Justice Department says Phoenix police violated rights. Here are some cases that drew criticism

Jun 13, 2024, 6:18 PM

FILE - Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice, on Aug. 11, 2023, in W...

FILE - Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice, on Aug. 11, 2023, in Washington. Garland is set to come face-to-face with his most ardent critics as House Republicans prepare to use a routine oversight hearing to interrogate him about what they claim is the "weaponization" of the Justice Department under President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough, File)

(AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix police use unjustified deadly force, discriminate against people of color and routinely violate the rights of homeless people, the Justice Department said in announcing the results of a sweeping civil rights investigation.

The government launched the investigation in 2021 after years of complaints and issued a report Thursday. The Phoenix Police Department was criticized for its treatment of protesters, deaths of people who were restrained by officers, and a high number of shootings by officers.

Phoenix police didn’t immediately respond to the report’s findings. A top police union official called the investigation a “farce.” Mayor Kate Gallego said she’ll “carefully and thoroughly review the findings before making further comment.”

Here’s a look at some of the cases mentioned in the report:


The Justice Department reviewed all Phoenix police shootings from January 2019 to December 2022, finding some likely could have been avoided if not for “reckless tactics” by officers that increased the risk of deadly encounters.

For example, the report says, Phoenix police shot at people who did not pose a threat. And, police used excessive force on wounded people and delayed medical assistance, the report says.

In one instance, an officer shot a man who who was holding a knife to his own throat, saying he wanted to die. In another case, a police officer fired a shot at a man who fell down, the report says.

And in another case, police waited over nine minutes to help a woman after officers shot her 10 times. The woman died.

Police also shot a man with a gun and then fired bean bag rounds at him as he lay motionless.

“The pain inflicted from such rounds would be extraordinary, but the first two stun bags elicited no reaction to suggest the man was conscious or presented a threat. Yet the supervisor ordered officers to fire more rounds at the man,” the report says.

After the sixth projectile was fired, an officer said he needed gloves to start CPR, the report says.

“No rush, guys, no rush,” the supervisor responded. The officers fired two more rounds before approaching the man who died at the scene, the report says.


Investigators reviewed protests in Phoenix between 2017 and 2022. They said police targeted lawful protesters for arrest and reacted with unjustified force or arrest when people in everyday encounters spoke or attempted to record officers’ conduct.

During the protests in the summer of 2020, Phoenix officers failed to warn protesters before shooting projectiles and made little attempt to distinguish between peaceful protesters and those engaged in unlawful acts, the report said.

The report cites a widely criticized ” challenge coin ” that circulated among Phoenix officers in 2017. It depicted a gas mask-wearing demonstrator getting shot in the groin with a projectile and contained a vulgar comment about his injury.


Distrust grew deeper, especially in Black and Hispanic communities, in June 2019 when cellphone video emerged showing officers pointing guns at an unarmed Black couple with two small children they suspected of shoplifting.

The couple said their 4-year-old daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge and rejected police suggestions they stole, too. No charges were filed. After the video drew criticism, Phoenix police quickly implemented widespread use of body worn cameras, making it one of the last big departments to do so.

The Justice Department said Phoenix police disproportionately targeted communities of color. Police enforced certain laws — like low-level drug and traffic offenses, loitering and trespassing — more harshly against Black, Hispanic and Native American people than against white people who engaged in the same conduct, the report says.

Black drivers in Phoenix were 144% more likely and Hispanic drivers were 40% more likely than white drivers to be arrested or cited for low-level violations in view of red light cameras, the report says.

Native American people were more than 44 times more likely than white people — on a per capita basis — to be cited or arrested for possessing and consuming alcohol.


Phoenix police illegally detained homeless people, in some cases falsely claiming the people were obstructing sidewalks or alleys, the Justice Department said. Police also cited or arrested homeless people “for conduct that is plainly not a crime,” the report says.

More than a third of the Phoenix Police Department’s misdemeanor arrests and citations between January 2016 and March 2022 were of homeless people, the report says. One man was arrested or cited at least 20 times between 2019 and 2022.

The report notes citations and arrests for one 69-year-old man who was sitting or sleeping on public property. At one point he asked police: “Is there no end to the harassment of the homeless?”


The Justice Department said police also use “combative language and needless force” when dealing with children.

Police threw a 15-year-old Latino boy against a bus stop pole and handcuffed him after he asked to call his mother, the report says.

“The officers also questioned the boy while he was handcuffed, without informing him of his Miranda rights,” the report said. The officers unlawfully searched his backpack without a warrant before releasing him with a lecture that the encounter was his own fault, according to the report.

Police also handcuffed and used neck restraints on a 13-year-old boy who walked out of school without permission, according to the Justice Department.

“With the officer’s knee in his back and hand on his neck, the boy pleaded to be let go: ‘My mom’s right there. I can’t breathe. I’m just trying to get home,'” the report says.

When the boy’s mother complained, a supervisor defended the conduct as “reasonable and necessary,” the report says.

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Justice Department says Phoenix police violated rights. Here are some cases that drew criticism