PHOENIX — The Department of Justice announced it is opening a widespread investigation into the Phoenix Police Department to examine officer’s use of force, treatment of protesters and people who are homeless, mentally ill or have disabilities. This investigation is not focused on a single incident but will broadly investigate the department to determine whether there is a “pattern or practice” of officers violating citizens’ civil rights.
The announcement comes on the heels of high-profile police shootings and arrests that garnered national attention – including arrests of dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.
Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher and Police Chief Jeri Williams told reporters on Thursday that the city and the department plan to fully cooperate with the investigation and provide whatever records or interviews the Justice Department requests.
While it is not immediately clear what events lead to the Justice Department’s decision to investigate the Phoenix Police, the following timeline lays out some of the cases that may come under federal review:
2018 Fatal shootings
The Phoenix Police Department fired at 44 people and killed 23 people in line-of-duty shootings in 2018, leading the nation in officer-involved shootings. Phoenix police commissioned a study in 2019 to review the shootings, and found that in nearly 75% of shootings, the suspect was armed with a gun. In February 2019, the Phoenix City Council approved funding for 2,000 additional body-worn cameras for Phoenix police.
Proposals for additional body cameras had previously had support from Phoenix City Manager Zuercher, who said in 2016 he had planned to equip each officer with body cameras over the following 3 years
December 26, 2018
Erica Reynolds said she was sexually assaulted during an illegal body cavity search by a Phoenix police officer. The city would ultimately reach a $1.6 million settlement with Reynolds in 2019.
May 27, 2019
Phoenix police pointed a weapon at Iesha Harper, who was pregnant and holding her small child during an encounter as police responded to a shoplifting call. Former Officer Christopher Meyer apprehended Harper’s partner, Dravon Ames.
The video shows the officer sweeping his legs out from under him while he was handcuffed and the officer held a gun to his head. Phoenix police later reached a $475,000 settlement with Ames and Harper and fired Meyer.
June 4, 2019
Chief Jeri Williams announced multiple officers were put on desk duty and faced possible misconduct investigations after an advocacy group published thousands of social media posts by officers in Phoenix and around the country showing racist comments and imagery.
June 18, 2019
After video of the arrest of Dravon Ames was shared on social media, protesters crammed Phoenix City Council chambers during a policy meeting demanding accountability for the police department. Protesters called for a Civilian Oversight Committee and body cameras on more officers. Though funding for 2,000 body-worn cameras was approved in February, only 618 body cameras had been deployed by June 2019.
October 22, 2019
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced the termination of two officers, including Christopher Meyer for his role in arresting Dravon Ames and David Swick for his social media posts. By October 2019, Phoenix police had moved to fire six officers in 2019. According to the city, only one officer (who resigned) was given notice he would be terminated in 2016. No officers were terminated in 2017, and one officer was given notice in 2018.
May 21, 2020
Phoenix Police Officer Jeff Cooke shot and killed Ryan Whitaker at his home in Ahwatukee. Police arrived at Whitaker’s apartment after receiving a call from a neighbor regarding a domestic disturbance. Whitaker’s sister would later tell 12 News that he and his girlfriend had been playing video games. Whitaker answered his door with a gun in his hand. Officer’s body-worn camera video later showed he appeared to obey commands to drop the weapon when Cooke shot him. Since this shooting, Phoenix police reached a $3 million lawsuit with Whitaker’s family and determined to fire the officer.
Protests began in May 2020 and continued throughout the summer and into the fall following the shooting of George Floyd in Minnesota and the Phoenix police shooting of Ryan Whitaker. Protesters have since filed a class-action lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department, alleging officers arrested more than 120 protesters on May 30 without regard to whether the protesters had done anything illegal. The lawsuit alleges at least one protester was detained without access to fluids or restroom facilities. The police department and city released a statement saying the city hired an outside firm, 21CP Solutions, “to conduct an independent review examining Phoenix Police policies and procedures related to public demonstrations." Additional protesters have filed lawsuits alleging wrongful arrests for demonstrations in August 2020 and October 2020
Phoenix police also launched a database including preliminary details on each officer-involved shooting since January 2019. According to their data, the Phoenix Police Department has been involved in 50 shootings since January 2019 including nine so far in 2021.
This timeline is not comprehensive of all allegations of police use of force in Phoenix and the Department of Justice has not released details about the incidents it is investigating. The DOJ investigation may or may not focus on any of the above and may include other incidents as well.