Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista talks about surveillance video showing officers punching man in face.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Arizona Republic
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery declined prosecution of seven Mesa police officers who beat a Mesa man and hurt a teenager during two separate arrests earlier this year. Those decisions followed independent investigations by Scottsdale police, which Montgomery reviewed.
Cases closed, or so it seemed.
Tuesday night, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reopened them, asking the Mesa Police Department to turn over records concerning those incidents for review of possible civil-rights violations, according to a letter obtained by The Arizona Republic.
They will be the third and fourth use-of-force cases that the FBI is looking into in Mesa. Also under scrutiny is the September 2017 shooting death of an Army veteran, as well as a fatal shooting the year before in a Mesa hotel by a police officer who has already been acquitted of murder by a Maricopa County jury.
Neither Scottsdale police nor the FBI would comment about the investigations Wednesday. The Mesa Police Department released a statement acknowledging the investigations but referred any questions to the federal agency. And Montgomery did not immediately answer a request for response.
The Aug. 28 letter concerns two excessive-force cases involving the May arrests of 35-year-old Robert Johnson, whose charges have since been dismissed, and 15-year-old Gabriel Ramirez, who was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault and is being prosecuted as an adult.
The third incident occurred Sept. 22, 2017, when three Mesa police officers shot and killed 28-year-old U.S. Army veteran Scott Farnsworth. The FBI was already investigating the 2016 death of Daniel Shaver, who was on his knees and begging for his life in a Mesa hotel when he was shot dead by then-Mesa police Officer Philip Brailsford, who was tried for murder and found not guilty by a jury.
Anthony Ramirez, a Mesa attorney and a former police officer, speaks about Mesa Police Department at a protest on June 8, 2018.
Nathan J. Fish, The Republic | azcentral.com
It’s unclear when the FBI opened the investigation into Farnsworth, but Montgomery closed the criminal case and brought no charges against the officers.
According to the Justice Department letter obtained by The Republic, the FBI was informed of “an alleged civil rights violation” in the arrests of Johnson and Ramirez.
In the letter, the FBI requests that the Mesa Police Department turn over files, reports, notes, memos, letters and police on-body camera footage of the two cases.
This month, Montgomery declined to prosecute the officers involved in the arrests of Johnson and Ramirez. Scottsdale police investigated the cases for any criminal wrongdoing at the request of Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista, who has also tapped former County Attorney Rick Romley to be part of the internal-affairs investigation.
“Thank God,” Pat Farnsworth, the mother of Scott Farnsworth, said of the FBI looking into her son’s case. She has filed a civil claim against the city, which is a precursor before a lawsuit.
Benjamin Taylor, the attorney for Johnson, welcomed the FBI’s investigation.
“It’s good that the FBI is looking into Mr. Johnson’s case. Because Scottsdale was not able to do a true independent investigation based on the fact that they are a neighboring city, because the officers work together and know each other,” he said. “It’s hard for a fellow officer not be biased and find their fellow officer guilty.
“If the FBI can come in and clean up the police department. That would make the whole city and community trust can hopefully come back in the future.”
Raymond Kimble, defense attorney for the 15-year-old boy, declined to comment and said he is not aware of anyone representing the teen in the use-of-force case.
Will Biascoechea, president of the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police, defended the officers, saying they have already been cleared by the county attorney.
“Our officers do dangerous work. They often must confront people who are armed or may be armed,” Biascoechea said. “Repeatedly second-guessing the work of police officers puts everyone at risk. A fully independent investigation has already cleared these officers and decided that there was no reason to take any further action.”
On May 16, Mesa police responded to a report of a person who threatened customers with a gun at a Circle K store. Police later found the teen with a girl, who they also arrested.
After police handcuffed Ramirez, body-cam video shows Officers John Santiago and Daniel Glover using a technique on the teen referred to as a mandibular pressure point. In an Aug. 17 statement, the county attorney said Scottsdale’s investigation “focused on potential charges of aggravated assault” because the officers squeezed under the boy’s jaw while he was in handcuffs.
Santiago declined to be interviewed by the Scottsdale investigator, according to the recently released police report. Glover told the investigator that he used the technique because the boy kept moving around as they tried to question him, according to a transcript of the interview in the report.
The boy is charged with aggravated assaulted, disorderly conduct and criminal damage, and his case is pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Robert Johnson, 35, was beaten by a group of Mesa Police officers in May. He spoke publicly about the incident for the first time Thursday.
Sean Logan, The Republic | azcentral.com
On May 23, Mesa police had responded to an apartment complex on a report that Erick Reyes had tried to break into his ex-girlfriend’s house.
Johnson had accompanied Reyes to the apartment. Surveillance video and police body-cam footage shows Officer Jhonte Jones repeatedly punching Johnson after Johnson didn’t immediately sit down when the officer told him to.
The other officers in this case include Ernesto Calderon, David Monarrez, Robert Gambee and William Abbiatti.
Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct and hindering a police investigation, but those charges have been dropped.
In March, the county attorney announced that Officers Robert Ravago, Shawn Kurian and Katrina Teer would not be charged with any crimes for killing Farnsworth.
On the night of Sept. 22, 2017, Mesa police responded to a report of a man waving or pointing a gun at people near Skyline High School, on Crismon Road near Southern Avenue. A football game had just ended there.
According to a police report, Farnsworth pointed a handgun at officers after they had told him to drop the weapon. The three officers fired at least 11 times in all, based on the casings that investigators collected from Kurian’s AR-15 rifle and the Glocks used by Teer and Ravago, the report says.
After the shooting, Teer and a fourth officer fired bean bags at Farnsworth. Then, a K9 officer released his dog, named Cash, to bite Farnsworth as he lay unresponsive on the ground, according to the police report.
Other officers who witnessed the bean-bag shooting and the dog said the measures were necessary: It appeared he was still holding a gun and it was not clear that he was dead, according to the report.
In March, Mesa police said they had received a letter from the Department of Justice that it wanted to seize records related to the shooting of Shaver, who was shot in a hotel in Mesa where he was staying on a work-related trip in 2016.
In December, a Maricopa County jury acquitted Brailsford of second-degree murder. An unedited video depicting the shooting was released the same day the jury found Brailsford not guilty, bringing swift criticism of the Mesa Police Department on social media.
Tucson attorney Michael Piccarreta has defended police officers in use-of-force cases, including Brailsford.
“The way it works is, generally the federal government lets the state government deal with the issues. Then, if it comes to their attention through media or elsewhere, they look into it,” Piccarreta said. “They will conduct a super-thorough investigation, and it will take forever.”
Piccarreta says that the attorneys who investigate such incidents do nothing but. And not only are they looking for the facts of a case, Piccarreta said, but also for patterns. This may be what is happening in the four investigations into the Mesa Police Department.
“The FBI might be sitting in the audience of the Town Hall,” Piccarreta added.
Mesa police have released footage from Officer Philip “Mitch” Brailsford’s body camera of the fatal shooting of an unarmed Texas man at a hotel in 2016. This edited video shows the moments leading up Daniel Shaver’s death. Mesa Police Department
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