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Tempe officer accused of holding Black hotel employee at gunpoint while looking for white suspect

The armed suspect from the initial call was not located.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Tempe police have put an officer who held a Black hotel employee at gunpoint while he was supposed to be looking for a white suspect into an "administrative role," the police department announced Thursday.

That same officer was involved in the controversial tasing of a Black man last year, a department spokesperson acknowledged.

On Aug. 29, Tempe police officers responded to a call from Hawthorn Suites about a suspect who allegedly held a gun to an employee of the hotel. 

Officer Ronald Kerzaya was one of the responding officers and listened to the manager's description of the suspect, which included that he was a Caucasian male wearing a black shirt and white pants, police said. 

The manager, who was looking at surveillance video, told Officer Kerzaya he believed the suspect would be going through a certain exit outside.  The body-camera video shows the officer going out to that door with his gun drawn.

The door opens and an African-American male, who identified himself as an employee named Tre, stepped outside.

Kerzaya held the man at gunpoint until he could prove employment, Tempe Police Department said. The body camera video shows he held Tre for just more than 2 minutes.

The armed suspect from the initial call was not located.

Retired Phoenix Police officer and law enforcement expert Andy Anderson explained why he thinks the officer might have had his gun drawn.

"As he’s leaving that office he’s been told this individual is on the move and is coming out that exit. So, he’s pulled his gun and he is ready, and anybody that comes out that exit is going to have a gun pointed at them because he fully expects that to be the individual with the gun."

Anderson said there aren't any set rules about when an officer should pull his or her gun; it's all dependent on circumstances.

"I can understand him having that gun out being prepared," Anderson said. "Doesn’t necessarily mean you have to point it at anybody."

As for mistaking the hotel employee as a suspect, Anderson said it seemed like the officer's frustration got the better of him.

"We can always second-guess and look things over and run that video and slow down and stop it, but at the time but you’ve got to make a decision based on what the officer knows at that time and they might be wrong," Anderson explained.

In their statement, the Tempe Police Department stated: 

"Our initial review indicates that this incident was not handled in accordance with the professionalism and respectful behavior that we, and the public, have for our officers."  

Chief Sylvia Moir of the Tempe Police Department said she has personally spoken with the hotel employees due to the concerning nature of the incident. 

Mayor Corey Woods said in a statement on the matter: 

"While the matter is under investigation and we will await the outcome of that examination, from our early review of the body camera footage, the Officer’s actions were not a demonstration of the quality of service or treatment of people that Tempe seeks to, can and must provide. The fact that no one was injured is a great relief, but that does little to reduce the dissatisfaction with this incident. 

City Manager, Andrew Ching, and I have been reviewing this and other recent incidents closely as we continue to formulate the City’s plans to address these challenges. In this instance, I have spoken several times to the hotel manager and the employee who was wrongly identified as the suspect who prompted the original call for service. We all can imagine the horrible feelings—the humiliation and fear—that the employee felt during the incident and since." 

Tempe Police say Officer Kerzaya has been with the force for 4 years.  Prior to this, they say he has no use of force violations.  They also confirm he was involved in a June 2019 incident where a man holding a baby was tased by officer, including Kerzaya.  An internal investigation in that case found no wrong-doing, but the family is still fighting that in court.

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