Armed police surrounded a family car after a child left a shop with a doll without paying for it.
Phoenix police say they were responding to a report of shoplifting.
The city’s police chief has apologised for the aggressive confrontation and says the incident is being investigated.
The incident in Arizona comes amid heightened scrutiny of law enforcement by the public across the United States following a series of high-profile killings of African Americans.
Family thought US police were going to shoot them