Phoenix Police dispatchers field abusive, threatening calls after viral video shows officers pointing guns at black family

By: - July 5, 2019 4:29 pm

A Phoenix Police officer points his gun at a vehicle driven by 22-year-old Dravon Ames. Also in the car were his pregnant fiancée, 24-year-old Iesha Harper and their two-year-old daughter. Screencap from YouTube

Editor’s note: This story contains language that some may find offensive. 

After a video showing Phoenix police officers holding a woman with her toddler child at gunpoint for an alleged shoplifting incident went viral in June and made national headlines, Phoenix Police Department dispatchers began receiving calls from across the country in which people threatened the officers in the video, other Phoenix officers, the dispatchers themselves and their families.

“I hope you guys start dying off,” said one caller on June 14, two days after Phoenix New Times published its first story on the incident, which garnered national attention. 

The story has gained national notoriety, something reflected in the 18 calls that Phoenix Police released to the Arizona Mirror. 

On average, dispatchers receive about 18,000 calls per month, and roughly 1,800 calls received in June were related to the video of Phoenix Police officers attempting to arrest Dravon Ames for shoplifting, a public records liaison told the Mirror. 

It would take the department quite a while to review those calls to determine which ones would be deemed as threatening,” the records spokesperson said. “It is unreasonably burdensome for the department’s employees to review and redact the calls due to the high volume of calls that are received.”

So, the department released the 18 calls over a six-day timeframe that were deemed threatening. The department did not list information about where the calls originated, though some callers claimed to live in Phoenix or the surrounding area. Others said they lived in different states. 

Phoenix Police Department was not immediately able to say if officers were dispatched to investigate threats made by Phoenix residents.  

“The investigators are continuing to investigate the matter, and I don’t know which ones were local or if they originated elsewhere,” Phoenix Police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said. “I don’t have the specifics about the individual calls.”

One caller purported to be from a police officer in a “neighboring jurisdiction” attempting to forward information on a threat being made against officers in the area. However, the caller was short on details and gave the dispatchers little information, including which department he was from. It is unclear what happened with this information.

The calls range from the absurd threats such as a woman who claimed she is going to do “evil voodoo” on the department to outright threats, such as one person who said that the officers involved are going to be killed. That caller acknowledged to the dispatcher he was aware he was making a threat. 

Dispatchers were told to read a statement to those calling about the incident, which said it was under an internal investigation, something that generally did not go over well with many of the callers. 

Dispatchers were also given instructions that anyone who was a witness to the Ames incident needed to have their information forwarded to the appropriate people. 

The statement said that the department is conducting an internal investigation and cannot comment further, and dispatchers were directed to tell callers that, “unless you were a witness to this incident, we thank you for your phone call and we are aware and actively involved in this investigation.”

“I hope your children get stomach cancer and die”

The calls have been having a profound impact on the dispatchers, who generally only get a few abusive or threatening calls a year. In the last month, dispatchers have seen a “hundredfold” increase, said Frank Piccioli, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Chapter 2960, which represents dispatchers in the state. 

Piccioli said AFSCME 2960 has been advising dispatchers of counseling services, as well as reminding them they are not obligated to give their last name, something they were required to do years ago. 

“The threats, the violence, the pure hatred. I don’t think the public realize these are civilians who are the first of the first responders,” Piccioli said, adding that the influx of calls related to the Ames video have been inundating many dispatchers. 

“It’s bad enough that you are dealing with death on a daily basis,” Piccioli said. “Then add an increase in threatening phone calls to take us away from actually emergencies. It’s causing a lot of stress.” 

AFSCME has also been informing dispatchers that there are counseling services available. Dispatchers are not federally recognized as first responders, however, some counseling services for first responders have been made available to them, Piccioli said. 

Andrea Max last month gave an emotional testimony to the Phoenix City Council about her experiences with threatening calls. She said at the meeting it was the first time as a dispatcher that she has had to deal with calls like these. 

Some of the calls Andrea mentioned to AZFamily appear to have been part of the release. 

In one on the morning of June 14, Andrea received a call from a man who kept asking her if she had seen the video and said he hopes “theres a fucking bomb in your fucking office too” before hanging up. 

In another call, a man said he wanted to report a crime and said that Phoenix Police are gang members, before getting more and more angry. When Andrea asked the man for his name politely several times, he kept repeating, “How would you feel if that was your brother or your sister?” until he asked her, “Do you understand English, moron?” 

Before the caller hung up, he said he hopes Andrea’s mother gets shot. 

“Eat a dick bitch, I hope your fucking mother gets shot,” the caller said. 

One man called her from Chicago saying he plans to kill all the Phoenix police. That same man also said he hopes someone murders all Phoenix police officers. 

Many of the calls released appear to be from people in the community voicing their anger, frustration and more to the department. 

One call released doesn’t appear to be threatening. The man called looking for information on the incident from the viral video, but says there will be a movement from citizens if no appropriate action is taken to discipline the officers involved. 

Overall, the calls released follow a general thread of stating that they hope the officers involved and more officers are killed. Some even said they were aware they were making a threat on a recorded line. 

One caller even stated he hopes that a woman’s children “get stomach cancer and die.” 

At one point, a few days into the influx of calls, one dispatcher began pushing back. 

The caller started by saying that Phoenix Police officers are all “Nazi pigs” and the dispatcher asked if that applied to “the whole department,” at which point the man began yelling at her saying that all of them are “Nazi pigs.” 

After the man ended his tirade, the dispatcher asked, “Are you done?” The caller retorted, “Fucking hang up the phone, you piece of shit.”

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined 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. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.