PHOENIX (AP) - Relatives of Hector Lopez, who was shot dead in a confrontation with Phoenix police in May, say passing officers laugh and make obscene gestures during their protests seeking information.
But as the Lopez family returns to headquarters Friday for the sixth weekly protest in a row, they will find a department bathed in a harsh national spotlight after the release of a videotaped encounter that showed officers aiming guns and curses at a black couple whose young daughter took a doll from a store.
[GRAPHIC RAW VIDEO: Citizens record on cellphones alleged Phoenix police misconduct]
Activists say the resulting national outcry over police behavior has ripped open the thin curtain masking distrust, fear and resentment of law enforcement that has left scores of people in Phoenix’s black and Hispanic communities clamoring to tell their stories.
“I think people are emboldened,” said Anna Hernandez, whose brother Alejandro was killed in an April 27 confrontation with police. “People are no long afraid of sharing.”
The raw emotions were on full display earlier this week when some among hundreds of people crowding the pews at a downtown church booed Police Chief Jeri Williams and recounted personal, painful stories of brutality. Both Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego have apologized to the community about how officers handled the videotaped encounter, and they have promised more meetings.
The Phoenix Police Department did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment about the families’ complaints they have been mocked during protests outside headquarters and their requests for reports about how their loved ones died have been ignored.
The recent uproar over Phoenix police was sparked a week ago with the release of a bystander’s video of officers responding to a reported shoplifting pointing their guns and yelling commands at Dravon Ames, 22, and his pregnant fiancee Iesha Harper, 24, who was holding their 1-year-old daughter. Ames and Harper, who are black, say their 4-year-old daughter had taken a doll without their knowledge.
[ORIGINAL STORY: Phoenix police investigating after officers accused of misconduct]
The couple filed a $10 million claim against the city alleging civil rights violations by officers. The department has not made public the race or ethnicity of the officers.
Lopez, 29, died May 9 after he was shot by police responding to a trespassing call in east downtown Phoenix found him inside a car with a female. The department said he dropped a gun on the ground outside the vehicle but then appeared to try to retrieve it, setting off a scuffle in which he was shot.
“This hurts,” his brother Marcos Lopez told the chief, Mayor Kate Gallego and other city leaders at the Tuesday night meeting. “You know how hard it is to bury your brother? You know how hard it is to put clothes on his dead body? That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Their sister, Leslie Lopez, said the family had not received any police or autopsy reports.
Maria Castro, an advocate from the local rights group Puente, told officials at the meeting that during the weekly protests “what we see is your officers walking past them and laughing. They flip off the family.”
[SPECIAL SECTION: Phoenix Police Misconduct Allegations]
Relatives of Alejandro Hernandez have joined the weekly protests.
“You continue to victimize the families by not providing answers,” Anna Hernandez said at the meeting. “How are we supposed to move on with grief and let them go in peace when we don’t know what happened because your officers were not wearing body cameras, supposedly, and we don’t have any reports for clarity on what exactly happened?”
Anna Hernandez said Friday the family learned of her brother’s death on the Facebook page of a local television station and the department sent two officers who spoke no Spanish to the home of her naturalized citizen parents, who speak little English.
The police first responded to the parents’ home in downtown east Phoenix because of a protection order the sister obtained to make it easier to get her brother arrested and off the streets for his own safety when he became erratic.
Anna Hernandez said her brother struggled with meth addition and was living on the street about three days before the April 27 shooting. Police have said her 26-year-old brother was carrying a replica gun that he pointed at officers when he was shot in a canal.
The video of the encounter with the young black family comes amid an investigation by police departments in Phoenix and other cities into a database that appears to catalog thousands of bigoted or violent social media posts by active-duty and former officers.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, a black woman, has moved some officers to “non-enforcement” assignments while the department looks into Facebook posts she called “embarrassing and disturbing.”