An 84-year-old woman is suing the city of Mesa, claiming two police officers used excessive force and unlawfully arrested her when they arrived at her house to do a welfare check on her grandson.
Lawyers for Virginia Archer filed the lawsuit Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. The suit alleges Mesa police officers David Grimm and Christopher Orr violated the woman’s civil rights and caused her emotional and physical harm during the Valentine’s Day incident.
The lawsuit, which also names the two officers, is seeking that a jury award the woman an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees.
The case is one in a growing list of use-of-force cases that has put the Mesa Police Department under scrutiny in the past year. Archer’s case received national attention when her granddaughter posted pictures of the bruises to one of her eyes, head and arms that went viral on Facebook.
“I never thought anybody would treat me that way,” Archer said in a phone interview with The Arizona Republic. “Especially police officers in Mesa when they’ve always been well-mannered before.”
One of her lawyers, Conrad Benedetto, who is based in Philadelphia, said that the lawsuit is not an attack on the Mesa Police Department, but that when police officers act wrong, they should be held accountable.
“We need law enforcement, but there are bad actors within the department,” Benedetto said, “and they need to be weeded out.”
According to a Thursday news release by Archer’s lawyers, the officers were not disciplined.
“I have no doubt that many Mesa police officers put themselves in harm’s way everyday,” said Solomon Radner, an attorney with Excolo Law and one of Archer’s attorneys. “But in this instance, only Ms. Archer was put in harm’s way.”
Spokespeople for the city of Mesa and Mesa police didn’t immediately return a request for comment Thursday morning.
But about a week after the episode, Mesa police Chief Ramon Batista said in a statement posted to Facebook that officers used force on the woman to keep her out of harm’s way. He also said he has called for an internal investigation of the incident.
“Please know that I understand why this situation was alarming. It’s critically important that our department symbolizes trust and faith, and that our residents know officers will do our very best, no matter the circumstances,” Batista said in the post. “We all have a mother and a grandmother who we love very much; their safety and well-being are always a priority.”
Caught on camera
Mesa Police Department released the body camera footage from their interaction with an 84-year-old grandmother.Video of the encounter shows an officer grabbing the woman by the arm and taking her down.
The incident, which was captured by an officer’s on-body camera, started when Archer’s daughter called police to report her son may have been armed and was suicidal. According to the lawsuit, the son, who lived with his grandmother at the time of the incident, was depressed because of marital problems.
Footage from an officer’s body camera shows police arrived at the home, near Gilbert and McKellips roads, and used a loudspeaker to ask the man to come outside. Eventually, Archer stepped outside.
According to the lawsuit and video footage, Archer approached the officers and Grimm grabbed her right arm but lost hold of her. Then Orr grabbed Archer’s right arm, spun her and threw the woman down to the ground face-first, the lawsuit says.
Archer was momentarily unconscious when she hit the ground, the lawsuit says.
Orr and Grimm twisted and pulled Archer’s wrist and arms to handcuff her, the lawsuit says.
The video shows that when officers brought Archer to her feet, she said, “I cannot believe you did what you did.” Police questioned her about her grandson, while she asked them repeatedly, “Why did you do this?”
Archer told officers that her grandson did not have a gun, although police said they located a BB gun inside the house during a subsequent search.
She asked the officers several times if they could remove the handcuffs, but the officers said they were unable to do so. “I don’t want to have a heart attack out here,” she replied.
The lawsuit and city of Mesa court records show that Archer was charged with obstructing government operations but the prosecutor dismissed the case in April.
“Defendant Orr’s and Defendant Grimm’s actions were uncalled for, and they knew it immediately,” the lawsuit says. “Since they knew they were wrong, they attempted to justify their actions by lying to multiple people that Plaintiff (Archer) was being combative and/or ‘not following directions at all’.”
Other use-of-force incidents
Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista talks about surveillance video showing officers punching man in face.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Arizona Republic
Archer’s case received national attention before a string of cases of Mesa police officers using force came to light and put the department under renewed scrutiny.
In one case, up to five officers kneed or punched 35-year-old Robert Johnson, who was unarmed, when he didn’t immediately follow orders to sit down May 23, one of the videos shows. On May 16, two officers appeared to rough up a 15-year-old armed robbery suspect after he was handcuffed, another video shows.
A third video shows a 23-year-old Jose Luis Conde lay on a hospital floor in a pool of blood after he was punched by an officer and later mocked by a different officer.
As a result of the first two cases, seven officers had been placed on leave pending an internal and a criminal investigation conducted by Scottsdale police.
Also, in June, Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista requested the Police Executive Research Forum, a national non-profit research organization, to review his police department’s use-of-force cases for the past three years. He also asked former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to be part of the police department internal affairs of the two first investigations.
Scottsdale police said Wednesday that they were still investigating Johnson’s case, but the teen’s case has been completed and forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which will decide if any charges should be filed against any of the officers involved in the boy’s arrest.
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