PHOENIX — Community activists and religious groups are calling for several Phoenix police officers to be fired and criminally charged after a new video was made public showing a 2017 in-custody death.
Police were called about 43-year-old Muhammad Muhaymin because he tried to bring his dog into a public restroom. Things got physical when officers arrested him for an outstanding warrant.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is one of 61 community action groups and religious organizations that sent a letter Thursday to Phoenix's mayor and Maricopa's county attorney that urges them to act. The letter said newly released, "footage clearly demonstrates the officers engaged in illegal and discriminatory acts."
With officers on top of him, Muhaymin said, "I can't breathe," and he later called out, "Please, Allah."
One officer responded, "Allah? He's not going to help you now," according to the activists' viewing of the video.
"It seems like that type of bias was brought into this policing interaction," said Imraan Siddiqi, Executive Director of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Basically, taking away the humanity of this individual and joking about it.
The Muhaymin family obtained the video as part of a $10 million civil rights lawsuit against the City of Phoenix. They claim he died from positional asphyxia. Their lawyer, David Chami, said when he heard the video, it made him believe that there may have been some religious animus towards Muhammad.
Phoenix police said that's an inaccurate portrayal, and a spokeswoman said the officer actually replied, "Allah? We're trying to help you now so relax."
Phoenix police said their officers are trained to diffuse situations when possible, which is what was done for Muhammad.
"Officers did not mock or target Mr. Muhaymin based on his religion, race, or any other factor," said Sgt. Mercedes Fortune, a Phoenix police spokeswoman.
"This is not something that can be "PRed" away," Siddiqi said. "This was a human being's life that was in their hands and the person lost their life.
Phoenix police and the mayor would not comment further due to the pending lawsuit.
The county attorney's office reviewed the case in 2018 and declined to criminal charges against the officers. According to her office, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel would only reopen it if Phoenix police resubmitted and asked her to review new evidence.