Black man held at gunpoint by Arizona officer seeks $2.5M
PHOENIX (AP) — A Black man filed a $2.5 million claim Wednesday against the Arizona city of Tempe after a police officer held him at gunpoint while looking for a white suspect at a hotel.
The claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — was filed by hotel employee Trevonyae Cumpian stemming from his Aug. 29 detention by Tempe police Officer Ronald Kerzaya, The Arizona Republic reported.
Body-camera footage showed Kerzaya responded to the Hawthorn Suites hotel based on reports involving an armed white man.
While searching for the man, the footage shows, Kerzaya held Cumpian, who works as a front-desk employee, at gunpoint despite Cumpian not matching the suspect description. Kerzaya would not lower his gun until he confirmed the man was a hotel employee.
He then can be seen pointing his weapon at three others as he searches for the suspect, who was not found.
The claim calls for Kerzaya, who has been moved to an administrative role pending an investigation, to be terminated due to his “blatant and continual abusiveness toward Black men.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Cumpian said he was racially profiled by Kerzaya.
“Once things became hostile and he said I fit the description and had me get down to my knees with the gun on me, all I could think about was my daughter, my family, and my life flashed before my eyes,” Cumpian said. “I thought I was going to die.”
Nikki Ripley, a spokeswoman for the city, told The Associated Press the city hasn’t yet received Cumpian’s claim.
Benjamin Crump, one of Cumpian’s attorneys, said his client deescalated the situation, while Kerzaya seemed to do the opposite.
The police department previously said its initial review shows the encounter wasn’t handled with the professionalism or respect expected of its officers. An internal investigation is being conducted.
Kerzaya and the department came under fire for a 2019 incident in which Kerzaya used a stun gun on Ivaughn Oakry, who was holding his 1-year-old child in his own home.
The claim involving Cumpian seeks $2.5 million for emotional trauma and related therapy.
The claim also alleges a cover-up by the department to keep Kerzaya’s past conduct quiet. The attorneys said officials attempted to avoid providing the officer’s badge number and, when they did, they provided Kerzaya’s middle name of Aaron, instead of Ronald. They later provided his full name and Cumpian quickly discovered Kerzaya was at the center of an excessive-force lawsuit filed by Oakry.
The department stood by Kerzaya and the other officers involved following the Oakry incident. An investigation determined their actions were within policy and Kerzaya underwent mandatory re-training in contact communication, defense tactics and enhanced de-escalation techniques.