City Council approves $300K settlement in Hawthorn Suites incident
A Tempe Police Department officer, who, while searching for a White suspect at a call at a Tempe hotel this summer, and in the process held a Black hotel employee at gunpoint, violated several department policies and will not return as a patrol officer for at least one year, TPD announced Dec. 10.
Officer Ronald Kerzaya will remain in an administrative role with the department for at least one year. He has begun serving a two-week unpaid suspension for which he cannot substitute paid vacation hours.
Kerzaya was directed by the hotel manager to an exterior stairwell door where a White gunman had been seen. An African American man, hotel employee Trevonyae Cumpian, then came through the stairwell door.
The officer held Cumpian at gunpoint until his identification could be verified with the hotel manager.
After Tempe received a notice of claim, the precursor to a lawsuit, from Cumpian, the City Council at a special meeting Dec. 9 approved a settlement of $300,000 with him.
TPD also concluded that Sgt. Kevin Ameiss, Kerzaya’s immediate supervisor at the time of the Hawthorn Suites incident, who was also on-scene, failed to provide adequate supervision. Ameiss has received a 40-hour unpaid suspension. He was found through the department’s investigation to have not properly supervised Kerzaya or managed the scene at the hotel.
Interim Police Chief Jeff Glover further determined that the department had failed to provide Kerzaya with mental and emotional support as a result trauma experienced during his career.
Kerzaya will take part in a performance-improvement process and has recently passed a psychological examination that determines fitness for duty.
A third-party review of the incident will take place at the request of Glover. The consultant will make recommendations to Glover about policy and training changes related to the incident.
After the Aug. 29 incident, Tempe Police placed Kerzaya in an administrative role and began an internal investigation conducted by the department’s Professional Standards Bureau. At the time, the department said the interaction caused concern for police leadership and did not demonstrate the respect and professionalism expected of officers.
Kerzaya responded to the call when the manager at Hawthorn Suites, 2301 E. Southern Ave., called Tempe Police about an armed man seen on the property. The gunman was reported as a White male.
Kerzaya, hired in 2017, was among the Tempe officers who responded to an unrelated 2019 call for service involving Ivaughn Oakry, who was suspected of involvement in a domestic dispute.
Kerzaya and other officers at the scene were required to attend training in alternative approaches and techniques for that dynamic situation. Their actions were determined at the time to have been within department policy.
The Oakry case has resulted in a lawsuit against the city. Accordingly, Tempe will not comment on the incident.
Glover, who assumed his role Oct. 12, acknowledged calls from some community members to terminate Kerzaya’s employment. Tempe adheres to a system of progressive discipline, meaning that certain actions trigger certain specific discipline, unless it can be shown that an officer has a pattern of behavior for which he or she has been disciplined.
Kerzaya has had no previous discipline in Tempe.
“My determination of discipline in Officer Kerzaya’s case does not excuse his behavior, which was unacceptable and disheartening. We must address the behavior,” Glover said. “But we must also take responsibility and make the changes that will help ensure this does not occur again.”
Glover is making operational and policy changes as a result of recent use-of-force incidents:
- Implementing policy modifications that are expected to result in endorsement from the 8 Can’t Wait organization.
- Implementing additional levels of internal review for use-of-force incidents, including review of body-worn camera footage.
- Strengthening standards and overall expectation for professionalism with every interaction, which includes addressing the use of profanity.
- Ensuring whole-department de-escalation training by the end of 2021. Currently, de-escalation training has been provided to half of the department’s officers through a partnership with Arizona State University.
- Dedicating a full-time supervisor for employee wellness with plans to expand into a larger wellness unit that will monitor and assist officers who respond to traumatic incidents and facilitate mandatory, regular counseling for officers.
City Manager Andrew Ching, who directly supervises Glover, said he is satisfied with the plan to hold Kerzaya accountable and to make changes to better support, train and manage officers.
“People are hurting in Tempe and across our country, and rightfully angry about concerning cases involving police,” Ching said. “I share the determination that we must keep what is good about the necessary profession of policing while we create systems and foster behaviors that better respect the dignity of each individual.”
The Tempe Citizens’ Panel for Review of Police Complaints and Use of Force will review the hotel matter involving Kerzaya in January.
In his official response during the discipline process, Kerzaya wrote that he has had a personal and family history of public service, including his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also wrote that he had reflected on his conduct during the hotel call.
“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.
The Tempe Public Safety Advisory Task Force, convened by Mayor Corey Woods, is examining police operations and recommending a plan to the City Manager for reimagined police services in the future that ensure fair and equal treatment of Black, Indigenous, people of color, homeless people and those with mental-health challenges. Woods said he will bring the Hawthorn Suites case to the task force for discussion.