Three days after partygoers were pepper-sprayed, tasered, and arrested by Birmingham police officers at a five-year-old’s birthday party in the Kingston public housing development, the Birmingham City Council approved a bid to buy “Mace, gas canisters, and riot control suits.”
The move came a day after three family members who were arrested held a press conference on the steps of the apartment where the incident took place and described how they believed police officers escalated the incident which lead to a four-month-old child being inadvertently pepper-sprayed.
Patrice Bozeman, the mother of the child who was celebrating her fifth birthday, said that around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, a day that marked the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots, police officers, who are well-known in the community, approached the party. The officers, identified by people at the press conference as “Ivory and Foster,” told the family to turn the music down after another officer had driven by and waved at the revelers, Bozeman said.
“They told my sister they were going to Mace her,” Patrice Bozeman said, describing the events that lead to her sister Denise Bozeman being “put in a choke hold.” Eventually the three sisters were arrested. Family members said they were complying with the officers’ request to turn the music down when they were arrested.
“My dad walks out the door and asked what’s going on. The music was off. He was trying to explain what was going on and the officers kept saying they were going to Mace them,” Bozeman recalled. “At that point [the officer] knocked my 10-year-old off his bike and started Macing. It got in my four-month-old’s eyes. Everyone was bum-rushed and put in handcuffs.”
By her estimate, about 15 police cars responded to the scene.
“It was all about some music,” Bozeman said. “My sister [Denise], they had had problems with her before, but they took it to a whole new level.” According to Bozeman, the officers on the scene told them they were going to be evicted and child services were going to be called.
Lt. Sean Edwards, public information officer for the Birmingham Police Department, declined to comment on the incident, but provided a written statement: “The Birmingham Police Department is aware of the incident and we’re always concerned when one of our citizens has an allegation regarding our officers so we will conduct a full investigation. From a preliminary review of the officer’s body camera footage, there were several instances where the citizens disregarded the officer’s instructions which eventually led to the officers attempting to make an arrest.”
Edwards said in a written statement that officers initially asked them to turn the music down and departed from the area. While on patrol later, “officers heard the music with such profane language even louder than before.”
Bozeman, however, contends it was because of a personal issue the two officers had with her sister Denise. “They constantly harass her. They stop her on the street if they see her,” Bozeman said. Denise Bozeman, who had a black eye and scratches on her arm, was admitted to the hospital after her arrest. On Monday she still had on her hospital identification bracelet.
“My body is sore,” Denise Bozeman said. “He had me in a chokehold and I couldn’t breathe. They admitted me to UAB and handcuffed me to the bed. One officer had me in a chokehold while the other was Macing the porch. They had eight bodies on me.”
All of the family members who spoke insisted they did not push or attempt to harm the officers despite official claims to the contrary.
“At that time the citizen resisted and even shoved the officer which led to the escalation,” Edwards wrote. “The primary officer used his spray on the one subject but other family members attempted to intervene and prevent her arrest. Eventually four citizens were arrested for various charges including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and public intoxication. During the course of the struggle, a kid was knocked off his bicycle. Paramedics were dispatched to treat any injured parties and the four citizens were transported to the Birmingham City Jail.”
Community organizers and local activists also attended Monday’s press conference. They argue that the Saturday’s incident was not isolated, but part of a pattern of aggression toward members of Birmingham’s public housing communities.
Avee-Ashanti Shabazz, an organizer with New Era Birmingham, pointed to what he said were internal complaints leveled against the two officers involved in the incident, and the fact that they charged the grandfather of the child celebrating her birthday with trespassing.
Edwards did not confirm that the officers were previously subject to internal investigations.
Menderryl Wright, the child’s grandfather, was issued a written notice of trespassing and was also arrested amid the clash with officers. “This is a tool they use to suppress people,” Shabazz said, holding up the written notice, which was not signed by any officer and therefore, Shabazz contends, should be null and void.
A Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD) representative said their department is currently investigating the situation that led to the arrests and subsequent threats of eviction leveled by law enforcement officials toward members of the family who were arrested, all of whom, with the exception of Wright, live in Kingston. Wright was informed he is not allowed to visit his daughters’ homes in the future, according to the notice of trespassing he was issued by the police. HABD representatives could review this case, however.
“We don’t hire the police. We have contracted additional hours with the city of Birmingham,” said Joseph Bryant, director of communications for HABD. “That is additional police manpower hours at our public housing sites.”
As for the trespassing notice, Bryant explained, these are in place to secure the no-trespassing policy for the city’s public housing developments. “We have a visitation list. All residents can have as many visitors as they want as long as they’re on the list. Police officers have the prerogative to ask anyone who they are not familiar with who they are visiting. All those notifications are reviewed by the housing authority. So I can’t speak specifically about this case, but the no-trespassing policy is ours and the police enforce that.”
The three sisters and their father were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and public intoxication. Their mother, Eloise Bozeman, said the incident has “ruined my granddaughter for the rest of her life.” She said that “this happens to us all the time. … You could’ve killed my kid.” She added, “Ivory and Foster need to go now!”
Until the internal investigation into the incident is completed, the BPD will not be releasing body camera footage of the incident, Edwards said.