Case Against Deputy Who Tackled Limbless Teen Heads to County Attorney

Deputy Manuel Van Santen is under criminal investigation for his actions.
Deputy Manuel Van Santen is under criminal investigation for his actions. Via YouTube and the Pima County Sheriff's Department
The Pima County Sheriff's Department has wrapped up its criminal investigation into a deputy who tackled a 15-year-old quadruple amputee at a Tucson group home and is sending the case to be reviewed by prosecutors, a department spokesperson said.

In November, footage of deputy Manuel Van Santen tackling the teen amputee went viral, bringing national attention to the county sheriff's department (PCSD). Two days after KOLD-TV, a CBS affiliate in Tucson, first published the video, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier authorized a criminal investigation into Van Santen and placed him on administrative leave.

"We are preparing to present this case to the County Attorney's Office," PCSD spokesperson James Allerton told Phoenix New Times. "The investigation is complete, but the county attorney's office could ask us to look more into something."

It's the Pima County Attorney's Office that will decide whether or not to pursue charges against the deputy. A spokesperson for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said the office was unable to discuss pending investigations.

The events that Van Santen could face charges for began on September 26, when a group home employee called police to complain that Immanuel, a teenager who has no arms or legs, had knocked over a trash can and was yelling. He was upset, the employee said, because he had just learned he had been suspended and could not go back to school until Monday.

Around 10 a.m. that day, Van Santen responded to the call. When he arrived, Immanuel, whose last name is being withheld because he is a minor, tried to move away from him. Van Santen responded by violently pushing the limbless teen's face into the ground and pinning the boy there for several minutes.

Eventually, Immanuel stops trying to get away from Van Santen. The deputy then gets off the boy, stands back up, and leans down to yell and curse in Immanuel's face.

Another boy at the group home captured the scene with his cellphone, attracting the attention of the deputy, who decided to arrest the boy. Van Santen told him to put his hands behind his back. A video shot by yet another group home resident shows that the boy was complying when Van Santen suddenly slammed the 16-year-old's face into a wall.

Asked about his actions after the criminal investigation began, Van Santen told the Associated Press, "I can look my wife and my children in the face tonight and know that I did my job to the best of my ability. I look forward to clearing my name and returning to duty."

Immanuel was arrested for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, but the Pima County Attorney's Office said charges were dropped after officials reviewed the disturbing video.

"The conduct we observed on the video at face value is shocking, disturbing, and personally saddening to watch," said Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier.

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Meg O'Connor was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from April 2019 to April 2020.