The Mesa Police Department from the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area is one of the most brutal in the United States. In just 18 months, Mesa police officers were involved in four incidents involving the use of excessive force that have made national headlines. All of them are now undergoing FBI investigation.
On September 4th, nearby Scottsdale Police declared the officers’ force in one case was within the bounds of legality. The incident involved four officers beating an innocent man in an apartment complex. This decision to clear the officers has ignited protests in the Phoenix suburbs and has many wondering just how unbiased and independent police-on-police investigations really are. Were the actions of these officers really acceptable for men whose job it is to protect and serve our communities? Or do the actions of these officers warrant nothing less than a formal criminal prosecution?
Just before midnight on May 23rd, 911 dispatch received a domestic violence call from a woman claiming her ex-boyfriend was breaking into her apartment. Four officers initially arrive at the scene.
The victim, neighbor Robert Johnson, and the suspect made contact with the four officers at the end of the hallway, near the elevator.
Police barked orders to both men to sit down. The suspect immediately complies. Johnson, however, leans up against the wall with his cell phone placed up to his ear. An officer then states, “ I’m not going to tell you again. Sit down”. Johnson once more fails to respond and looks down at his phone.
At this point, the three of the officers close in from all angles, Johnson remaining calm with his hands to his sides. The first officer, directly facing Johnson, attempts to kick his feet out from under him, then grabs him by the sides and knees him twice in the abdomen. At the same time, the two other officers rabidly punch the sides of Johnson’s head and body. The first officer then unleashes 5 haymakers on Johnsons unprotected face
Then, already seemingly unconscious, Johnson begins to slide down the wall as the first officer releases a powerful elbow blow to the side of the head, bouncing the victim’s head violently off of the wall.
Another officer yells “See, that’s what happens” as they rush to handcuff Johnson and zip his legs.
The video continues on for another 17 minutes until the officers disappear into the elevator carrying Johnson, who suffered a concussion and other minor injuries from the assault. After the officers took him into custody, he was charged with disorderly conduct and hindering prosecution. The court later dropped the charge at the prosecution’s request. In the police report, one officer claimed that “Johnson’s body language was projecting and he was preparing for a physical altercation”. Another described Johnson as “Verbally defiant and confrontational.
After the video become public, Mesa Police Department Sargeant Ramon Batista said: “I don’t feel that our officers were at their best”, and that he was “disappointed”. The chief put all four officers on paid vacation and submitted the video for Scottsdale to independently review.
Now, over 3 months later, the review cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing. A spokesperson from the department announced yesterday: “No criminal charges are warranted against the involved officers as the use of force was legally authorized and justified under Arizona State Law.”
Despite the disappointment of some, many police supporters are applauding the decision. The president of the Mesa Fraternal Order Of Police Officers, William Biascoechea, announced “We’re glad to see the decision not to charge police officers for doing their job. Charging police criminally for doing their job can negatively impact the decision-making process for all law enforcement who work to protect the community and must make split-second decisions. It’s important for the public to know that camera footage sometimes captures just one perspective without context.”
Since the officers’ clearing, Johnson’s lawyer, Benjamin Taylor, has come on the record and stated, “This is a sad day for the people of Arizona. When officers can get away with assaulting citizens, people in our community will lose trust in them and our justice system. The whole world saw the beating Mr. Johnson took…We will continue to fight for Mr. Johnson and justice will be served”
Many are calling this is a clear-cut case of police brutality. If these weren’t men in badges, nobody would deny this as a case of aggravated assault and battery, as well as kidnapping. Despite Johnson’s innocence and lack of criminal record, the police still violently beat him, tied him up, and carried him off. Though many departments have recently implemented body cameras to prevent this, they are not a foolproof solution.
Despite all of this, Johnson still has a chance at justice from an unlikely source. One day after Scottsdale cleared the officers, the FBI announced that they would investigate this case and several other incidents involving the department. But, only time will tell whether Johnson and other police victims will see justice.
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