Questions raised about man's death in police custodyPosted: Updated:
On the same day that police released body camera video of the minutes before a man's death in police custody, civil rights supporters and that man's family members spoke out about the incident.
The Maricopa County NAACP, Attorney David Chami, and representatives from Black Lives Matter held a news conference Thursday regarding the case of Muhammad Muhaymin. He exhibited signs of distress while being restrained, and later died at the hospital.
[Mobile users: Click/tap here to watch raw video of news conference]
"We are all seeking justice and looking for answers," said Chami, who is representing Muhaymin's family. "Mr. Muhaymin was a son, a brother, a father. He lost his life and it didn't have to happen."
"My brother was a loving person; he was a gentle person," said Muhaymin's sister in Thursday's news conference. "He was a good person and this should have never happened. There's no reason to justify this."
It happened around 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 4 at the Maryvale Community Center near 51st Avenue and Indian School Road when officers responded to a call about a fight.
When officers arrived, they said they encountered an African-American male "acting erratically" and who "was refusing to leave and had assaulted an employee," according to Phoenix police.
"When they arrived, they were met by employees who pointed out a 43-year-old man who had come into the community center, acting erratically, and had become a little violent. He ended up pushing one of the employees," said Phoenix police Sgt. Jonathan Howard.
Officers contacted the suspect, later identified as Muhaymin, and were attempting to detain him when police say he began fighting with the officers.
"Ultimately it took six or eight officers to pull this man down to the ground to subdue him and put him in handcuffs," Howard said.
Howard said Muhaymin began vomiting and exhibiting signs of medical distress. The handcuffs were removed and officers started CPR.
"They started with first aid," Howard said. "That progressed all the way through CPR when Phoenix Fire arrived and transported him to a local hospital. That man died at the local hospital."
But not everyone agrees about what happened that day. Some claim the police actions that day were "unjustified."
"An impoverished black man in Phoenix. He was an easy target," said Chami.
Black Lives Matter released this statement in a press release:
On January 4, 2017, Mr. Muhaymin attempted to enter the bathroom at the Maryvale Community Center with his service dog. A City of Phoenix employee denied him entrance, because the City has failed to train employees on the Americans with Disabilities Act. By the employee's admission on video, he and Mr. Muhaymin "bumped" each other. There was no fight or assault.
Phoenix police officers who responded to the scene also had not been educated on the Americans with Disabilities Act. They demanded to see paperwork for the dog. There is no city, state, or federally mandated certification for service dogs. "When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
The officers were abrasive, rude, provocative, and profane with Mr. Muhaymin."
The officers involved were wearing body cameras that were rolling at the time of the incident.
On Thursday, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams made public the names of the officers involved in the incident, along with six of the body camera videos. The department said it will release the additional eight videos Friday when the redaction process is complete.
The video clips appear to show the conflict started when Muhaymin was told he could not bring his service dog into the Maryvale Community Center. In the video, we hear an officer ask someone if an assault did, in fact, occur.
"I'm asking a question," says the officer. "Sir, did he assault you?"
The unidentified person responds, "No, he was trying to get in and I didn't let him in."
Another clip shows police escorting Muhaymin out of the center as he holds his small dog. An officer informs Muhaymin he has a warrant. It's unclear what happens next as the video goes to black, but audio is maintained.
"I cannot believe this," Muhaymin is heard saying. Noises indicate a struggle.
Other video clips show several officers holding Muhaymin to the ground outside the community center. Officers tell Muhaymin to relax and stop resisting so they can handcuff him.
The footage shows Muhaymin vomit, police say "call Fire," and one officer begins performing CPR.
"This man was being picked up for a failure to appear in Mesa for a minor misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia," Chami said.
Chami believes officers used excessive force. The family is considering legal action.
Williams released this statement on Thursday:
"In keeping with the spirit of transparency and positive communication with our community and our employees, we are releasing the body worn camera footage obtained during our contact with Mr. Muhammad Muhaymin from January 4th.
This investigation remains active. We have a duty to protect the integrity of the investigation, however, in this particular case, we do not believe the release of the body worn camera video will jeopardize our ability to complete a thorough and accurate investigation.
As with any critical incident, we will always review and learn from what has transpired."
According to the Phoenix Police Department, the officers involved in this incident have been identified as follows:
- Oswald Grenier, male, 17 years experience
- Jason Hobel, male, 17 years experience
- Ronaldo Canilao, male, 15 years experience
- David Head, male, 21 years experience
- Susan Heimbigner, female, 20 years experience
- Kevin McGowan, male, 19 years experience
- James Clark, male, 23 years experience
- Dennis Leroux, male, 14 years experience
- Ryan Nielsen, male, 12 years experience
- Steven Wong, male, 16 years experience (Supervisor)
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