Photo: Getty Images
  /  09.11.2020

A police officer in Tempe, Arizona has been taken off street duty after he held up a Black hotel employee with a gun while he was supposed to be looking for an armed white suspect.

Late last month, officer Ronald Kerzaya responded to a call from Hawthorn Suites about a man who allegedly pointed a gun at an employee. The hotel manager described the suspect as a white man wearing a black shirt and tan pants. However, body camera footage released as part of an investigation launched on Thursday (Sept. 10) showed that Kerzaya questioned a Black hotel employee about the incident, instead.

In the video, Kerzaya is seen walking around the outside of the hotel with his gun drawn as he looks for the alleged gunman. He then crosses paths with a man named Tre who works at the hotel. Kerzaya immediately yells at the man, “Put your hands up!” and Tre repeatedly tells him he’s an employee at the hotel.

“I’m working! You don’t gotta point your gun at me!” he tells the officer.

Kerzaya directs Tre to turn around and kneel on the ground. He tells Tre that he’s looking for a gunman and falsely claims the man fits the suspect’s description.

“I am responding to somebody with a firearm who matches your description,” he says, despite Tre being a Black man wearing a light grey shirt and black pants. After holding him at gunpoint for around two minutes, the cop verifies Tre’s employment at the hotel and lets him go. The alleged gunman from the initial 911 call was never found.

An investigation into the incident launched on Thursday (Sept. 10) and Kerzaya has reportedly been transferred to an administrative role. In a statement, the Tempe Police Department said, “Our initial review indicates that this incident was not handled in accordance with the professionalism and respectful behavior that we, and the public, have for our officers.”  

Police Chief Sylvia Moir also said that she has spoken to both hotel employees about the incident. Mayor Corey Woods released a statement on the investigation this week.

“While the matter is under investigation and we will await the outcome of that examination, from our early review of the body camera footage, the Officer’s actions were not a demonstration of the quality of service or treatment of people that Tempe seeks to, can and must provide,” Moir said. “The fact that no one was injured is a great relief, but that does little to reduce the dissatisfaction with this incident.” 

“City Manager, Andrew Ching, and I have been reviewing this and other recent incidents closely as we continue to formulate the City’s plans to address these challenges,” the statement continued. “In this instance, I have spoken several times to the hotel manager and the employee who was wrongly identified as the suspect who prompted the original call for service. We all can imagine the horrible feelings—the humiliation and fear—that the employee felt during the incident and since.” 

This is not the first time Kerzaya’s policing has come under scrutiny. Last year, he was involved in the controversial tasing of a Black man who was holding a baby. According to the department, Kerzaya has been on the force for four years. He was not found guilty of any violations during the 2019 tasing incident, though the man’s family has continued to fight for justice.

See the video, via Arizona Family, below.


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