Tempe Officer Repeatedly Accused of Excessive Force Will Keep Job

AP Photo/Matt York

By Bree Burkitt

December 10, 2020

“If you can’t get rid of your worst cops, you can’t say you’re committed to police reform or racial justice.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Officer Ronald Kerzaya’s suspension is unpaid.

Tempe will not be firing the officer accused of using excessive force against two unarmed Black men.

Body-worn camera footage showed Tempe police Officer Ronald Kerzaya holding an unarmed Black man working at a Tempe hotel at gunpoint as he searched for a white armed man. The officer had previously come under fire for a June 2019 incident where he used a stun gun on an unarmed Black man who was holding his 1-year-old child in his own home.

Kerzaya was placed in an administrative role pending an internal investigation after the most recent incident. However, multiple city officials confirmed to The Copper Courier Thursday that Kerzaya will keep his job. 

A statement from the city shared Thursday morning said Kerzaya violated several policies during the hotel incident and will not return to patrol for at least one year. He is currently serving a two-week unpaid suspension.

He will also be required to take part in a performance improvement process and recently passed a psychological examination that determined he was fit for duty. 

Heather Hamel, the attorney for both men, learned of the city’s decision from The Copper Courier.  

“It’s a mistake for him not to be fired,” Hamel said. “He’s incapable of performing the job and has demonstrated time and time again that he’s a danger to the community rather than a source of protection.”

She added that the decision to keep Kerzaya undermines Tempe’s “purported assertion that they’re committed to police reform.”

“If you can’t get rid of your worst cops, you can’t say you’re committed to police reform or racial justice,” she said. “Tempe should be ashamed.”

The city agreed to pay a $300,000 settlement for the hotel incident. An agreement has yet to be reached in the 2019 stun gun incident as Hamel said the city maintains Kerzaya did nothing wrong. The city cannot comment on the matter as the lawsuit is still pending.

What Happened

In August, Kerzaya responded to a reported trespassing at Hawthorn Suites hotel near Loop 101 that evolved into allegations that an armed man was on the premises. Body-worn camera footage shows Kerzaya repeatedly ask the hotel manager whether the armed man is Black or white. The manager is seen offering to let the officer see surveillance footage that showed an armed white man.

But Kerzaya did not look at the footage and instead headed outside, where he encountered Trevonyae Cumpian in his marked hotel uniform. Kerzaya drew his weapon and ordered him to his knees.

Body-worn camera footage shows Cumpian asking the officer if he’s going to shoot him.

“Am I going to be another person on the news?” he asked.

The officer would not lower his gun until he confirmed Cumpian was a hotel employee. He then pointed his weapon at three others as he searched for the suspect, who was never found.

This happened a little more than a year after Kerzaya used a stun gun on Ivaughn Oakry while he held his 1-year-old child in his own home.

Following the incident, Kerzaya underwent mandatory re-training in contact communication, defense tactics, and enhanced de-escalation techniques.

Tempe to Conduct Third-Party Review

Interim Chief Jeff Glover said he understood where calls from the community to fire Kerzaya were coming from, but the outcome was “not possible.” He pointed to the department’s use of progressive discipline that guarantees that certain actions get certain discipline. And, according to the statement, the officer must show a pattern of behavior for which they’ve been disciplined. Kerzaya faced no formal discipline for the 2019 stun gun incident.

“My determination of discipline in Officer Kerzaya’s case does not excuse his behavior, which was unacceptable and disheartening. We must address the behavior,” Glover said. “But we must also take responsibility and make the changes that will help ensure this does not occur again.”

The administrative investigation conducted in accordance with the department’s professional standards bureau found that Kerzaya violated a number of policies. However, the statement released by the City of Tempe Thursday did not specifically state which ones.

According to the statement, Glover said the department failed to “adequately supervise Kerzaya and provide him mental and emotional support following trauma experienced during his career.” The statement did not provide any details about the trauma they were referencing.

Kerzaya said he “reflected” on his conduct in a statement made during his discipline process.

“I understand that my actions have caused a tremendous amount of anguish for many different people, and I cannot convey enough how remorseful I am for my actions and the aftermath that so many people have been forced to deal with and continue to deal with to this day,” Kerzaya wrote.

The investigation also determined that his supervisor failed to provide adequate supervision and manage the scene at the hotel. They will face a 40-hour unpaid suspension.

According to Tempe’s statement, a third-party consultant will review the incident and make recommendations about policy and training changes related to the incident.

Glover, who started in the role in October, reviewed the investigation. He stepped into the position after former Chief Sylvia Moir — who was at the helm of the department when both incidents involving Kerzaya occurred — departed earlier this year.

The department has been at the center of a number of high-profile use of force cases in recent years, including the incidents involving Kerzaya and the 2019 police shooting of 14-year-old Antonio Arce. As a result, Glover intends to make a number of operational and policy changes, including additional levels of internal review for use-of-force incidents, augmenting professionalism standards, added de-escalation training, and dedicating a full-time supervisor for employee wellness.

Continue Reading: Record Number Of Phoenix Police Shootings Add Fuel To The Fire Of Protests


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