National News

Judge Dismisses Charges Against Man Beaten by Police

Posted June 14, 2018 10:24 p.m. EDT

A judge in Arizona on Thursday dismissed disorderly conduct charges against a black man whose beating by several police officers during an arrest last month was recorded on video and led to four of them being put on leave.

The man, Robert Johnson, 35, was speaking on a cellphone at an apartment building on May 23 when Mesa Police Department officers arrived, apparently in response to a domestic disturbance call, and started to question him.

Johnson was told to sit down but did not, the officers later reported. Surveillance camera video showed what happened next: The officers repeatedly punched Johnson, who was unarmed, and kicked and pushed him to the ground, where he was handcuffed.

The Mesa police chief, Ramon Batista, released the video to local news outlets this month, saying he did not “feel that this situation needed to go in the way that it went.” The officers were put on administrative leave.

Benjamin Taylor, a lawyer for Johnson, said in a telephone interview that he had asked for the charges, which include hindering prosecution, to be dismissed.

A motion filed by prosecutors seeking that dismissal said that it would be “in the interests of justice.” Judge Elizabeth Arriola dismissed the charges Thursday.

A call to the Mesa Police Department was not immediately returned.

The department’s use of force in other recent episodes has been scrutinized. After the video showing Johnson’s arrest was released June 5, public comments flooded the department’s Facebook page calling for something to be done about police violence.

Andre Miller, the pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church in Mesa, which Johnson attends, said in an interview last week that 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.”

Other videos that have shown officers shooting or beating unarmed people of color have stirred outrage and fueled a national debate about police violence.

Two more cases involving the Mesa Police Department emerged after it released the video of Johnson’s arrest. At a news conference June 6, activists highlighted an episode in November, captured by body cameras, in which officers forcibly removed a 30-year-old man from his house after he had called the police about an intruder.

And The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday that Mesa police body cameras recorded an arrest in January in which an officer repeatedly punched a 23-year-old man suspected of a drug violation and another officer later mocked him as he lay on a hospital floor in a pool of blood.