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Famed attorney to represent man in $2.5M Tempe police abuse case

Ben Crump AP
Posted at 9:52 AM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 21:18:27-04

TEMPE, AZ — Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing a Black Tempe hotel employee who filed a $2.5 million claim against the City of Tempe after an officer held him at gunpoint.

ABC15 was first to report on the allegations against Tempe Officer Ronald Kerzaya who was supposed to be looking for a white suspect at a hotel when he drew his weapon on Tre Cumpian, a Black hotel employee.

The incident occurred on Aug, 29 at the Hawthorn Suites hotel near Loop 101 and Southern Avenue. The hotel manager told Officer Kerzaya, who was already at the hotel for another matter, that a white man had pulled a gun on his staff. Kerzaya walked over to a side door and encountered Cumpian, 28, who is Black. Officer Kerzaya’s body camera video shows he held Cumpian at gunpoint for about three minutes, claiming he matched the suspect description.

"The fact that he was looking for a white guy and I am not white there has to be a hidden agenda right there," Cumpian said.

Officer Kerzaya made Cumpian remain on his knees with hands up until he received confirmation that the man did work for the hotel.

"That’s when I felt like I was gonna die when I was down on the ground, and I was pretty much begging him," Cumpian said.

Crump also represents the family of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police in May, and Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Wisconsin last month.

"We have been dealing with systematic racism and oppression that finds police killing us outside the courtroom and the system killing us inside the courtroom," Crump said.

Crump appeared with Arizona co-counsels Steve Benedetto and Heather Hamel at a Wednesday afternoon press conference to announce a notice of claim against the City of Tempe in the Cumpian case.

"This is an aggravated assault that never should’ve happened," said Benedetto.

Officer Kerzaya was at the center of another use-of-force controversy last year. He used a Taser on a Black man who was holding his small child during a domestic violence call.

"We need to get rid of police officers who racially profile people of color because that leads to our deaths, and it’s real," Crump said.

Cumpian and his attorneys demand Kerzaya be fired to end his “blatant and continual abusiveness towards Black men.” They also demand a sergeant be fired for her response to Cumpian and the investigation of the gunpoint incident. In addition, they want a settlement fund and a fund for victims of police brutality to be established out of the police budget, and they want Tempe to not use qualified immunity as a defense in the Cumpian case or similar cases.

Read the Notice of Claim in the Cumpian case here.

Tempe police tell ABC15 Officer Kerzaya is on administrative assignment pending the finalization of the internal investigation. Days after the gunpoint incident, both Tempe's police chief and mayor issued statements saying that Kerzaya's actions did not meet their expectations of professionalism.