In body cam footage released by Mesa police on June 6, 2018, shows officers punching and kneeing Robert Johnson, who is unarmed.
Mesa Police Department
Scottsdale police said Monday that no charges will be filed against Mesa police officers who were accused of using excessive force when they beat an unarmed 35-year-old man nearly unconscious during a May arrest.
The case was one of two excessive-force investigations conducted by Scottsdale police at Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista’s behest. The case had embroiled the Mesa Police Department in controversy when the chief released security camera footage that shows five police officers either punch, knee or pull Robert Johnson to the ground.
Scottsdale police said investigators presented the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and that prosecutors agreed with their findings.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances and all of the evidence in this case, our final determination is that no criminal charges are warranted against the involved officers as the use of force was legally authorized and justified under Arizona State Law,” a Scottsdale police statement says.
Mesa Police said five officers had been put on administrative leave as a result of the Johnson incident, but a total of eight were involved.
The Scottsdale police’s announcement comes a week after the county attorney said two other Mesa officers wouldn’t face charges in another excessive-force investigation. That case involved a 15-year-old boy who was arrested in connection with an armed robbery May 16.
Benjamin Taylor, Johnson’s lawyer, said he was unhappy with the decision not to charge the officers.
“This is a sad day for the people of Arizona,” Taylor said in a statement. “When officers can get away with assaulting citizens, people in our community will lose trust in them and our justice system.”
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
In a subsequent statement, he added that he plans to sue the police department.
“The use of government violence against cooperating citizens, who have committed no crime and who pose no threat, is a crime without justification or legal authorization,” he said. “If the city of Scottsdale and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will not seek criminal justice for police violence, we will seek it before a civil jury.”
Mesa police said in a statement on Monday that the five officers remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation, which will determine whether the officers violated department policies.
“We wish to thank the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Scottsdale Police Department for conducting the investigation into this incident,” the statement says. “Currently, the officers remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of the Mesa Police Department’s internal investigation as a result, our department cannot discuss this matter in greater detail at this time.”
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement that Scottsdale police received additional police body-camera footage that was previously unreleased. In all, there were eight videos from police, not including the security camera footage.
“When considering the applicable law on use of force and the additional information gained from the investigation, MCAO prosecutors agreed with Scottsdale PD that there was not a case to submit for a review of criminal charges,” Montgomery said in the statement. “This case underscores the need to consider all evidence before drawing conclusions about the legal or illegal activities of anyone, not just law enforcement in a use of force scenario.”
Will Biascoechea, president of the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement the union supports the decision.
“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,” he said in the statement. “It’s important for the public to know that camera footage sometimes captures just one perspective without context. We work hard to follow procedures, we’re highly trained, and we’re committed to serving and protecting our Mesa community.”
What the videos show
The incident started when a woman called to report that her ex-boyfriend, Erick Reyes, 20, who was with Johnson, tried to break into her apartment on Main Street about a mile east of Country Club Drive. Johnson was arrested, but a city prosecutor later dropped the charges of disorderly conduct and hindering police after the footage went viral online.
The videos, which include police body-worn camera footage, show three officers approach Johnson on the apartment complex’s third-floor deck. One officer already on the deck questions Reyes, who sits down when the officer directs him. The officer advises Johnson to wait before the other three officers arrive.
As the three officers approach Johnson, he is talking on a cellphone and leaning against a railing. Police search his pockets and ask him to sit on the floor against the wall, the video shows. Johnson questions why he needs to sit and leans his back against the wall with his legs extended.
Police repeatedly ask Johnson to sit down, but he refuses, the video shows.
The four officers close in on Johnson and an officer identified in the police report as Jhonte Jones knees Johnson twice in the stomach and punches him six times in the face, the video shows.
The police report details that another officer identified as Rudy Monarrez punched Johnson in the face at least once.
As Johnson is being hit, someone is heard saying, “Sit your ass down, mother f–ker.”
One of the officers pulls Johnson’s left leg, dropping him to the floor and someone is heard saying, “See what happens.”
Police handcuff the man and tie his feet together. As he lies on his stomach on the floor, Johnson tells the officers, “You didn’t need to put all that force on me.”
Police chief’s actions
This case spurred the Mesa police chief into action.
During a June press conference, Batista tapped the Police Executive Research Forum, a national group that studies police practices, to review the police department’s use-of-force cases for the past three years.
Simultaneously, Batista asked former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to be part of the internal investigations into Johnson and the teen’s case. Those internal investigations are pending and will determine whether the officers violated department policies on physical force.
At the same press conference, Batista said he changed the department’s use-of-force policies. Now, the policy prohibits officers from striking a person’s face, head and neck unless that person is being aggressive.
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