Arizona

Mesa Chief: Beating of Black Man by Cops in Video 'Looks Like a Mistake'

Mesa police are in hot water after a video surfaced of officers repeatedly punching, then hog-tying, a black suspect on May 23.
Mesa police are in hot water after a video surfaced of officers repeatedly punching, then hog-tying, a black suspect on May 23. YouTube

(UPDATE June 6: Mesa police release body cam videos and a report of the incident.)

Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista released a graphic video on Tuesday showing a violent arrest of a black man by several officers who repeatedly punch the man in the face.

Four of the officers — including one supervisor — are now on administrative leave as the department investigates. The department received worldwide attention after an officer was charged with murder for the shooting death of a suspect in 2016. The officer, Phillip Brailsford, was found not guilty by a jury in December.

Batista made statements to the media that were highly critical of the video and his officers. He told a TV station that he learned about the incident when a member of the public sent him the video, telling him, "Hey, this looks very alarming, and I need you to look at it."


click to enlarge Mesa police are in hot water after a video surfaced of officers repeatedly punching, then hog-tying, a black suspect on May 23. - YOUTUBE
Mesa police are in hot water after a video surfaced of officers repeatedly punching, then hog-tying, a black suspect on May 23.
YouTube
Batista said he began an investigation immediately upon seeing it.

The video shows an incident that began on May 23 when a woman called police to report that her ex-boyfriend had tried to break into her apartment. Police soon located the ex-boyfriend, who complied with orders to sit down, and 33-year-old Robert Johnson, who didn't comply.

As the video – which contains no sound – shows, Johnson continued to use his phone as police tried to talk to him. When he failed to comply with their orders, they moved in and began wrestling with him and beating him.

click to enlarge Several minutes into the incident, police wrapped a white bandage or sheet around the suspect's head before carrying him into an elevator. - YOUTUBE
Several minutes into the incident, police wrapped a white bandage or sheet around the suspect's head before carrying him into an elevator.
YouTube
Johnson, his back against a wall, slides to the ground after taking several punches to the faces. But the incident goes on for several minutes after that. Johnson is dog-piled on the ground. When officers get him on his feet, one officer shoves Johnson's head brutally into an elevator door. Then Johnson's back on the ground, officers' knees on his back, as police tie him up, wrap a white bandage or sheet around his eyes, and carry him into the elevator.


Johnson was later charged with disorderly conduct and hindering, according to ABC News.

"I don't feel that our officers were at their best," Batista told the Arizona Republic. "I don't feel this situation needed to go the way that it went. ... The images of the video are powerful and I thought it was paramount that you hear it from me with respect to how I feel about it and what I'm going to do to ensure this doesn't happen again."

"This in no way represents the whole work that is done every day," Batista told another TV station. "They're human beings and certainly at first glance, this looks like a mistake."
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.