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Mesa police chief announces two investigations, promises change

PHOENIX — A suburban Phoenix police chief promised change Friday, announcing two independent investigations into his department, and said he was “deeply disappointed” by his officers’ actions in several highly publicized videos that appeared to show police brutality.

One of the investigations into the Mesa Police Department will be overseen by former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, Chief Ramon Batista said in a press conference.

The Washington D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum also was asked to investigate the department’s use of force over past three years as well as its policies, procedures and training.

“Simply put, these investigators will shine a glaring light on the areas where we have fallen short, and they will help us fix it,” Batista said.

Mesa police has been under fire this week for incidents of alleged brutality that have resulted in seven officers being placed on paid administrative leave.

Video of three incidents, all involving African-American suspects, became available this week.

“Let me be crystal clear,” said Batista, who didn’t take questions or provide further details about the cases. “I’m angry, and I’m deeply disappointed by what I saw in those videos. It’s unacceptable, and it needs to stop immediately.”

In response to the videos, Black Lives Matter Arizona held a protest Friday at the Mesa police headquarters.

Reading deliberately from a prepared statement, Batista committed himself to restoring the public’s trust.

“Preserving and protecting your safety, your trust and your faith is my highest priority,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, I promise you we will fix this.”

Romley followed Batista to the microphone to explain why he got involved.

“I will be working to make sure that there is thoroughness, there’s objectivity into this review,” said Romley, who will report directly to Batista. “The chief is absolutely correct in that the public confidence must not be diminished in any way.”

Romley is best known as the county attorney who conducted the AzScam sting investigation that caught state lawmakers taking cash bribes on camera in the early 1990s.

Mesa Mayor John Giles applauded Batista’s “immediate and decisive action.”

“Nothing is more sacred than human rights,” Giles said in a statement. “I expect that the independent investigations launched today will result in better training and an understanding that every person our officers encounter is to be treated with respect.”

Before the afternoon news conference, Mesa police issued a statement from Batista that said, “We have lost our way.”

On Thursday, two unidentified officers were placed on leave following a review of body camera footage and an internal investigation of a May 17 incident that involved a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

Five other officers — Jhonte Jones, Rudy Monarrez, Ernesto Calderon, Robert Gambee and William Abbiatti — already had been placed on leave for their actions during a May 23 arrest in which an unarmed man, 33-year-old Robert Johnson, was beaten. That video came to light earlier this week, when the first four suspensions were announced.

Another video (WARNING: Video contains disturbing content and language), showing a November 2017 incident, also came out this week of 29-year-old Terence Kirkpatrick being arrested by Mesa police.

Rev. Jarrett Maupin, an activist in the Phoenix area, said the officers demonstrated “aggressive and seemingly unprofessional conduct” against Kirkpatrick after allegedly calling him racial slurs and beating his head against a law enforcement vehicle.

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