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Tempe, AZ, Will Pay $300k to Settle Claim That Police Officer Held Unarmed Black Hotel Worker at Gunpoint

— December 13, 2020

After receiving reports of a Caucasian gunman near a Tempe hotel, Officer Ronald Kerzaya pulled a gun on a Black hotel worker, told him he matched the suspect’s description, and forced him to his knees.

The Tempe City Council will pay $300,000 to settle claims that one of the Arizona city’s police officers held a Black hotel employee at gunpoint while they searched for a White suspect inside the property.

The officer behind the incident—Ronald Kerzaya—has since been “disciplined.”

Kerzaya, notes KTAR News, had responded to a call of an armed man at the Hawthorn Suites Hotel on August 29th. In his call to the Tempe Police Department, the hotel’s manager had told Kerzaya that the suspect was a White male.

Upon reaching Hawthorn, Kerzaya came across Trevonyae Cumpian.

Cumpian was working at the hotel and even had identification with him. However, Kerzaya decided to hold the man at gunpoint until he could verify his employment with the hotel manager.

Bodycam footage of the incident shows Kerzaya claiming that Cumpian “matched the description” of the suspect he was pursuing. When Cumpian asked whether he was going to be shot, Kerzaya burst into a stream of expletives, telling him to “shut the fuck up with that shit” and get on his knees.

Image of police cars of the Los Angeles County Sheriff
Police cars of the Los Angeles County Sheriff; image courtesy of James via Wikimedia Commons,

Kerzaya publicly apologized for the incident shortly afterward.

“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 in a disciplinary brief.

Kerzaya, says KTAR, was suspended without pay for two weeks and will not be allowed to resume patrol duties for at least a year.

Tempe’s interim police chief, Jeff Glover, released a press announcement saying he does not believe that Kerzaya’s conduct was justifiable.

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

Cumpian’s initial lawsuit, though, alleged that Kerzaya had a “history” of using unnecessary force against unarmed Black men.

Cumpian’s lawyer—the well-known civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump—observed in September that Kerzaya’s encounter with his client was, in fact, the second time in recent months that the officer had been accused of responding to an unarmed Black man with disproportionate and inexcusable force.

And despite the Tempe Police Department’s apologetics, Crump noted that law enforcement officials were reluctant to cooperate with proceedings, at first refusing to provide Kerzaya’s badge number and later identifying him only by his middle name, Aaron.

Once Kerzaya’s identity was established, Crump realized that Kerzaya was the subject of another multi-million dollar excessive force lawsuit. In that case, Kerzaya had used a Taser on an unarmed man holding a baby.

“With the lid blown off its efforts to bury Kerzaya’s misconduct, Tempe Police leadership was forced to pivot to public acknowledgment,” Cumpian’s legal team said.

The $300,000 settlement falls significantly short of the $2.5 million in damages Cumpian had originally requested.


Hotel worker held at gunpoint by police hires attorney Benjamin Crump, seeks $2.5 million

Tempe agrees to $300K settlement for Black man held at gunpoint by officer

Tempe City Council approves settlement deal with Black man who was held at gunpoint by police officer

Tempe officer violated policies in hotel incident, will not serve as patrol officer for at least one year

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