'It was terrifying': 13-year-old girl punched by Phoenix police speaks out on arrest

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Taylor Thomas, 13, was held by her grandmother and spoke softly at a news conference on Wednesday morning as she described how “devastated” she’s been since she was punched and arrested by Phoenix police earlier in the week.

She added that she has had trouble sleeping since then and can't trust the police anymore.

Thomas said the officer, who had not been identified as of Wednesday morning, told her she didn't care that she was a minor and that she would be going to jail.

"It was terrifying," she said. "I didn't know what the next step was going to be. I didn't know if I was going to be unconscious or not."

A video of police hitting and arresting her began circulating online on Monday.

When asked where she was hurt, Taylor pointed toward her face and said she also had injuries on her leg and ankle, which had a brace.

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Thomas said she "can't say" why the officer hit her but that "something should happen" to protect her and others from undue police force.

Thomas' grandmother, Sharon Thomas-Bradley, described her granddaughter as thoughtful and kind. She cried as she talked about the video, saying that she hasn't yet been able to watch it in its entirety.

Thomas-Bradley moved to the Valley in 2014 and said Thomas came to live with her after her mother's death the following year.

"I moved her here, thinking that this would be a place that she could grow up, not knowing that this would happen to her," she said.

Thomas-Bradley said the officer "attacked and tortured" her granddaughter, and that repercussions should follow.

"They said, 'No justice, no peace' — where is the justice, so we can have peace?" she said.

What we know about the chaotic arrest

The Phoenix Police Department released body camera footage and a written statement on Tuesday saying the teenager was arrested after assaulting an officer.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Ann Justus said officers arrived at an apartment complex near 59th Avenue and McDowell Road about 4:30 p.m. Monday after receiving a 911 call about someone having found their stolen vehicle.

Justus said officers were detaining four men who exited the vehicle in a parking lot when onlookers gathered to watch and record the arrest. Officers told the bystanders — including the teenager — to stay back. In the released video, the girl can be heard telling an officer not to touch her and to get out of her face.

Video then shows the girl approaching one of the arresting officers and another officer grabbing her arm. Justus said the girl struck the officer in the face and knocked the officer's body camera to the ground, prompting the officer to retaliate by punching her in the face.

The footage continues with multiple officers restraining the girl on the ground as they arrest her while another woman can be heard repeatedly shouting that the girl is a minor. Justus said the girl was evaluated for minor injuries before being booked into a juvenile correction center on suspicion of one count of aggravated assault on a police officer.

Justus on Wednesday afternoon said the Police Department does not identify juvenile suspects. Though officers heard a person saying she was a minor, Justus said they did not know her exact age until after the fact.

The unidentified officer who punched Taylor was not put on leave.

When asked for a response to the news conference, Justus said the department would "not be releasing any further statements at this time."

Javon Johnson, 25, center, listens as the Rev. Jarrett Maupin addresses the media during a news conference for Johnson and Taylor Thomas, 13, outside Phoenix police headquarters on Feb. 2, 2022, in downtown Phoenix. Both Johnson and Thomas were injured by Phoenix police officers on Jan. 31, 2022.
Javon Johnson, 25, center, listens as the Rev. Jarrett Maupin addresses the media during a news conference for Johnson and Taylor Thomas, 13, outside Phoenix police headquarters on Feb. 2, 2022, in downtown Phoenix. Both Johnson and Thomas were injured by Phoenix police officers on Jan. 31, 2022.

Man who was arrested says he was 'traumatized' by experience

Justus said an officer arrested 25-year-old Javon Johnson after seeing him get out of the vehicle and confronting him, at which point Justus said he "punched an officer in the face, and grabbed onto the officer’s gun."

During the Wednesday news conference, Johnson said Phoenix police failed him and Thomas on Monday. He called their treatment "inhumane" and said he was "traumatized" by the experience.

"I'm just looking for some type of peace within the community and in the Police Department," he said.

Both of Johnson's hands were bandaged at the news conference. He said he had no feeling in the top of his thumb and that he was also injured on his leg and the back of his neck.

His mother, Shalon Johnson, said she found solace in seeing how many people supported her son during the incident but that she was disturbed by how police responded.

"Everybody was out there helping him — except who should've been," she said. "They threw my baby around like a rag doll."

The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, who held the news conference at police headquarters in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday morning, said the Police Department's narrative about the incident is "simply false."

When a reporter asked Johnson to describe what led up to the incident on Monday, Maupin intervened and said it's "very frustrating for Black youth today, I think, to keep explaining that they weren't doing anything wrong."

Maupin, who was not there at the time, said Johnson was in a vehicle with several other people when they were approached by police, who had a "false assumption" that they were involved in a vehicle theft.

Maupin is a community activist and spokesperson who often works with victims of police violence. He has been a controversial and active civil rights leader in the Phoenix area since 2005.

Thomas came across the scene and got closer to record what was taking place. Despite police saying otherwise, her family said Thomas didn't hit the officer and that she acted in self-defense.

Calls for charges to be dropped

Maupin called for officials to drop their charges and said if they don't, they will "have to march and rally and do whatever it takes to protect these victims."

Both Thomas and Johnson are being represented by attorney David Dow and intend to file civil lawsuits against the city, Maupin said.

Maupin said there are disparities between how Thomas and Johnson were treated and people such as former Arizona prisons Director Charles Ryan, who was arrested earlier this month after an armed standoff at his home. Ryan pointed a gun at officers at one point, who responded by firing bean bag rounds. He was later treated at a nearby hospital for a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Nobody punched him in his face, nobody tackled him to the ground, nobody damaged his hands or his neck," Maupin said.

Maupin called for members of the Phoenix City Council, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel and other officials to pay attention to the case and ensure justice is served.

"We're telling you that we're not going to take this kind of abuse anymore — especially on our children," Maupin said.

Republic reporter Perry Vandell contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at bfrank@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8529. Follow her on Twitter @brieannafrank.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 13-year-old girl punched, arrested by Phoenix police speaks out