Phoenix police chief no stranger to controversy




Jeri Williams Police Chief
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams. Photo by Phoenix Police Department.

The Phoenix Police Department has been fending off controversy after controversy the past few months, but that’s nothing new to its chief.

Chief Jeri Williams came back to Phoenix in 2016 from California, where she ran the Oxnard Police Department for about five years. The department has about 225 regular officers, far fewer than the roughly 2,900 sworn officers in Phoenix

Despite its small size, it wasn’t free from controversy such as police shootings, something that has been a source of frequent criticism of the Phoenix Police Department during Williams’ tenure. An Arizona Republic analysis found that Phoenix police shoot people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. 

During her time in Oxnard the department settled out of court for millions of dollars over a number of high-profile deaths. 

 

Robert Ramirez 

In late June of 2012, Oxnard police responded to reports that Robert Ramirez was acting erratically after using methamphetamine. 

Responding officers restrained Ramirez in a way that the Ventura County Medical Examiner determined to be the cause of his death. Ramirez’s family said he told officers that he couldn’t breath while they restrained him. 

The city and department argued that he had overdosed on methamphetamine. 

However, Williams requested an outside law firm that often works with law enforcement conduct its own investigation. 

The investigators found that there was a lack of clarity from the multiple officers involved in the incident and that there was no footage from the incident as well, which could have helped them better determine what happened that evening.

Investigators also found that officers investigating the incident asked their fellow officers leading questions. 

Eventually the city settled with Ramirez’s family, paying them more than $3.9 million, which included more than $1 million in attorney fees, according to the Ventura County Star

 

Alfonso Limon, Jr. 

A few months after the incident with Ramirez, officers in Oxnard shot and killed a jogger while they were conducting a pursuit. 

Alfonso Limon, Jr., was one of two men shot and killed after police engaged in a firefight with two men they had been pursuing following a traffic stop. 

“The violent behavior of these suspects in this incident created and resulted in a tragedy and tragic death of Mr. Limon,” Williams said to an NBC affiliate after the shooting. 

Limon was shot between 16 and 21 times by nine different officers, and two years later the city would reach a settlement with his family for $6.7 million. 

 

Meagan Hockaday 

In March of 2015, police were called to the apartment of Meagan Hockaday for a domestic dispute. Within the first 20 seconds of their interaction with Hockday, police fired four rounds, killing her. 

The district attorney said that Hockaday charged police with a knife, and ruled that the shooting was justified.

However, two years later the city settled out of court with family members of Hockaday for an undisclosed amount

Hockaday’s death galvanized many in the community and she became part of the #SayHerName movement which aimed to bring attention to the shooting deaths of black women. 

 

Phoenix settlements 

During her time in Phoenix, Williams has had to settle some other high profile cases. 

Earlier this year, Phoenix settled with a woman for $600,000 after an officer struck her with his vehicle, breaking her hip, ribs and rupturing her spleen, according to ABC15

Officer Seth Castillo, who was the officer involved in the 2016 incident, was arrested in 2010 by Gilbert police for driving under the influence after they found him passed out in his car. Gilbert police used their Tasers on Castillo after he refused to comply with them. 

Currently Castillo is assigned to the city’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team. 

Williams’ department now faces two high-profile lawsuits, both seeking settlements in the tens of millions of dollars. 

One lawsuit was brought by a family that was held at gunpoint for an alleged case of shoplifting, and the other for a cavity search that is being challenged as illegal. The former is asking for $10 million and the latter $12.5 million. 

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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