TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Tempe police officer is under investigation after the department says he held a Black man at gunpoint while searching for a white suspect. 

According to a news release from the Tempe Police Department, Officer Ronald Kerzaya responded to the Hawthorn Suites hotel near Loop 101 and Southern Avenue on Aug. 29 for a report of a man with a gun. The manager of the hotel told Kerzaya the suspect was a white man wearing a black T-shirt and tan pants. The manager said the suspect left out of the west side of the building.

Kerzaya then went to the west side of the building to search for the suspect. That's when a Black employee wearing a light gray shirt and black pants was exiting the building and identified himself as an employee. Kerzaya then held the man at gunpoint "until he could confirm that he was an employee of the hotel," the press release states. 

Body worn camera footage released by the Tempe Police Department shows Kerzaya holding the man at gunpoint for three minutes while he confirmed with dispatch that the man was an employee at the hotel. Kerzaya is heard on the footage telling the Black employee, "I am responding to somebody with a firearm who matches your description." Though just two minutes earlier on the same footage, Kerzaya confirms with the hotel manager that the suspect with the gun was a white man.

The Black employee is heard on the body camera footage repeatedly saying, "I am not a threat to you; I work here," while kneeling on the ground with his hands up.

Kerzaya then releases the employee and continues to search for the suspect with the gun. That suspect was never found.

Tempe police say that during a review of the incident, the department became concerned about how Kerzaya handled the incident and placed him in an administrative role until the investigation is complete. 

"This incident was not handled in accordance with the professionalism and respectful behavior that we, and the public, have for our officers," the press release states.

The Tempe Police Department says Chief Sylvia Moir personally spoke with both hotel employees about what happened. 

Some law enforcement experts are criticizing the way this was handled.

"He's there by himself. He's trying to get information, he didn't wait for his backup. It just seemed like the response was flawed from the beginning and they were just asking for trouble one way or the other," said Bill Richardson, former Mesa Police officer.

The head of the East Valley Chapter of the NAACP said the Tempe Police Department needs to change its police culture.

“This type of incident definitely reduces the amount of trust, or continues to erode the amount of trust police officers should expect to have in the community," said Roy Tatem of the East Valley NAACP.

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods released the following statement about the incident:

"Tempe is a proudly forward-thinking, diverse city. Our community members deserve the very best services we can provide at all times. Tempe Police Officers respond to countless calls for service and do so with professionalism, respectfulness and integrity. However, a recent event between a Tempe Police Officer and a member of a local hotel staff is both disturbing and disappointing.

While the matter is under investigation and we will await the outcome of that examination, from our early review of the body camera footage, the Officer’s actions were not a demonstration of the quality of service or treatment of people that Tempe seeks to, can and must provide. The fact that no one was injured is a great relief, but that does little to reduce the dissatisfaction with this incident.

City Manager, Andrew Ching, and I have been reviewing this and other recent incidents closely as we continue to formulate the City’s plans to address these challenges. In this instance, I have spoken several times to the hotel manager and the employee who was wrongly identified as the suspect who prompted the original call for service. We all can imagine the horrible feelings—the humiliation and fear—that the employee felt during the incident and since.

This extremely regrettable incident demonstrates precisely why our Council has called for the formation of a community-based Public Safety Advisory Board in Tempe. It will begin its work later this month. Tempe and many other cities across this nation are right to examine their standards for policing and improve them now and for the coming years. This review must hold individual officers accountable for their actions. The City Manager and the Mayor and Council stand together to affect all necessary changes to improve Tempe’s performance.

It is fully possible to stand with the profession of policing while unwaveringly expecting that police officers and department personnel operate in everyone’s best interests and as a model of exemplary performance. Hiring, training, policies and accountability must be examined and proactively addressed to ensure that every person is respected while the community is protected. We expect, and will accept, nothing less."

ANOTHER INCIDENT INVOLVING KERZAYA

This isn't the only questionable response by Kerzaya. Back in June 2019, Kerzaya was responding to a domestic violence call when he used a Taser on a man who was holding a 1-year-old child. 

Tempe police say that the incident started when a woman called 911 for help after her boyfriend, Ivaughn Oakry, pushed her. When the officers arrived at the home, Oakry was inside the home with his three children. Police say they attempted to speak to Oakry, but that he was verbally aggressive and non-compliant with officers.

In body camera video released by Tempe police, Oakry ignores the officers' commands and then picks up his son. The officers tell him to put the baby down and put his hands on his head.

After three full minutes pass in the video, Oakry is shocked with a Taser and falls with his child onto a pile of clothes. The child is picked up and handed over to his mother. According to police, the baby was not hurt and they determined that no use of force violations were committed.

Kerzaya is currently under investigation by the Tempe Police Department and has been placed in an administrative role.

The Tempe Officers Association released the following statement on the incident: 

While we do empathize with Mr. Cumpian, we believe this incident, examined in totality, had nothing to do with race. 

The officer involved was responding to a call involving an armed suspect who already had committed an assault. In real time, the officer was receiving information from the property manager. That information indicated the next person to come through the door would be the suspect. 

The officer reacted instinctually and based on that information. We don’t agree that he was motivated by skin color. With that said, we believe the incident should be investigated thoroughly and potentially used as a tool to reassess the department’s policies and procedures.

 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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