National News

Arizona Police Officers Are Put on Leave After Beating Unarmed Man on Video

Posted June 6, 2018 7:34 p.m. EDT
Updated June 6, 2018 7:36 p.m. EDT

Four police officers in Mesa, Arizona, have been placed on administrative leave after a surveillance video showed some of them repeatedly punching an unarmed black man and pushing him to the ground during an arrest.

The Mesa police chief, Ramon Batista, released the video to local media Tuesday after a civilian alerted him to the footage from a building’s surveillance camera, recorded on May 23.

Also this week, police body-camera footage of another arrest of another unarmed black man in Mesa — this one took place in November — was released and posted on YouTube, prompting activists to call for an independent investigation into the police department.

Footage of last month’s arrest shows a man, Robert Johnson, 35, speaking on a cellphone on what looks like a balcony of an apartment building before officers emerged from an elevator shortly before midnight on May 23. They were apparently responding to a domestic disturbance call.

The officers then told Johnson, who was leaning against a railing, to sit down, Batista said. The video, which did not have sound, showed officers struggling with him and trying to force him to sit. Then they punched, kicked and pushed him to the ground, where he was handcuffed.

Batista told The Arizona Republic in a video interview that one of the officers gave “very calm direction” for Johnson to sit down. Other officers arrived, and Johnson was briefly searched for weapons, but none were found.

Johnson was then asked to move away from the railing and given an instruction, Batista said, narrating the video. “When the person didn’t sit down, our officers then engaged in use of force to make him sit down,” he said.

“I don’t feel that our officers were at their best,” he said. “I don’t feel that this situation needed to go in the way that it went.”

He said the officers were taken off active service while the department investigates.

Johnson was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and hindering prosecution, according to jail records. He was released on his own recognizance on May 24 and is scheduled to be arraigned in Mesa Municipal Court on June 19, court and jail records show.

Messages and emails left at the Mesa Police Department on Wednesday were not answered. The officers involved were not identified.

Andre Miller, the pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church in Mesa, which Johnson attends, said in an interview Wednesday that Johnson had gone to the apartment complex to help a friend retrieve belongings from a residence.

He said Johnson had seen a doctor for head and chest injuries after the episode. “This is a culture that we are trying to combat which is bigger than Mr. Johnson,” Miller said. “It is not a race issue but it is a policing culture.”

A lawyer for Johnson, Benjamin Taylor, said on Wednesday: “That was excessive force. To have all these officers attack him and punch him in the head was uncalled-for, and they should be prosecuted.”

After the video showing Johnson’s arrest was released, public comments flooded the department’s Facebook page, derailing its posts on subjects including the arrest of a homicide suspect and one featuring its crime prevention newsletter.

“When are you guys gonna clean house so citizens can feel safe?” one person wrote. “3 very public incidences of cops being violent offenders. Do something.”

At a news conference Wednesday, activists also called attention to the November arrest of Terence Kirkpatrick, 30. Body camera footage of the episode shows officers forcibly removing Kirkpatrick from his home and pressing him against the side of a police vehicle and onto the ground.

Kirkpatrick said at the news conference that he had called the police about an intruder and then fell asleep on his couch while officers were still on the scene. Then, he said, “They just grabbed me from the couch while I was still lying down and instantly started yelling ‘Stop resisting’ while they were punching my ribs.”

In the video, officers could be heard telling Kirkpatrick that he had two existing misdemeanor arrest warrants and that he was being additionally charged with four felonies: three for aggravated assault against police officers and one for resisting arrest with force. The police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the November encounter.

“You cannot have a safely functioning city when people of color do not trust the local law enforcement agency, and Mesa has failed too many times,” the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a civil rights activist, said at the news conference Wednesday, adding that the police department should be independently investigated.

The department’s use of force in other recent episodes has also been scrutinized. It came under fierce criticism after an officer shot and killed an unarmed man in a hotel in 2016 who was sobbing and pleading for his life. The officer was acquitted in December 2017 of murder and manslaughter charges.

In February this year, the family of an 84-year-old woman posted photographs of her bruises after an officer from the Mesa Police Department grabbed her and took her down, The Republic reported. The police had originally said the woman slipped.