National News

Man punched by Mesa police says he wants justice

Posted June 7, 2018 8:01 p.m. EDT

— The man who was struck by Arizona police and forcefully taken to the ground by several officers said Thursday he wants them to "be held accountable for what they have done."

Five police officers in Mesa have been put on administrative leave after surveillance video surfaced that shows Robert Johnson, 33, being punched in the head and kneed by officers during the May 23 incident at an apartment complex.

Johnson told reporters that he doesn't want anything similar to happen to other people. He said he was a God-fearing family man.

"I just want things to be ... I want Mesa to be held accountable for what they have done," said Johnson, who was emotional and struggled to find his words.

The surveillance video shows the incident after the officer engages Johnson and his friend in the hallway of the apartment complex. Johnson appears to be standing near an elevator, making a call on a cell phone. His friend is nearby, seated on the floor around the corner.

In the body camera footage, you can hear an officer, who has joined the scene, telling Johnson to sit on the floor near the landing of the elevator. That officer or one of the other two officers near Johnson repeats the instruction for him to have a seat.

Johnson puts his buttocks against the wall and leans back. The officers want him to go "all the way down, all the way down."

Within a few seconds, they converge on him, and force him to the ground.

One officer says during the heated confrontation, "See what happens. See what happens."

Another officer says, "Just relax, buddy."

One of the arresting officers writes in an incident report that Johnson was being confrontational and had refused to sit down, where he would be less of a threat, or as the officer says, in a position of disadvantage.

"Johnson's body language was projecting he was preparing for a physical altercation," the officer writes.

The officer says that during the confrontation he used hard strikes to Johnson's jaw because other efforts to get him to comply had failed.

Another officer writes knee strikes were used because Johnson had fought off an attempted leg sweep.

Johnson was held on charges of disorderly conduct for allegedly kicking the door of the apartment where his friend's ex-girlfriend lives and hindering prosecution for refusing commands during his detention. Johnson has pleaded not guilty.

One of Johnson's attorneys, Benjamin Taylor, repeated his call for police to drop charges against his client.

"Mr. Johnson did not put himself in this light. The Mesa (police department) put himself in this light. He did not ask to be the face of police brutality, one of the faces of police brutality," Taylor said.

His other lawyer, Joel Robbins, said this was a case where "more words needed to be used and less fists."

Police Chief Ramon Batista put the officers on leave after seeing the surveillance video, which has no audio.

The Mesa Police Association, which represents several of the officers involved in the incident, said in a statement Wednesday that officers were sent to a dangerous domestic situation, and that officers acted to end the confrontation quickly and prevent anyone from falling over a short guardrail on the other side of the elevator landing.

The union said Johnson "was not compliant and physically resisted what we feel was a lawful detention."

Scottsdale police will conduct a criminal inquiry. The officers also are the subject of an internal investigation on the use of force. CNN reached out Thursday evening to the police association to see whether the officers had attorneys, but received no immediate response.

The police chief will hold a news conference Friday afternoon to talk about the investigation and the department's policies and training. In the aftermath of the incident, Batista put out a special directive that says officers will not strike anyone in the head, face or neck who isn't being aggressive.