Warning: This story contains graphic language that depicts sexual violence.
Naked except for her socks, standing in a cold room in a south Phoenix police substation — a male officer watching her, a female officer pulling rubber gloves over her hands to search the new mother’s body cavities — she started begging.
Begging didn’t work. She said stop.
“I said, ‘You can’t do this to me,’” she says. “He said, ‘We can. And we will.’”
Crying, Erica Reynolds bent over.
The officer inserted unlubricated fingers into Erica’s anus searching for drugs, prodding against a hemorrhoid she still had from giving birth months earlier. She cried out in pain when she felt pressure sharp against her insides.
Finally, after finding nothing, the officer pulled her fingers out of Erica’s body.
The mother of two daughters thought it was over. She breathed in deep to stop the tears.
Then, another order.
And without changing rubber gloves, the officer began probing Erica’s vagina. She wept.
Erica was a suspect in a drug investigation. Police found no evidence of a crime.
Police called it a legal body cavity search. Erica called it rape.
She went home vomiting, her vagina aching and bleeding heavily from her rectum, in so much pain she went to the hospital.
What police did that day would consume Erica’s life, force her to turn to social media and then to the Phoenix City Council looking for justice.
At first, no one in the department listened to the Black mother from south Phoenix.
Erica didn’t know at the time that despite being injured by Phoenix police, a review of officers’ actions would happen only if she was willing to report her assault, face officers from the same police agency that violated her — and file a complaint.
No record of an illegal search
When investigators first recorded her complaint they documented the steps they intended to take next. They completed a form called a “Notice of Investigation.” That form provided an option to launch an investigation into “direct involvement in a police … use of force incident.”
Instead, investigators checked the box for “an administrative investigation” that launched an internal inquiry into “work rules and regulations.”
Under Phoenix Police Department policy, body cavity searches require a warrant or the “consent of the suspect” to prevent unconstitutional searches. The policy also mandates that only a medical doctor may perform them, and any strip search must take place in “private rooms with due regard for the subject’s dignity.”
Officers did none of that for Erica.
Erica says what Phoenix police did to her in 2018, one day after Christmas, was illegal and that it injured her, violating her body and her rights. Afterward, the officers tried to cover it up and keep her from talking, she says.
Officers only reported it after Erica went to a hospital to seek treatment and medical workers called police to report a sexual assault. Even then, officers reported it as a routine cavity search.
While police are required to report encounters in which they use force, that didn’t apply in Erica’s situation — not even after the department was forced to admit the cavity search, which left her bleeding and bruised, violated department policy.
The reason highlights a gap in the department’s reporting of force and injuries, one that hampers the ability of police leadership and the public to scrutinize how often and against whom officers use force and injure people.
An Arizona Republic investigation found Phoenix police over the past 10 years used force against Black, Native American and Latino residents at higher rates than the city’s white residents, and that officers resorted to force more often in majority-Black or Hispanic neighborhoods like south Phoenix.
Erica’s police encounter isn’t reflected in that data. But it tracks with those findings in two key ways.
• It happened in south Phoenix, a neighborhood where officers disproportionately use force against people of color.
• And Erica is Black. Black people are disproportionately subjected to police use of force, and at a higher rate than white people. Only Native Americans in 2019 were subjected to force at greater rates.
Erica’s injuries weren’t reflected in department use-of-force data because a body cavity search — even when it’s done illegally and causes injury — falls outside the narrow scope of what the department defines as harmful enough that it must be recorded.
This reporting gap also means the incident didn’t trigger a paper trail documenting the officers’ actions.
Another example of this gap: Until recently, any time an officer used the technique commonly known as a choke hold, they were required to document it in a use-of-force report. In June, Phoenix Police Chief Williams banned the carotid technique in response to public pressure following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
One upshot for officers who ignore the choke-hold ban today: No use-of-force report is required.
High-profile lawsuits in U.S. cities often involving people of color being subjected to body cavity searches have spurred a growing number of government watchdogs and civil rights experts to criticize police conduct and question the constitutionality of body cavity searches. Just how often officers conduct body cavity searches isn’t clear, but government settlements involving such police actions aren’t difficult to find in local media reports.
In Texas, Harris County settled a lawsuit with a Charnesia Corley, a young Black woman who sued after deputies pulled her over for allegedly running a stop sign. Corley alleged that officers told her they smelled marijuana and one officer searched Corley’s vagina without first obtaining a warrant, according to a Houston Press report.
More than a dozen Black and Latino men accused a New York Police Department officer of conducting or directing humiliating invasive strip or body cavity searches, according to a September ProPublica report.
Legal analysts with the American Civil Liberties Union have said courts have long ruled warrantless body cavity searches are unconstitutional, and in some instances are so invasive, such conduct can be unconstitutional even with a warrant.
Reporting use of force
Assistant Chief Steve Martos, commander of the agency’s Professional Standards Bureau, which investigates officer misconduct, acknowledged the gap in force reporting requirements could allow officers to “hide” their use of “out of policy” tactics that injure people.
Sgt. Mercedes Fortune, a Phoenix police spokeswoman, said, “In Mrs. Reynolds’ case, are there moments when things happened and it’s not captured and it wasn’t recorded? There were. If you are that type of cop, that probably won’t be the first time you do something wrong, so we hope the second time we catch you.”
Phoenix police officials said the department has other ways of documenting when officers injure people, even when it’s not required by department policy.
“We have body-worn cameras on our officers, too, so I think the issue of reporting or not reporting is going to be mitigated,” Williams, the Phoenix police chief, said in an interview with The Republic. “I think the duty to intervene is going to help us. If something is brought to my attention we’re going to address it.”
Police were not wearing body cameras when they forced Erica to comply with a search of her anus and vagina. A policy adopted by the department in September requires officers to “intervene when they know or should know another employee is using unreasonable force.”
“We all know how critically important right now use of force is, so much so that we’ve made adjustments and changes to our policy and we actually added more supervisors … to really look at use of force — how we report, how we investigate it,” Williams said.
Fortune said department policy requires officers to verbally report injuries to a supervisor. Ultimately, it’s up to them to determine how the injuries should be documented in departmental reports, if at all.
Asked why the department hadn’t changed its policy to require recording and investigating police tactics that result in injury regardless of whether Phoenix police define it as force, Williams said, “We’re actually looking at what other agencies are doing. … If we find new ways, better ways of doing something we’re absolutely going to do that.”
Martos said even within the Valley the actions police departments consider to be a use of force vary. A “national standard” defining officer force would allow departments to better gauge their performance compared to other departments, he said. Martos said he has informally discussed that idea with Williams.
“That way we could be comparing apples to apples,” he said, adding that most officers want misconduct that reflects poorly on the department to be investigated and disciplined.
Martos said Phoenix police are “open to change” and have involved “people from the community, (asking) ‘What do you think of this policy?’”
Advocates for police reform say there should be a record of every time officers injure a person, regardless of whether their actions meet the department’s narrow definition of force. Reporting ensures such incidents are properly reviewed and can help identify officers at risk for misconduct, the advocates say.
Erica’s fight is just one example of how the failure to track incidents deprives the department of insight into officers’ conduct and how it shapes public perception of policing.
Heather Hamel, a civil rights attorney with the People’s Law Firm, who has represented clients suing the Phoenix Police Department, said when individuals are injured by an officer, or when the public sees video of a violent police interaction they don’t distinguish between what the department does and does not consider “use of force.”
They want the officers to be held accountable for injuring people, Hamel said. Otherwise public trust in police deteriorates.
Lorenza Valdez said she told officers that her son, Francisco Valdez, suffered from bipolar disorder and depression. But instead of helping him, police killed him, she said.
Police said that while officers were questioning Valdez, he ran to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and approached an officer. A second officer shot him. Lorenza disputes their account, saying police shot her son in the back, according to her statements to media and a petition on behalf of the family seeking justice. She said she kept knives out of reach because she feared he would harm himself and her younger son ran inside the home after hearing gunshots and saw no knife near Valdez’s body.
“I have no trust in police officers,” she said in Spanish during a recent vigil outside Phoenix police headquarters. “I will never call police again because I called them in confidence to help my son and they took my son’s life. All of us mothers are going to keep coming. We are suffering the loss of our child … and demanding justice.”
Mussallina Muhaymin said police killed her brother, Muhammad Muhaymin, knowing he had mental-health problems and was only trying to use a public bathroom at a community center. Video footage from 2017 shows officers pinned Muhaymin down as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” A lawsuit says he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, acute claustrophobia, and schizophrenia.
She has asked Williams and city leaders for an independent review of the officers’ actions.
“He begged for his life. … He was brutalized,” she said. “Our police chief was talking about she’s marching in solidarity for what happened to George Floyd, but she had George Floyd happen right here in Arizona! Her cops had their knees in his back and their knees on his neck.”
Hamel doubts that policy change would fix the problems with Phoenix police. The department is too far gone, she said.
“There’s no trust that if we change … policies that you’re going to magically start obeying those ones, you don’t care about the ones you have now,” Hamel said.
‘No record that it even happened’
When Erica no longer believed she could get Phoenix police or city leaders to hold the officers accountable, she turned to civil-rights lawyers.
Hamel, who represented Erica in a lawsuit, said no officer can make Erica believe the body cavity search that left her seeking medical treatment for sexual assault isn’t police using force in a most egregious way.
“There was no record that it even happened,” Hamel said. “The only ones there to witness it … were these officers, who clearly felt like they could do this, and Erica. If Erica had never come forward no one would’ve known about this conduct; there was no record of it because there was no officer who was going to report it.”
Hamel said there are hundreds of people like Erica, but who never report being assaulted out of fear, shame or because they’re too traumatized to seek help.
Phoenix already has policies prohibiting police misconduct and specifically what happened to Erica. It didn’t make a difference, Hamel said.
“Those officers know you can’t enter someone’s home without a warrant — they think they can go invade somebody’s body? They knew that they can’t,” she said. “They don’t care about what policies are on the books and that’s the problem that we see with Phoenix Police Department … you already ignore the policies that you have right now.”
In a June 2019 notice of claim to Williams, Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City Council, Erica’s attorneys wrote:
“When a police officer uses physical force in excess of his or her legal authority, it is a criminal assault.
“When a police officer uses deadly force in excess of his or her legal authority, it is criminal homicide.
“So what is it when a police officer, in excess of their legal authority, conducts a body cavity search in which the officer inserts multiple fingers into a woman’s anus and vagina against her will?”
‘I’m going to find the drugs’
Erica was home, still thinking about her chubby baby girl’s laugh on her first Christmas. She was tired but woke early to clean up wrapping paper and leftovers.
Some days, it was hard to believe she was a mama again. Other days, she felt her body still recovering from a hard pregnancy.
Erica was 37, with a 17-year-old daughter. Now she had an 11-month-old baby.
This time she wanted to do better than she did as a mom who was still just a kid herself.
That chilly December day in 2018, her house in order, her girls safe, Erica got in her truck. It was early, when south Phoenix streets are lined with people waiting at bus stops on their way work. She drove to her friend’s house for a short visit.
On her way back, about a mile from her house, she saw flashing red-and-blue lights.
She didn’t know Phoenix police had been watching her friend’s house for drug activity. By surveilling phone calls, police knew Erica was meeting her friend, a man they suspected was running a narcotics ring and selling drugs to Erica.
When she left her friend’s house, police pulled her over, according to the notice of claim.
One officer questioned her about a marijuana odor. An officer told her to exit the vehicle. Another said if police didn’t find anything, she’d be free to go.
She can’t remember the officers’ names. All of them were white, she says. A later internal investigation report did not state the race or ethnicity of the officers. One officer was angry, she says.
“He was like, ‘I’m going to find the drugs,’” she says.
Officers called for a K-9 unit to search her truck. They searched her car without a warrant or her consent, according to the claim. A female officer patted down Erica.
They found no drugs.
An officer handcuffed her and forced her into a police vehicle. They drove her to South Mountain police substation.
Erica says they took her to a room and told her to take off her clothes. She says she refused until an officer growled that it was an order.
When they told her bend over, she says, an officer told her they’d done this before.
“He kept walking by when I was naked and I was like, ‘I don’t have nothing. Don’t mess with my bootie hole. You can’t do this,'” she says. “He said, ‘Oh, we’ll find something. We found nine ounces in a Mexican bootie two weeks ago.”
Weeping, she kept begging.
“I was telling her ‘stop, stop,’” she says. “I don’t have anal sex. Please.”
Officers found nothing during the body cavity search.
‘I was raped by the police’
Erica knows some people block out trauma. Not her. She remembers the details.
She remembers thinking, “How do you keep just going into people’s bodies without their permission?”
Her attorneys, Hamel and Steve Benedetto, argued in her claim against the city that the search didn’t just violate Police Department policy, “it flew in the face of 50 years of established Supreme Court legal precedent – leaving a 37-year-old mother of two psychologically devastated, bleeding out of her anus, and needing medical attention.”
When it was over they let Erica call her daughter. Erica was scared to drive. Then she called her sister, who works in health care.
“I told my sister what they did to me. I was in so much pain and bleeding,” she says. “She was like, ‘Sister, go to the hospital. Go now.'”
The emergency department waiting room was crowded. She walked to the counter and just stood there.
“I was embarrassed. I was ashamed,” Erica says. “I had never been touched inappropriately. I was basically speechless because I didn’t know how to say it. The words weren’t coming out of my mouth right.”
When she did speak, Erica remembers what she said: “I think I was raped by the police.”
They rushed her back.
They asked: How long ago?
An hour, she said.
“I said the Phoenix police did it,” she says. “They couldn’t believe it. That’s where it gets weird.”
Someone explained to her that when they have an alleged sexual assault they call police to approve a rape kit, and a forensic nurse completes the examination.
But instead of a nurse, police showed up. Erica says an officer stood outside her room like a guard.
Erica waited for hours in pain. She kept asking about the nurse, the rape kit.
Shortly after midnight, “Phoenix Lieutenant J. Hester (E7421) informed hospital staff that Phoenix PD would not investigate Erica’s claims or authorize a SANE exam,” according to the notice of claim.
A Sexual Assault Nurse Examination Kit preserves DNA evidence, such as body fluids, hair, skin cells, and documents injuries from an attack. The kit aids police investigations when victims file an assault report.
Phoenix police protocols for victims of sexual assault include a hospital reporting the alleged assault to police and police calling for a SANE exam. Police records show that Sgt. William Jou interviewed Erica at the hospital and informed a supervisor she was alleging sexual assault.
When asked why Jou didn’t conduct a sexual assault investigation, Fortune said the officer would have called a supervisor for consult and decided that her allegation did not fit the legal definition of a criminal sexual assault.
Hamel noted that the definition of sexual assault in Arizona law includes digital penetration of a person without their consent.
Finally, a doctor saw Erica. She thought he was there to perform the exam.
“The doctor told me, ‘They’re not going let their rape forensics nurse check you,’” she says. “I was like, ‘What do you mean?’”
Erica knew this doctor was her only chance.
“They were trying to cover it up,” she says, “I told the doctor, ‘I give you permission to check me.’”
She told the doctor she hadn’t had sex in a year, not since before giving birth to her daughter. She said she needed proof of what police had done. He agreed to do the most comprehensive exam he could without a forensics rape kit.
Without that doctor, Erica says, police would have gotten away with it.
Erica’s notice of claim included a copy of the doctor’s diagnostic notes: “Sexual assault. Rectal bleeding.”
“I never been violated like that, it was a hard pill to swallow,” she says.
Erica wasn’t done with police. And they weren’t done with her.
At first, no one believed a Black woman with a record, Erica says.
Erica wanted the truth and she wanted police to pay.
She called Phoenix’s Professional Standards Bureau to register a complaint, according to the claim. She walked back into the department to complain, called the department’s nonemergency number and the bureau for updates.
“She left a message with your office, Chief Williams,” the claim said.
Erica says she thought about little else. She became depressed and started having nightmares about police.
After about two weeks with no answers, Erica decided to tell everyone what police had done to her. On Jan. 11, 2019, she posted a video to Facebook. It was shared thousands of times.
Two community groups, Puente Human Rights Movement and Poder in Action, reached out to help. Erica found a civil-rights attorney, too.
Two weeks later, police obtained grand jury indictments of Erica’s friend, whom she’d gone to see that morning after Christmas, and more than 20 others. Erica was not among those indicted, according to the notice of claim.
Her attorneys got word police were arresting people in south Phoenix related to the drug investigation and wanted police to know Erica had legal representation. On Feb. 1, they delivered a letter to Williams stating that they would be filing a claim against the city on Erica’s behalf and that the department should preserve all evidence.
Erica planned to attend a Feb. 6 Phoenix City Council meeting to speak during public comments. This was a chance to tell her story and demand the officers be held accountable.
A few days before the meeting, Poder organizers posted on Facebook that the council was to vote on whether to approve thousands more body cameras for police. “For survivors of police violence, police shootings or families whose loved ones were taken by police, body cams are an important step to be able to get closure and provide more than the cops story,” the post stated. “Like in the case of Erica, a black south phx woman who was sexually assaulted by Phoenix police.”
They called on the community to support her: “We show up to demand accountability and transparency. #JusticeForErica.”
The day before she planned to speak to the council she had emergency gall bladder surgery.
“I was in so much pain,” she remembers. But she was still was practicing for her moment at Phoenix City Hall.
On the day of the meeting, just before noon, Erica realized she hadn’t eaten since before her surgery. She hoped something in her stomach would ease the pain and give her strength to tell the council how police violated her and left her bleeding and bruised.
She was on her way to pick up food, when she saw red-and-blue lights. Officers pulled her over, handcuffed her and put her in their vehicle.
Erica’s daughter texted her attorneys that police had picked up her mom in south Phoenix again.
Her attorneys first called the Phoenix Police Department. A dispatcher said no one with Erica’s name was in custody, according to the claim.
They then called the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, other police departments and the U.S. Marshall’s service. They didn’t have Erica. They called Phoenix police again, and again were told Erica wasn’t in their custody.
But Erica was in Phoenix police custody, according to police records.
She remembers, “I kept asking the officers, ‘What am I here for?’ They said, ‘You’ll see when you get there.’”
They took her to Phoenix police substation to a small interrogation room.
She told them, “I just need to call my lawyer.”
Erica says the officers told her their phones didn’t work.
She cited her right to legal counsel and told them her attorneys had informed the city of her intent to sue. But, she says, police kept questioning her about her role in the drugring investigation that they were probing when they pulled her over in December.
For hours, Erica says she told them she didn’t have drugs the day they injured her with an illegal cavity search.
She says she told them, “I just got out of surgery. Please, I’m hurting,” She didn’t have her pain medication.
They held her for six hours, she says, telling her she’d go to prison for years if she didn’t confess.
“They said they’d take my baby,” she says.
The police threats wore her down, she says. “At some point you break when you’re in pain. And I was hurting horribly.”
“I was delusional. I was in distress. I just started agreeing with them I was so tired and hurting.”
She told them what they wanted to hear, that she had drugs when they stopped her on Dec. 26. They agreed to take her to the hospital.
Her attorneys would call it a coerced and unconstitutional confession.
‘I cried like a baby’
Two officers were outside her hospital room, when Erica’s attorneys arrived.
Erica had called her daughter from the hospital, telling her to call her lawyer.
“They were shocked because they knew I’d had surgery and I didn’t have counsel,” Erica says. “I cried like a baby.”
The attorneys described what had happened to Erica in the claim:
“Just one day removed from a major surgery, Erica sat in an interrogation room for approximately six hours, deprived of her prescribed pain medication or any medical treatment, and in gross discomfort. Barely a month removed from the trauma of being cavity searched, she was petrified about what the officers were going to do to her this time.”
“With the combination of this duress, coercion, and subtle threats of re-traumatization, Phoenix PD eventually got exactly what it was fishing for: a series of incriminating statements, including the … admission that she had been hiding drugs in her vagina on December 26, 2018.”
Today, Erica says the confession forced out of her was false. She wasn’t carrying any drugs that day.
Her attorneys argued the confession “was about (police) attempting to collect the evidence for a future smear campaign to justify their previous illegal conduct.”
After she was treated and Erica’s attorneys spoke with her, Phoenix police booked her into the Fourth Avenue Jail on four felony counts related to the larger drug investigation.
But soon after she was released, her court hearing was canceled. A Phoenix police spokeswoman said they had referred Erica’s case, as part of the larger drug investigation, to the Attorney General’s Office.
Erica was never charged with a crime.
Her attorneys requested the initial police report.
The response: “No record of the December 26, 2018 cavity search existed.”
“In fact, it appeared that no record of Erica Reynolds’ (December) contact with police existed,” the claim said.
“Over two decades of combined legal experience, we had seldom seen such egregious police misconduct … these officers’ conduct was so far beyond the pale that it ranks amongst the worst cases of police abuse any of us have ever seen,” the claim said.
Her attorneys hired a police-practices expert, who formerly served as a Bellevue, Washington, police chief, to review Erica’s case.
He concluded that Erica “was arrested without probable cause and there were no exigent circumstances … to authorize a warrantless search and/or arrest.” And the Phoenix “officers’ failure to record this contact in written reports … is so far below a reasonable standard of care as to indicate an attempt to conceal their misconduct,” he wrote.
Erica’s attorneys alleged that when Phoenix police use excessive force they follow an “unofficial playbook” to hide misconduct and sway public opinion.
Phoenix police said other than the illegal body cavity search and failure to document it, Erica’s case was done by the books.
But her attorneys said they manipulated the process to support their narrative.
Erica says in the days after the second police stop, and her six-hour interrogation, she kept thinking about everything police had done to her.
“I’m no angel,” she says. “But I didn’t deserve to be raped. I wanted justice.”
The claim acknowledged Erica’s past: having a baby when she was still a kid, civil judgments for not paying her bills, a one-year prison sentence for selling drugs.
“But the issue isn’t Erica Reynolds’ past,” the claim stated. “Nothing that Erica did before December 26, 2018 justifies police officers performing a body cavity search after an illegal arrest, without a warrant, and without a medical professional present.”
Erica’s attorneys directed the City Council to a website, phxcavitysearch.com, where they’d gathered Erica’s graphic testimony and records of what police did to her.
In their notice of claim, the attorneys wrote: Given Phoenix police culture, “is it any surprise that your officers believed they could ignore 50 years of established precedent in searching Erica Reynolds’ anal, rectal, and vaginal cavities in a police substation without a search warrant? … We submit to you that these actions are the natural consequences of your own inaction: Your established pattern of refusing to hold your officers accountable.”
‘It was horrific what they did to her’
Carlos Garcia was elected to the Phoenix City Council in 2019 after a career as a human rights activist leading movements against police violence and for migrants rights. He represents District 8, which includes south Phoenix and Laveen.
When Garcia read Erica’s case, he recognized the constitutional and policy violations, but it was the violations of a woman’s body that sickened him.
“It was horrific what they did to her and how they did it — literally with the same glove and finger for both places,” he says.
According to a Feb. 25 internal investigation report, Officer Timaree Murphy, a 20-year police veteran, acted inappropriately by conducting a body cavity search without consent or a warrant.
The Republic obtained the report through a public records request. Investigators interviewed supervisors and officers involved in Erica’s case, including Officers Aaron Lentz and Jason Hamernick, who pulled over Erica, searched her vehicle and called for a female officer to search Erica.
Lentz told investigators he spoke to Detective Jeffrey Cianfrogna, who requested a “full search” of Erica, which he relayed to Murphy. Murphy said she told Lentz they are “not allowed to do that type of search, but … Lentz assured her they have done that type of search in the past.”
Hamernick and Murphy took Erica to the South Mountain Precinct where she was placed in a holding cell. Murphy told investigators she told Erica “we have to search further.” She said Erica “did not want them to conduct any further search, but Officer Hamernick told Ms. (redacted) ‘We can and we will.’”
Hamernick denied making the statement.
The report characterized Murphy’s actions as an“inappropriate use of police powers, authority, and privileges.” The department’s “possible discipline” for the violation can result in a 24- or 40-hour suspension and/or demotion, according to policies.
Murphy was suspended. No other officers or supervisors were disciplined.
Erica got a $1.6 million settlement. The city’s settlement didn’t include an admission of wrongdoing by police, however, several council members said the city was in the wrong.
But Garcia says she didn’t get justice.
“We knew they effed up. The chief knew,” he said. “This was blatantly unconstitutional. I think every officer should’ve been fired. There should’ve been a public apology to Erica for how police treated her, how she was criminalized.”
Asked whether she believes justice was served in Erica’s case and if officers should’ve been further disciplined, Williams, the Phoenix police chief, told The Republic: “That case is settled. That case is over. … We are working to make adjustments and changes where we need to. As soon as we found out about that case, we took care of it. We gave that officer discipline.”
Williams didn’t comment on Lentz or Hamernick not receiving discipline, but she said under new policies Murphy would’ve been reported to the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which certifies Arizona officers.
However, the new policy only requires the department report class III violations “serious and malicious in nature.” Phoenix decided Murphy only committed a class II violation.
The system is built to protect officers, not citizens, Garcia said. That includes violent actions not being “categorized as use of force” and never being “put through the process.”
All injuries in police custody should be classified as a use of force and trigger a review, he said. It shouldn’t depend on a person having the courage to report police violence or misconduct.
“Because they don’t classify them as use of force now, some of these cases of police violence go uninvestigated and that leads to the impunity that we see right now with the Phoenix Police Department,” he said, adding that changing injury recording policies would make it so “you’re always able to come back from that (force) classification, but only after an investigation.”
The victims are often people of color, said Garcia, whose district includes neighborhoods where officers disproportionately use force against Black, Latino and Native American people.
In June 2019, Garcia successfully lobbied for an Office of Accountability and Transparency to provide civilian oversight of Phoenix police, battling Mayor Gallego’s alternative proposal.
He hopes the office’s power to subpoena records and participate in the disciplinary process will help ensure what happened to Erica doesn’t happen again. He wants victims like Erica to have an opportunity to share their stories, as officers do now during disciplinary proceedings.
Unless you live in a neighborhood disproportionately affected by violent policing it’s easy for the public to grow numb to stories of abuse. We don’t need another listening session, we need action, Hamel said.
“Every single day that you fail to act you create more victims and the community has been coming to you for years begging for some sort of action, begging for accountability, begging for change,” Hamel said. “I don’t know how many mothers whose children have been killed by police need to parade their trauma in front of you for you to actually take it seriously.”
‘It’s going to happen someone else’
Erica spends most days now caring for her toddler and her granddaughter.
On a recent Friday, over a phone call, Erica’s remembering. She stops to feed her baby girl. In a tiny toddler voice, her daughter asks for chips.
“Come on baby, you got noodles,” she says.
Most people, she says, will let shame and fear take over. She couldn’t stomach police getting away with it.
“I told them when they did this: ‘I’m not someone to mess with,'” she says.
Erica moved from south Phoenix to get away from police and bad memories but it cost her.
“My people are in south Phoenix,” she says. “I miss it.”
Erica says she settled for $1.6 million, far less than the $12.5 million she originally sought, because she worried police would come after her again.
She says her case helped the push for Phoenix police to wear body cameras and changes to policies on strip searches and body cavity searches. But it’s not enough, she says.
Her life isn’t the same since that day after Christmas. What they did to her body still lingers.
“Because of them … hurting me, I have no control when I’m having a bowel movement,” she says, lowering her voice so her baby girl won’t hear.
She wonders how to move on, when some days her thoughts are consumed by the officers patrolling Phoenix streets. She sees red-and-blue flashing lights and it always takes her back to that day.
“I don’t drive because of all this, I don’t want nothing to do with it,” she says.
“They kidnapped me, raped and blackmailed me,” she says. “I didn’t get justice for them violating me. If I had justice, then I’d have all of them fired.”
Erica says it’s going to happen to someone else if it hasn’t already.
“And they’re going to get away with it,” she says.
Not many people are willing to face their abusers and tell the world they were raped by police, she says.
Have you been the subject of unreported police violence? Reach reporter Justin Price at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @justinjprice. Reach Dianna M. Náñez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @diannananez.