To Serve and Humiliate
What should you do if you're a police officer and you're called to the scene of an allegedly violent domestic dispute?
The answer depends on where you work. If you're with the Scottsdale Police Department, you'll probably want to take the victim into her bedroom, rough her up, then subject her to as much degradation as possible while hauling her off, half-naked and bleeding, to jail.
Bonnie Johnson is a black woman in her mid-40s, but she looks much younger. She lives in Scottsdale and works as an artist. On November 2, she fought with her then-boyfriend, Joseph Padilla. She and Padilla both say she threw a perfume bottle at Padilla, who fell as he ducked from it and scraped his head. The quarrel was loud. "I've got a loud voice," she says. It was loud enough to prompt a neighbor to call 911.
The identity of the caller has not been released by the Scottsdale Police Department, but the tape of the 911 call has. "This man's beating the crap out of this woman," the caller says.
Two officers were sent to the scene. One of them, Carl Angelini, would seem an odd choice to quell domestic violence; in 1991, Angelini was suspended from duty after an internal investigation found that he had beaten up his girlfriend. Earlier that year, he had thrown a plant at her car, breaking the windshield.
The night he went to Bonnie Johnson's house, he was accompanied by Officer Mark Walther, who is no stranger to allegations of misconduct. (On July 31, an SPD sergeant accused him of mishandling property, department records indicate. The deposition of the complaint is listed as "unfounded," although it's not clear why. The SPD and Scottsdale City Hall have refused New Times' repeated requests to see investigative reports into complaints, which are public records.)
Johnson answered the door wearing a skimpy red teddy. The officers told her to step outside. She said she couldn't because she wasn't dressed. When they told her why they were there, she said the quarrel had been over for 20 minutes and there was no problem. The cops insisted that she come outside. Not wanting her neighbors to see her so scantily clad, she told the cops they could come in if they let her put on some clothes.
She went to her bedroom, where Padilla was. Angelini and Walther followed her. Angelini took Padilla to the kitchen, leaving Walther alone in the bedroom with Johnson, who was sitting on the bed. She claims that, as soon as they were alone, Walther grabbed her violently by the arm. When she protested, he stood and glared at her, squeezing her arm harder.
But the strong-arming officer wasn't the only problem Johnson faced. Her menstrual period was starting.
As Johnson tells me the story, her voice shakes and she starts to cry. "Walther asked me how old I was. I asked him why he would ask me that, why it was any of his business. I asked him to let me put something on. I had a robe a few feet away, but he wouldn't give it to me or let me get it. I'm having my period, and he wouldn't let me go to the bathroom to clean up."
Johnson is menopausal, which increases the amount she bleeds during her period. Her lingerie was saturated with blood. She tried to get off the bed and go to the bathroom, which was only 10 feet away. Walther pushed her back down. She says he continued to hold her by the arm, staring at her exposed breasts. Finally, he twisted her arm behind her back, handcuffed her, and called to Angelini that he was "making an arrest." He led Johnson to the living room.
Angelini told Padilla to go home. Without allowing Johnson to get dressed, Walther paraded her in front of her neighbors. He made her walk from her apartment, down the stairs, through the courtyard to the police car, with blood running down her legs. While she was being taken to the car, her 20-year-old son arrived home from work. Seeing what was happening to his mother, he went into the apartment and got some clothes for her. He gave the clothes to Angelini, but they weren't given to Johnson until she was released from jail.
She was taken to Scottsdale's District 1 jail. When she was taken from the car, she fainted. Other cops were called to carry her from the parking lot to the jail. She claims that, instead of carrying her, they dragged her by the arms and shoulders with her legs trailing on the ground behind her, leaving cuts and abrasions on her feet. She says her teddy was torn during this, exposing even more of her body.
They put her in a holding cell. She used water from the cell's water fountain to try to clean the blood from her thighs. She was photographed and fingerprinted, then placed back in the holding cell. Finally, a female officer brought Johnson a tampon and some aspirin for her pain. She still was not allowed to go to a bathroom, and instead was forced to insert the tampon in full view of surveillance cameras.
The police said she was charged with aggravated assault upon a police officer and resisting arrest. But she was never arraigned or brought before a magistrate or judge, and there are currently no charges pending against her.
At one point before she was released, she says Walther came into her cell and told her she had to confess to the charges as a condition of being released. "You know you can't be beating on a police officer," she says he told her.
She was released at 2 a.m. without being given a place to clean up. She wasn't offered any transport home. She put on the clothes her son had collected for her, called a friend and then started to walk home. The friend met her and took her the rest of the way.
Mark Walther's police report tells a different story. He claims that when he and Angelini arrived, Johnson began screaming that her boyfriend had hit her. He noticed that Padilla had a cut on the side of his head. Johnson and Padilla both say that Padilla hit his head when he fell while dodging the perfume bottle Johnson threw at him. Walther says he "attempted to calm Johnson" in the bedroom "as Officer Angelini spoke with Padilla in the living room."
He says Johnson told him to "get the fuck out," and tried to push past him to get to the bathroom. He says he grabbed her wrist, and she turned around and punched him in the arm. "I placed her in an arm bar and attempted to handcuff her. . . . She continued to pull from me, screaming for me to let her go. I was able to handcuff her, but was forced to restrain her (holding her arms) to prevent her from running out of the bedroom. Johnson began screaming for me to let her go, and stated she had done nothing wrong. . . . She told me I would hear from the ACLU."
Though he claims that Johnson said Padilla had assaulted her, Walther never asked her if she wanted to press charges. Angelini asked Padilla if he wanted to press charges against Johnson. He said no.
Johnson says she called Michael Heidingsfield, who was until recently Scottsdale's police chief. She says he told her that, in domestic-violence cases, it was policy to take a woman to jail for her own safety.
The SPD, which doesn't consider itself accountable to citizens or the press, didn't return my phone calls.
Bonnie Johnson has filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale. The law firm that represents her, Spector Law Offices, is familiar with the SPD's abuse of minorities. The firm represents Club Tribeca in its lawsuit over police harassment of minorities. Records show that, of 160 people arrested at the club, only 16 were white.
"The police run this city," says Al Spector. "They think it's the Fiefdom of Scottsdale, where U.S. law does not apply. It's a police dictatorship."
How you perceive what happened in Bonnie Johnson's bedroom that night depends on whom you believe. Photographs of Johnson's injuries--bruises on her arms, cuts and abrasions on her feet--are certainly consistent with her version of the story.
But if Johnson and Padilla are lying and Padilla did indeed beat her up, he could have inflicted the injuries. However, the police report makes no mention of these injuries, which are so obvious that the cops could hardly have failed to notice them if she'd had them when they arrived.
One of Johnson's neighbors, Nancy Wrigley, says she was home that evening, and that the only loud quarrel she heard was the one Johnson had with the cops.
"I heard Bonnie's voice, and then I heard the police talking to her," she says, adding that Johnson was asking "just to get some clothes on." Wrigley adds that it was a cold night. "I was in shock that she had no shoes, that they wouldn't let her put shoes on."
But roughing up people is de rigueur for the Scottsdale Police Department.
What is less familiar, and more sickening, is the way Johnson was humiliated--there's no doubt that she was taken to jail bleeding and almost naked. The holding cells are equipped with surveillance cameras, but her attorney was unable to obtain a copy of the videotape of her in the cell--a tape that would confirm many of her claims, including the visit she says she received from Walther.
The jail claims that all videotapes are reused every month, and so Johnson's has been erased.
Al Spector scoffs at this, saying that Johnson had complained to the Scottsdale PD within days of the incident. "So why wasn't the videotape pulled [and preserved]? It was erased because it would prove that Bonnie is telling the truth," Spector says.
And it should not be forgotten that the police were called out in the first place not to arrest Bonnie Johnson, but to protect her.
Contact Barry Graham at his online address: email@example.com