4 Mesa police officers placed on leave after video shows them punching man
PHOENIX — Four Mesa police officers have been placed on paid leave after video surfaced of them repeatedly punching a man who had been talking on his cellphone.
Police Chief Ramon Batista said an investigation of the May 23 arrest of Robert Johnson, 33, was underway. He said he learned of the beating a week later when someone sent him the video.
“A member of the community sent me the video,” Batista told Fox10 News. “(They) said, ‘Hey, this looks very alarming. … I need you to look at it.'”
Officers had gone to El Rancho del Sol Apartments to check out a domestic disturbance call. A woman had claimed her 20-year-old ex-boyfriend tried to break in.
Surveillance cameras at the apartment complex near Main Street and Horne showed one officer stopping a younger man and making him sit on the ground against a wall.
Johnson walked around the corner toward the elevator and got on his phone.
More policemen arrived. They frisked Johnson as he leaned against an upper-floor railing. They didn’t find any weapons on him.
A short while later Johnson was leaning against a wall. Batista said officers had directed him to sit down.
“When he didn’t sit, our officers engaged in use of force,” Batista told the Arizona Republic.
Johnson was eventually arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and hindering prosecution. The man with him, Erick Reyes, 20, was detained as well.
It was not clear whether Johnson said anything to provoke the officers before the arrest, but body camera videos (WARNING: Videos contains disturbing content and language) released by the department appeared to show Johnson mocking, resisting, cussing at and at one point attempting to spit on officers after he was arrested.
In the video, an officer had held Reyes back while Johnson was around the corner on his phone. Reyes was charged with disorderly conduct-domestic violence and possession of drug paraphernalia.
In a statement released Wednesday, Det. Nik Rasheta, a spokesman with the Mesa Police Department, said Batista wants the culture within the department to include “communication, respect, and professionalism in every encounter inclusive of a review of policy, procedure and training.”
Nate Gafvert, the head of the Mesa Police Association, which represents several officers involved in the incident, said in a statement that the video that was released did not accurately reflect the situation.
“We feel it was grossly inappropriate to release a portion of video with no audio that does not include the full context of the encounter,” he said.
“Furthermore, we do not understand why video is being released when an internal investigation has not been completed.”
Benjamin Taylor, an attorney for Johnson, told The Associated Press his client was not a threat and had already been searched when police started punching him. He also called for the officers to be suspended and disciplined.
The incident came on the same day that video (WARNING: Video contains disturbing content and language) was released of a second black man being “questionably assaulted, hogtied, hobbled, and mishandled” by Mesa police after he called them to report being assaulted by a person attempting to forcefully enter his apartment.
Rev. Jarrett Maupin, an activist in the Phoenix area, said the Mesa officers demonstrated “aggressive and seemingly unprofessional conduct” against 29-year-old Terence Kirkpatrick after allegedly calling him racial slurs and beating his head against a law enforcement vehicle.
“There must be an immediate and independent inquiry into officer conduct. The public’s confidence in and the community’s trust in Mesa police require an urgent response,” he said.
“It is the only way to keep the peace.”
Maupin also called on an outside investigation to determine whether the officers followed department policies and procedures. That incident happened on November 17, 2017.
Last year, a Mesa police officer was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 shooting of Daniel Shaver in a hotel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.