Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista talks about surveillance video showing officers punching man in face.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Arizona Republic

With an FBI investigation hanging over his department, Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista was a no-show at a church town hall he was expected to attend about the department’s use-of-force policies Thursday night. 

Pastor Andre Miller of New Beginnings Christian Church in Mesa said that the chief cited a conflicting event, ongoing internal investigations and the news this week of the FBI’s expanded investigation into several department cases as his reason for canceling. 

The department issued a statement to The Arizona Republic late Thursday:

“Chief Batista had a scheduling conflict and simply wasn’t able to attend,” wrote Mesa Police spokeswoman Brandi George in an email. 

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery still attended and fielded questions from an audience of about two dozen about how his agency prosecutes police officers in use-of-force cases. So did Todd Zoglman, the Mesa Police Association’s Vice President. 

Montgomery said had no other information about the FBI investigation than what’s been reported.

MORE: These 6 body-cam videos have put Mesa police in national spotlight

Answers demanded  

The case that received the lion’s share of discussion during the first half of Thursday’s event was that of Robert Johnson. In that case, video showed officers kneeing and punching the 35-year-old Mesa man multiple times before bringing him to the ground. 

Zoglman drew a loud reaction from some in the audience when he said Johnson walked out of the incident “without major injuries.” He disagreed that there were any flaws in officer training.

“Sometimes people will do things that make us react,” he sad. “Our training is good.”

Pastor Warren Stewart, of First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, expressed doubt over the force used in the Johnson video.

“It’s just very difficult for those of us who have seen that video to see why that warranted getting the heck beat out of him … by police officers,”he said. “There is something called de-escalation.”


In a video released by the Mesa Police Department, Mesa officers are shown apprehending a man and punching him in the face several times in May 2018.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Arizona Republic

Redem Robinson walked out of the church after hearing Zoglman’s comments. After the event, he told The Republic that he couldn’t bear to hear anymore. 

MORE: How do we stop the attacks on police? And police from attacking us?

“I’m just disgusted,” he said. “His honesty was scary. His honesty and support for brutalizing people is just not OK.”

Representing a group of African-American clergy members, Stewart read a statement demanding action from the city of Mesa in the Johnson case. He said the group was “extremely disturbed” by a conclusion from Scottsdale Police investigators, who reviewed the case,  that criminal charges against the officers involved were not warranted.

The charges against Johnson filed after his arrest later were dropped.

County attorney: ‘I have no case’

In the case of force used during the arrest of a 15-year-old boy, Montgomery said his office would not have had the evidence to convict the officers involved. He said that in reading an interview with the teen, who was a suspect in an armed robbery, the boy acknowledged that he continued to move around when officers attempted to settle him.

Montgomery’s office declined to pursue charges against the officers involved.

“I have no case,” Montgomery said. “There is no reasonably likelihood of conviction in the circumstance. It doesn’t look good. There’s a whole separate question about training.”


Video released by the Mesa Police Department shows officers and a teenage boy suspected of committing an armed robbery yelling cursing at each other.
Mesa Police Department

In that May 16 incident, 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 the teen, body-cam video shows Officers John Santiago and Daniel Glover using a technique referred to as a mandibular pressure point, where it appears his neck is being pressed down.

‘We’re just tired’

Montgomery explained his office’s process in deciding whether to prosecute a use of excessive force case against officers. He said that a prosecutor’s standard is to be able to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

“A decision from my office to not file criminal charges does not always mean we don’t think something bad happened,” he said. 

As the event came to a close, Mesa resident and longtime activist John Goodie stood up and addressed Montgomery. 

“I’m probably the oldest person in the room, and I’m just tired,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because all we do is talk, and I know we need to talk to communicate. It just continues to happen, and it’s just a vicious circle. We’re just tired.”


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