(Reuters) - Phoenix police and city officials were met with shouts and boos at a community meeting on Tuesday over a viral cellphone video showing an officer pointing a gun at the parents of a 4-year-old girl accused of shoplifting a doll.
Mayor Kate Gallego this week apologized to the family amid growing public anger over what rights activists say is the latest example of excessive police force against minority groups in the United States.
The cellphone video that emerged last week showed a Phoenix officer drawing his weapon and shouting profanities after a father, mother and two young daughters left a Family Dollar store on May 27.
The parents were unaware one of their girls took a doll without paying for it, according to the family. Police said they were tipped off to the theft by store employees.
Residents at the meeting in the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church became angry after Police Chief Jeri Williams responded to calls for reforms in the department.
“Change does not happen with the police department, it happens with the community,” she said, according to media reports.
Some people began shouting “fire the chief”, and others got up and left the church as Williams spoke, according to video and social media posted by the ABC affiliate in Phoenix and the Arizona Republic newspaper.
The footage, filmed by a bystander, shows Iesha Harper, 24, getting out of a car with her two daughters, London Drake, 1, and Island Drake, 4, holding one of the girls in her arms.
She is then shouted at by another officer as a third puts her 22-year-old fiance, Dravon Ames, in handcuffs.
“There’s nothing that justifies what happened to us,” Ames told the meeting, according to ABC.
“No child should have to experience that ... she hasn’t been the same since,” he said. “We’re lucky to be alive.”
It was the latest incident in which police officers have drawn their weapons or fired at unarmed black people which rights lawyers and activists say highlights a pattern of excessive use of force against racial minorities.
Harper told the meeting she wanted the officers fired.
Chief Williams acknowledged that many people want to see the officers dismissed, but she said: “I have rules to follow,” according to ABC.
The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union representing the city’s police officers, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Phoenix police said in their report that Harper, who is pregnant, refused to follow commands to put down her younger daughter and was “loud,” leading an officer to incorrectly think she might be reaching for a weapon.
The parents were eventually handcuffed, but the store did not press charges, according to the police report.
Sandra Slaton, a lawyer for the family, said they intended to sue the city for $10 million in damages.
“It’s happening over and over again and the only reason the Ames-Harper story is making worldwide news is there’s actual video of it,” Slaton said.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Darren Schuettler