- The mayor and police chief of Phoenix are apologizing after newly released video shows officers using excessive force against a family whose daughter stole a doll from a dollar store in May.
- The footage shows officers yelling orders at the parents and pointing a gun at the family’s car while threatening to shoot.
- The family’s attorney is accusing the officers of battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and violation of the family’s civil rights, and says the family is willing to settle the case for $10 million.
The mayor of Phoenix apologized on Saturday after footage emerged showing police officers drawing their weapons on a couple whose 4-year-old had stolen a doll from a local dollar store.
The incident happened at the end of last month when Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, took a trip to a Family Dollar store with their two young daughters. According to the couple, they were unaware that their 4-year-old had at some point taken a doll from the store with her back to their car.
Police say they were tipped off about an alleged shoplifting incident by a store employee. Police then found the couple about a mile away at the apartment complex of their babysitter.
What followed as a heated standoff that was captured in now-viral cell phone footage. Video shows the officers shouting profanities at the parents. Officers can be heard telling the couple to put their hands up. “You’re gonna get fucking shot. Get your f*cking hands up.” one officer said.
While one officer points a gun at her, Harper says the car door was malfunctioning, making it difficult for her to exit the car. The couple’s 4-year-old daughter eventually exits from the back seat. Her mother follows, with her 1-year-old in one arm. An officer yells at her to hand the child over and grabs at the child.
A police incident report says the officers feared the mother was “hiding something” or was reaching for a weapon.
The parents have now filed a notice of claim over the incident. Thomas Horne, the lawyer representing the couple, said the officers committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and violated of the family’s civil rights. In a letter sent to the city last week, he said the family is willing to settle the case for $10 million.
The claim says that officer’s injured the 1-year-old child by pulling on one of her arms when Harper refused to follow an officer’s order to hand over the child.
The filing also claims Ames was thrown against a car and kicked so hard that he collapsed. Then an officer “kept his knee between the father’s legs. He punched the father very hard in the back for no reason,” Horne said.
The claim adds that after Haper handed over her baby to a bystander, the officers placed her and her partner under arrest and said: “I could have shot you in front of your f*cking kids.”
The couple’s attorney said the actions were “traumatic and utterly unjustified.”
On Facebook, authorities said Ames admitted to stealing a pack of underwear and throwing it out the window of the car. He also allegedly said he was driving with a suspended license. But Horne says the couple denies telling officers that Ames had stolen underwear.
Neither side can even agree on the day the incident took place. The family’s claim said the incident happened on\ May 29, but police officers said it happened May 27. Police also said they were only made aware of the video on June 11.
The doll was returned to Family Dollar, according to officials. No charges were issues over the shoplifting, however, authorities issued Ames a traffic ticket for driving on a suspended license and impounded his car.
“I do want you to know that I expect our employees to maintain their professionalism and proper training at all times,” she added.
Williams also asked that the officers be taken off the street and placed on desk duty.
Mayor Speaks Out
Mayor Kate Gallego said she was “sick” over what she had seen in the video, which has since picked up national attention. “It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional,” she said.
“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.”
Mayor Gallego has called for a community meeting on June 18, where the police chief is expected to address the public and answer their questions. She also said that in response to the incident, the city will be speeding up its implementation of body-worn cameras across the entire police department.
Now Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has also offered the family support. Team ROC spokesman Didier Morais said Sunday that the group has offered legal and emotional backing to the family.
“Team ROC has reached out to the family to provide legal support, call for termination of the police officers and ‘ensure the well-being of the children,’”AZ Central reported.
The family’s current lawyer said that if the city doesn’t respond to the claim within 60 days, he can file a lawsuit.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (AZ Central)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.