Black and Blue

Jimmy MagahernJanuary 22, 2020
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A doll stolen by a 4-year-old black girl sparked a year of intense introspection for Phoenix law enforcement – and a string of lawsuits led by one of two of the oddest political bedfellows the city has ever seen.

At a crowded table at the Red Dragon Buffet in Avondale, Dravon Ames, 23, is engaged in a losing battle to reattach an earring onto the tiny ear of his 1-year-old daughter, London, who playfully twists and turns her head whenever Ames gets close to threading her earlobe with the small gold bauble.

“Let me get it. You’re not the boss here!” chides Ames, as the grinning, giggling toddler defiantly swivels her head left and right, dodging the small stud post like a shrewd fish eluding a lure. Finally, her mother, Iesha Harper, 25, returns with a heaping plate of Chinese food and instinctively grabs the earring from her fiancé, popping it into London’s right earlobe while, with the other hand, dishing out caramelized chicken and stir-fried noodles to her 4-year-old daughter, Island.

“She doesn’t like him to do it,” Harper says, with a laugh, twisting the safety screw back on to keep the tiny gold hoop from wandering again. “Got to be Mama.”

Throughout the restaurant, eyes repeatedly dart in the direction of the young couple and their two kids, and not just because they make a strikingly attractive family — although there is that. “It’s a beautiful thing for me to see a young black family surviving, despite their challenges,” says Katt McKinney, founder of Glendale-based advocacy group Black Women of Faith, sitting across the table. “With their personalities, and their kids, who are so well-behaved, I think they’re an inspiration for a lot of young people who are moving forward in their relationships.”

Of course, McKinney knows that’s not why most people stare. For the majority of Arizonans, Ames and Harper attract attention simply because they are, as she notes, “that couple on the news.”

Illustration by Dan Page
Illustration by Dan Page

Last year, Ames, Harper and their two young daughters became world-famous overnight when cellphone videos of a harrowing confrontation with Phoenix Police officers on May 27 went viral. In the videos, captured by residents of the apartment complex where the couple were dropping off the kids with a babysitter, police officers were seen drawing their guns on Ames’ maroon Hyundai Santa Fe and screaming violent, obscenity-laced threats, while Harper, then five months pregnant with the couple’s third child, sat holding their 1-year-old in her arms.

The reason for this over-the-top confrontation? A shoplifted doll. Officers were responding to a call placed by an unidentified tipster at a nearby Family Dollar store, who said they had witnessed a man and woman walk out with a young girl carrying a doll that they hadn’t paid for. The police report estimated the value of the toy – a Baby Alive doll that was ultimately returned to the store, which didn’t press charges – at $18.

Immediately, social media and TV news seized upon what appeared to be a grotesque overreaction on the part of Phoenix police, unholstering their firearms over what was widely reported as a “dollar store Barbie.” Public support for the family surged, particularly among the black community. Celebrities like D.L. Hughley and Snoop Dogg shared the videos on social media, which helped the news go viral. But Jay-Z – or more specifically, Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of the rapper’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, went above and beyond, offering legal and financial aid, paying the impound fee to get Ames’ car back and even securing housing for the family, with the first year’s rent paid by Team Roc.

“Our hearts go out to Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and their children after this traumatic experience,” Team Roc director Dania Diaz said in a written statement. “They deserve compassion and empathy, not to have guns drawn at them and be dehumanized.”

Public sympathy began to erode, however, after it was announced the family had secured a lawyer and was filing a $10 million notice of claim to sue the city, alleging civil rights violations by the officers.

In response, the police released three videos of their own, obtained from the Family Dollar’s surveillance cameras. The footage showed Harper and a woman later identified as an aunt walking out of the store with 4-year-old Island clearly carrying the doll. Another video showed Ames holding a package of underwear that the police report claimed he also shoplifted. (Ames says he put the drawers back.)

Two weeks later, Tempe Police piled on, releasing body camera footage of an October 2018 DUI arrest of Ames following a minor traffic fender bender, in which Ames appeared disoriented and admitted to “dabbing” marijuana earlier with friends. He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer for resisting the cop’s attempts to handcuff him. “This model citizen is just a magnet for cops,” wrote the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association on Facebook – although the union admitted officers were unaware of Ames’ Tempe arrest at the time of the shoplifting showdown.

Since then, Ames and Harper have become the unwitting poster couple in the heated national debate on police use of force. On one side are those who feel the couple represent all-too-typical victims in a law enforcement structure tainted by implicit racial bias and self-protected by the so-called blue wall of silence, where colleagues fail to report misconduct by fellow officers in keeping with an unspoken code. On the other side, pro-police supporters who contend those officers only target law-breaking citizens point out that Ames is no choir boy, and maintain that he and Harper knowingly stole from the store and therefore initiated the harsh treatment.

In the middle, however, is a real family, led by a young dad whose repeated interactions with law enforcement both shadow and shackle that effort to “moving forward.” A brief history of Ames’ run-ins illustrates how a series of bad traffic stops can have a negative domino effect. His previous arrest in Tempe resulted in a suspended license, which led to transportation issues that factored into him losing his job as a warehouse stocker at Amazon. That may have contributed to his turning a blind eye to his daughter’s shoplifting, after which Ames was cited for the suspended license – which resulted in his vehicle being impounded, further impacting his ability to work. Four months after the Family Dollar incident, Ames was again arrested, this time for speeding with unrestrained kids in the car and driving on a license still listed as suspended.

To be sure, Ames has proven to be an imperfect showpiece for the issue of police violence – a fact that some advocates view as an opportunity for deeper understanding.

“I think that poor people and persons of color in society are dealing with all kinds of stresses that are unfair and disadvantage them,” says Robert J. McWhirter, a Phoenix criminal justice attorney currently running as a Democratic candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, who has no connection with the case. “Often they’re just trying to live and work like everybody else, but then they get all these added things piled on top of them.”

While the family waited to move into the two-bedroom luxury condominium in North Phoenix Jay-Z secured for them, they continued to live in poverty. The night before this Sunday buffet, the Ames-Harper family slept in their car. For several nights before that, they were staying at Harper’s sister’s house – along with about 11 other relatives and their kids, all packed into a few rooms.

Iesha Harper and Dravon Ames with their daughters, London, left, and Island; Photo courtesy Jarrett Maupin
Iesha Harper and Dravon Ames with their daughters, London, left, and Island; Photo courtesy Jarrett Maupin

“The real tragedy here,” McKinney whispers, showing a photo on her phone of Island holding the Baby Alive doll she bought her to replace the one taken by the police, “is why can’t a family like this afford a baby doll for their daughter?”

“There’s the culprit!” she says loudly, as Island grabs a seat between her parents. Ames, by now accustomed to reporter interrogations, mock-grills his daughter on the crime that nearly got her parents shot.

“Why did you take that doll?” he asks, substituting a spoon for a microphone.

“Because I wanted it,” Island replies.

“Do you feel bad about taking it?”

Island thinks about it for a second. “No,” she says, with a smile.

“Would you do it again?” Ames asks, by now smiling too.

“Yes!” she exults.

If it’s Sunday morning, it’s a safe bet you’ll find the Rev. Jarrett Maupin stirring up the congregation at a small Baptist church somewhere in South Phoenix.

The 32-year-old civil rights advocate and minister, once nicknamed “Kid Sharpton” for his similarities, both in showy style and earlier physical appearance, to the fractious media gadfly who took him under his wing as a teen, Maupin still enjoys serving up sermons at small Downtown churches – between marching at the Capitol and addressing TV news cameras.

Today it’s the Bethesda Church of God in Christ in Avondale, a one-room, 60-year-old Pentecostal church where the ubiquitous firebrand is riffing on Ecclesiastes.

“For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense,” he thunders. “But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.”

Seated in the front row is a rare white face among the predominantly black congregation: former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. For some casual followers of Horne’s career, he may seem a surprising presence. What is the man who once ran for superintendent of public instruction on the platform of banning bilingual education – then struck down a Mexican-American studies program at a Tucson district as attorney general – doing singing spirituals with so many black and brown people?

Turns out this isn’t Horne’s first Super Soul Sunday. “When I was attorney general, I did a joint press conference with Rev. Maupin,” he says. “And then he took me to 16 black churches, where I spoke about civil rights.” At this church, he says, he was even talked into playing the old Hammond organ the last time he visited, a hidden talent he developed from accompanying his wife of 47 years, Martha, a Juilliard-trained harpist who passed away in April.

Not that any of that changed his opinion on the value of ethnic studies. “The ethnic studies program was a throwback to the Old South, where kids were put in different classes by race and then taught only about the contributions of their own group,” Horne says. “That’s racist by definition. Everyone should learn about the contributions of all different groups together.”

Horne also doesn’t agree with the assertion that because black people have a different relationship with law enforcement than white people, police officers should be required to take cultural sensitivity training. “No, I don’t buy the thing about cultural differences,” Horne says. “We’re all individuals and we’re all subject to being judged by the same standards, in my opinion.”

Nevertheless, the 74-year-old Republican agreed to partner up with the liberal preacher in defending Ames and Harper, along with taking on three other police brutality cases, for this fourth or fifth act in his life. “I think there are a small number of police officers who are racists and who don’t treat people of different races equally,” he says. “And I feel like I’m contributing to the public good by helping to hold them accountable and weed them out.”

For Maupin, grandson of trailblazing activist Opal Ellis, who led Phoenix’s first civil rights sit-ins in the 1940s, and son of Jarrett B. Maupin Sr., who ran Al Sharpton’s Phoenix campaign headquarters during his failed bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, working with Horne has only increased his profile and given his cases more bite. Announcing the $10 million suit against the city in the Ames/Harper case, Maupin was even more fiery than usual.

“This family is going to sue the hell out of the Phoenix Police Department,” Maupin declared in a hastily called press conference, calling the officers “bigots with badges and guns.” Referencing a moment captured in the cellphone video when one officer could be seen trying to yank 1-year-old London out of Harper’s arms, Maupin’s rhetoric treaded close to inciting retribution. “We got a problem in this city, and someone’s gonna end up dead,” he said. “And the next time it might be a police officer, ’cause I don’t know too many black men that are gonna let them put their hands on their pregnant women in that way.” (Approached for comment, Phoenix Police public information officer Sgt. Tommy Thompson says all of the cases brought by Horne and Maupin are pending litigation and therefore the department is unable to respond.)

Certainly Maupin has a provocative history. A 2017 deep dive in The Arizona Republic by reporters Richard Ruelas and Megan Cassidy detailed the young reverend’s political misadventures (running for mayor in 2009, Maupin pleaded guilty to spreading falsehoods about his opponent, then-incumbent Phil Gordon) and questioned his motives as an activist, observing that his dual roles as an unpaid civil rights crusader and paid consultant for companies facing diversity issues often overlap, leaving some clients feeling unfairly charged for his advocacy.

“I do a lot of lobbying, and I work with a lot of companies,” Maupin says, describing the public relations-type work that pays his bills. “But that’s just what I’ve got to do to get things done for the people who need me to fight for their civil rights – which I don’t charge for.”

Nevertheless, the multimillion-dollar lawsuits he and Horne have filed against the city of Phoenix, all claiming police brutality and civil rights violations, have raised eyebrows, even among other attorneys. “It certainly sounds excessive to me,” says McWhirter of the $10 million price tag on the Ames/Harper case, clarifying that he’s a criminal lawyer and not a civil rights lawyer. “I think it’s by design that most of these cases will settle instead of going to trial. There’s really no disputed facts to prove.”

Maupin says the high-dollar claims are intended to put pressure on the city, which fields more lawsuits than many realize. According to records provided to The Republic by the city of Phoenix’s finance department, the city paid out $18,629,689 in claims in 2018. By comparison, three notices of claim filed by Horne and Maupin last year totaled $66 million – and Maupin says the momentum generated by the lawsuits, all now ambling through the justice system, has finally jump-started some reforms in the Phoenix PD.

The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, left, once recruited ex-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (pictured here with co-council Sandra Slaton) to speak at black churches. Now they’ve teamed up on several high-stakes police brutality claims.; Photo by Thomas Ingersoll
The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, left, once recruited ex-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (pictured here with co-council Sandra Slaton) to speak at black churches. Now they’ve teamed up on several high-stakes police brutality claims.; Photo by Thomas Ingersoll

In August, Mayor Kate Gallego announced that all Phoenix patrol officers will be required to wear body cameras, a plan that actually had begun rolling out last February but got fast-tracked after the public uproar over the Family Dollar incident. The department also implemented a new policy requiring officers to document each and every time they point a gun at a person, ostensibly to show “how many times our officers are able to successfully de-escalate a situation,” according to Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, but – Maupin hopes – also logging the times they don’t. Additionally, in July, the City Council voted to implement an “early-intervention system” designed to catch officers who may be at risk of breaking protocol before the damage is done.

Finally, in late October, the officer responsible for most of the violent interactions in the Ames/Harper incident, Christopher Meyer, was fired. Another officer (still unnamed by the department) was sent before the PD’s disciplinary review board and received a written reprimand.

“I’ve never seen movement like this before,” says Maupin, who was careful not to accord Williams too much credit over the firing, which he said was late in coming. “Dravon and Iesha’s case really shed light on all these other cases. As an activist, it made me feel great to have the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post doing stories on people that had been suffering in obscurity for so long. We’re working on getting Dravon and Iesha on the Ellen show right now.”

The negative exposure may have helped Phoenix PD turn a corner. In 2019, the department logged only 15 officer-involved shootings, a 66 percent drop from its nation-high total the previous year (see chart, below).

National outrage over the incident turned to scrutiny of Phoenix’s troubled relationship between its police force and members of the black community, highlighting the city’s inordinate number of OIS incidents, which tend to disproportionately affect black residents. While African-Americans make up only 7 percent of the city’s population, they represented 20 percent of those shot by police in 2018. (The disparity may partly be explained by crime rates. According to a 2015 Arizona Department of Public Safety report, black Arizonans – who constitute 4.3 percent of the state’s total population – accounted for 12.9 percent of all violent crime and property theft arrests.)

Last June, the watchdog group Plain View Project compiled a database of racist and violent Facebook posts made by police officers nationwide, naming 97 current and former Phoenix officers. One of those officers, Clinton Swick, was fired when Meyer was given the ax.

The flurry of damning incidents drew national attention. The Los Angeles Times ran a story headlined “Video of Phoenix police threatening a black couple revives memories of Arizona’s racism,” dredging up everything from former Governor Evan Mecham’s rescinding of the newly declared Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1987 to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling of Hispanics. “Tensions are running high,” echoed The Washington Post, “in this city of infinite sunshine.”

In an effort to calm the tensions, Gallego called on Williams to participate in a Community Listening Session on June 18 at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, a longtime center of Phoenix’s black Christian community. With the 2,600-seat megachurch filled to capacity, Williams, herself the first black woman to lead the department, opened the meeting by saying she had “been in the sanctuary a number of times,” though she later lost the crowd when she proclaimed, “Real change doesn’t start with our police department. Real change starts with our community,” dropping the mic – and eliciting boos.

One after another, attendees took their turns at the microphone to share their own stories of police brutality and often futile attempts to obtain basic information from the department.

Among the first to address the chief was 36-year-old Edward Brown, paralyzed from his chest down as a result of a spinal injury sustained after being shot in the back by Phoenix police Officer Kenneth Silvia in August 2018. Silvia and another officer had arrived at a West Phoenix neighborhood to investigate a tip about “drug activity” happening in an alley. Brown took off running when he saw the officers, and Silvia took chase. After Brown failed to jump a fence and took off running again, this time past Silvia, the officer shot him in the back. Upon release from the hospital, Brown was charged with possession of marijuana – he was carrying a medical marijuana card, but it had recently expired – and assaulting an officer by allegedly spitting on him.

Brown insists, after being left bleeding on the hot pavement for several minutes waiting for aid, he was actually coughing up blood. “You remember me,” Brown said quietly from his wheelchair. “It was about nine months ago. I was a person that was able to jump above the rim… Now I can’t even sit in this chair without holding on to something. I can’t bend down and tie my shoe without holding on to something… I can’t even get a good night’s sleep, because this haunts me every time I close my eyes.”

Brown’s case is one of the police brutality lawsuits Maupin and Horne are currently working on together. (The criminal complaint against Brown was still pending as this issue went to press. In the meantime, Horne filed a complaint to sue the city for $50 million.)

Like Ames, who spoke after Brown, not everyone who took the mic that night had a spotless record – nonetheless, they all felt mistreated by the police. Midway through the nearly three-hour session, the mayor and police chief heard from the family of Hector Lopez, a 29-year-old man who was beaten, Tased and then fatally shot by two Phoenix cops after allegedly reaching for a handgun he had dropped after opening his vehicle door in a traffic stop, then nervously pointing it at the officers.

It wasn’t surprising the department’s internal investigation found the officers’ actions justified: Pointing a gun at officers is universally known as “suicide by cop.” And yet, Lopez’s sister, Leslie, paints a picture fraught with cruelty and disregard.

“How did they Tase him and beat him and then laugh at him?” she said, fighting back tears. “My sister was in the vehicle the whole entire time, and she told us they were laughing at him. How do you explain that, that they were laughing at him while they were Tasing him and beating him?”

Broadcast on Facebook Live, and live-streamed by FOX 10, the event provided a seldom-seen glimpse into the world of people impacted by police violence – justified or not. For white America, it was a chance to hear people not usually given a microphone – as emotionally raw as any Ava DuVernay miniseries. Call it When They Stream Us.

“Many people have not heard these stories before,” said Roy Tatem, president of the East Valley NAACP, before introducing Edward Brown. “The world is watching Phoenix, Arizona.”

“If you close your eyes and really listen,” says Maupin, who revisited the video after leaving the meeting early, “you can hear not only sadness, but great anger. I think that people really needed to hear those stories in the community meeting, to see their faces. And I think the city needed to be challenged by them, directly. They all did it as respectfully as they could, but these are damaged people. They’re really hurt. And the city is finally seeing them.”

Common-sense suggestions were made. Attorney Kesha Hodge Washington proposed a simple solution to ensure officers activated their body cams in each encounter. “If they don’t have it on, they don’t get paid for that day.”

Radical notions took flight. “The Super Bowl is coming,” said a business-attired man named David Davison. “Shut it down! Take the money out of their pockets. Make them feel the pain that we feel… until they feel our pain, they won’t understand what we are saying.”

Coming out of the meeting, some attendees expressed confidence that voices were heard, change was coming. That is, until they checked their phones and read the real-time comments running alongside the Facebook feed.

There, timestamped to tie each comment to the moment in the video it was posted, armchair quarterbacks provided the opposing viewpoint.

“A family of THUGS!” wrote a white woman posting from Bedminster, New Jersey, at the moment Ames and Harper spoke. “Child services needs to get involved, remove the kids.”

“I wonder how many people in this room have a record?” wrote a Phoenix man in the scrap metal business after Williams’ comment drew boos.

After another of Lopez’s siblings (pegged by his appearance and demeanor as a “gangbanger” by several viewers) emotionally described having to dress his brother before burial, these condolences, from Lori in Sun City, with a Facebook page covered in pro-Trump memes:

“If you don’t want to dress a dead body, then obey the law!”

“No cop ever came to our neighborhood to shoot hoops,” says Roland Harris, sipping a glass of water with lemon at Metro Sportz Bar & Grill outside Metrocenter Mall.

He’s talking about the feel-good videos that seem to go viral after every police-involved shooting – the ones showing cool, friendly cops playing impromptu street basketball with neighborhood kids. In the best one, Shaquille O’Neal shows up to join the cops’ team on a street in Gainesville, Florida.

“It’s never Phoenix cops, though, right?” Harris asks. “I never seen them playing basketball on our streets.”

Any police officer that did leave his cruiser for a little one-on-one in Harris’ neighborhood might have played with his son, Jacob.

“Jacob’s life revolved around basketball,” Harris says. “Some kids put their efforts into gangbanging and trying to be the hardest gangster on the street; Jacob put all his efforts into basketball, to be the best basketball player there ever was.”

The young man had even applied for a job where he hoped to be teaching the sport to kids, Harris says, looking for a way to channel his passion into a means to provide for his own 1- and 2-year-old toddlers.

Instead, cops first encountered the 19-year-old late one Friday night in January 2019, running from a car officers had tagged as the vehicle used earlier in a robbery of a Whataburger. Alleging that they believed Jacob was wielding a handgun, the officers shot and killed him within seconds of first contact.

Harris can look intimidating, with a Hulk-like barrel chest, a short, thick neck and muscled arms covered in tattoos (a Día de los Muertos character on his right, and on his left, the word “Scrillafornia,” from the 1998 banger by Chicano rappers N2Deep). A mix of black and Latino, he looks like an NFL linebacker, or maybe the characterization he’s most often assigned by strangers: gangbanger. Turns out that’s not entirely wrong.

“When I was growing up in California, I became a gang member,” he admits. “So I know what it’s like on that side. I can tell you, even street gangs have more of a code than the Phoenix Police Department. If you kill a child as a gang member, that gang’s not standing by you.”

Jacob was different, though, he says. Slighter built than his dad, at 5 feet 5 inches tall and 150 pounds, the younger Harris rushed into fatherhood, getting his 21-year-old girlfriend pregnant when he was just 15, but otherwise stayed out of trouble. “He never became a gang member, never sold drugs. I never saw Jacob with a gun in his life,” Harris says. “Jacob was working full time as a nighttime manager at a Whataburger in Scottsdale.”

He dismisses the connection between his son working at a Whataburger and allegedly robbing another one. “Went back to school, got his high school diploma and graduated while supporting a family.”

Harris wishes the officers who followed the red Honda Passport Jacob was seen riding in that night, along with three other youths police believed were behind a string of fast-food and convenience store robberies, had gotten to know his son before seeing him run from the car. They might have been inclined to stop him using less lethal force, concluding, like Harris, that Jacob was unlikely to have been the ringleader in this crime.

“They said Jacob turned and pointed a gun at them, and that’s when they shot him,” Harris says. “But I knew that wasn’t what happened.”

Six months after the incident, video from a police helicopter that had been flying over the scene, leaked to 12 News, backed up what Harris had been saying all along. The black-and-white thermal video showed an infrared image of Jacob running from the car before two bullets, visible by their generated heat, struck him in the back, causing his body to fall forward while more bullets flew.

At no point does the video show the figure turning or reaching for a gun, although a warm object appears to fly from his right hand as he hits the ground. Harris contends that may have actually been his cellphone. “There was only one gun used in the Whataburger robbery, a silver and black BB gun,” he says. “The gun that they supposedly found lying on the ground was a small black handgun.”

Harris believes there was some kind of divine intervention behind the video being released to the one media outlet “in error,” as a Phoenix police statement called it. As soon as 12 News aired the footage, the PD sent a notice to the NBC affiliate stating that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was seeking an order to prevent releasing the video “to anyone other than the prosecution in the criminal case,” apparently unaware of how YouTube works.

“Got to be somebody in that police department who has a conscience,” Harris says. “Somebody that has access to that video. Check and see who got fired the next day.” (Phoenix Police declined to comment on the video’s release.)

Harris remembers Williams’ “real change” gaffe at the community meeting, recalling how she tried to walk back that statement by adding, “The police department is a part of this community.” He disagrees.

“The police department is not part of the community. If you want to be part of the community, let’s go back to community policing. Let’s start having the satellite offices out there in the neighborhoods, let’s start getting out of our cars walking through the community, meeting the people and getting on a first-name basis with them.”

Police spokesperson Thompson claims the department is making efforts to provide community outreach. “Chief Williams has held a number of community meetings, and she also has had numerous meetings with the members of the Phoenix Police Department staff,” he says. “In addition, we still have our 13 advisory boards that represent the various segments of our community.”

Harris, who works in collections at a financial services firm near Metrocenter and also serves as vice president of the Steady Dippin’ lowriders car club, insists he’s not anti-police, and believes there are more good ones than bad.

“There’s a Phoenix police officer who goes to the car shows my club goes to,” he says. “He’s not afraid of the public, he’s out there in his uniform and this guy talks to kids. He’s cool. And don’t get me wrong, a lot of the guys in car clubs are former gang members. But this guy is right out there with them, and he’s not afraid.”

That cop knew Jacob as the club’s “designated driver.” “We’d drop the cars off, set ’em up for the show and then he’d drive us back home, drop us off and then pick us up later to go back to the show.”

To this day, Harris doesn’t know if his son participated in the robbery. For a time, he was willing to consider the possibility. “If they would have took Jacob alive, Jacob should have went to jail,” he told reporters on the steps of police headquarters a week after the incident. “He committed a crime. But that crime was not worth his life.”

Having yet to see convincing evidence linking his son to the crime, he’s reversed his stance. He says he’s certain Jacob didn’t aim a gun at the officers, and that Phoenix PD went out of its way to make his son appear guilty, ransacking Jacob’s apartment after the arrest for damaging evidence. Horne has filed a $6 million lawsuit on behalf of the Harris family, too. Harris says what he really wants is to see David Norman, the officer who shot his son, in prison.

Currently, the three youths Jacob was with during the shooting, all between ages 20 and 14, are in prison instead, charged with Jacob’s murder. Arizona law states that someone can be held responsible for another person’s death if they were committing certain felonies at the time of the incident – a law known as “felony murder.”

“Eventually the community is going to get tired of this,” Harris says, referring to general police relations. “You can only brutalize someone for so long. If the police are going to keep killing these kids, these kids are eventually going to push back. And it won’t be the bad cop that gets hurt, it’ll be one of the good ones.”

Three days before Iesha Harper’s baby shower, and four days before the birth of the couple’s third child – and first boy – Dravon Ames is back on local TV news, standing before a judge at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office 4th Avenue Jail being booked for speeding on the I-17 – going 85 mph in a 55 mph zone – and driving on a suspended license. Caught rushing to the airport to pick up relatives arriving for the shower, he was also cited for not wearing a seatbelt and not having the kids, who were in the car with him, in car seats.

Maupin, caught by reporters outside the jail, appears uncharacteristically dispirited, concerned the development may hurt the family’s case and relaying the advice he’s been trying to give Ames since the incident went public: “Walk the straight and narrow, and set the best example that you can for the community.” He doesn’t, however, think Ames was being targeted for the trouble he’s brought the PD. “Initially, I don’t think the officer realized who he pulled over. It was a good traffic stop.”

Corralled later at the baby shower, welcoming friends and relatives to what also doubles as a housewarming party at the couple’s new Jay-Z-endowed condo, Ames shrugs off the arrest.

“It was just ’cause my information hadn’t been updated in the MVD system,” he says. “I told them it was updated, but they didn’t want to take my word for it, so I just went down to the DMV the next day. Nothing major.”

Online, critics have begun slamming Ames again. “They will be forced to settle because daddy is a criminal who can’t stay out of trouble,” writes one commenter on Twitter under a news post about the latest incident. “All this guy does is show his true colors with every crime he commits,” posts another.

But up in Ames’ and Harper’s new home, surrounded by family, friends and about a dozen high-spirited little kids, there’s only laughter, balloons and barbecued ribs.

“I like to say Jay-Z and Beyoncé got us the apartment, because it’s their company,” Harper says, with a laugh. “But they’ve done a lot for us, and they really don’t want us to put it out there – they’re not looking for any publicity from this.”

Ames, fielding some good-natured ribbing from assorted cousins over his latest run-in with the cops, says he’s just happy things went differently on this traffic stop.

“This time they handled it the right way,” he says, smiling. “The way they should have handled it the first time.”


Phoenix led the nation in officer-involved shootings in 2018 – outstripping cities such as New York City (23) and Los Angeles (33) with larger populations.

Total NUmber of PPD OIS Incidents (Fatal and NonFatal) by year (2009-2019)

* Red line indicates 10-year mean of 22.9. Source: Phoenix Police Department
* Red line indicates 10-year mean of 22.9. Source: Phoenix Police Department


Police advocates note that cops are more likely to fire their weapons in the midst of high overall crime. Adjusted for violent crime arrests, the city’s OIS rates are less dissimilar from other American cities.

Fatal OIS per 1K Violent Crimes in 2018 (among 20 agencies with highest # of Fatal OIS in 2018)

Source: The Washington Post’s ‘Fatal Force’ data & FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Source: The Washington Post’s ‘Fatal Force’ data & FBI Uniform Crime Report.

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