

“I think if they sign a decree and get monitoring and get on the right path, there will be a change to happen,” Ames said. “That’s the whole point of their findings. They (the DOJ) have let them know there’s a problem, you know, and it’s 126 pages of problems.”

Ben Crump, the Florida-based attorney who has become the voice for Black people killed at the hands of police and vigilantes, represents the family of Akeem Terrell, a man who died in a jail in Phoenix in 2021. He said he hopes the report's recommendations will mean improving the policing culture.

“While we are still fighting for justice for Akeem, we continue to also fight for those who are still here with us. There shouldn’t be another Akeem Terrell," Crump said in a statement. "It is critical that police departments follow guidance like that of the DOJ to better protect our communities.”

The report does not mention whether the federal government is pursuing a court-enforced reform plan known as a consent decree, but a Justice Department official told reporters that in similar cases that method has been used to carry out reforms. Litigation is an option if the Department is unable to obtain a consent decree.

Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan said in a statement that the force needs time to thoroughly review the findings, and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement that city officials would meet June 25 to get legal advice and discuss next steps.

Meanwhile, Darrell Kriplean, president of a local police union, called the Justice Department investigation a “farce” and said it is “only interested in removing control of local police from the communities.”

Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country. Similar DOJ investigations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Baltimore and elsewhere have found systemic problems related to excessive force and civil rights violations, some resulting in costly consent decrees that have lasted years.

Maupin believes calling for police accountability, even if it means prosecuting officers, is not anti-police.

“Let me say this clearly, we’re not anti-police,” Maupin said, with some supporters nodding in agreement. “We’re not standing here saying ‘defund the police’ and all that. We want a police department that knows how to be police, protect and serve.”

He also warned that inaction by local Democratic politicians like Mayor Kate Gallego could drive Black voters away.

“I suggest that we think long and hard before we vote for anybody on that city council and including the mayor, who is up for election,” Maupin said. “And I think we vote long and hard about what’s in our best interest.”

Sandra Slaton, a civil rights attorney representing several people in lawsuits against the city over excessive force, acknowledged the Biden administration deserved some credit for the Justice Department following through with the report.

“I am convinced there isn’t any doubt in anybody’s mind that this would not be happening under a Trump Justice Department,” Slaton said.

Terry Tang, The Associated Press