"The conduct we observed on the video at face value is shocking, disturbing, and personally saddening to watch," said Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier. "On November 15 (Friday) morning, I authorized a criminal investigation into the conduct of Deputy Van Santen and ordered that he be placed on administrative leave."
Disturbing footage of Deputy Manuel Van Santen pinning the limbless teen to the ground caught the nation's attention last week after first being published by KOLD-TV, a CBS affiliate in Tucson, on November 14. The footage has since spurred the PCSD to conduct an internal investigation into the incident and led the Pima County Attorney's Office to drop the charges filed against the boy in the video.
Around 10 a.m. on September 26, Deputy Van Santen responded to a call at a group home in Tucson. An employee at the home had called to say one of the boys was yelling and had knocked over a trash can. He was upset, the employee said, because he had just learned he had been suspended and could not go back to school until Monday.
When the deputy 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.
As the cellphone footage captured by another boy in the group home begins, Van Santen can be seen kneeling on the ground, holding Immanuel in a headlock. Immanuel, who is shirtless and clearly upset, frantically screams at the deputy not to hold him down. He tries to get away, but the deputy strengthens his hold on the teenager, pushing his body on top of Immanuel's and pressing him into the ground.
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. He asks Immanuel what his problem is, his face just inches away from Immanuel's. The teenager insists he doesn't have a problem, which apparently angered Van Santen.
“I will raise my voice to you whenever the fuck I want, you understand?” Van Santen shouts.
Immanuel was arrested for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.
Sheriff Napier said that after footage of the incident was shared with the sheriff's department by local media on November 13, the department notified its office of professional standards and initiated a review of Van Santen's actions. The next day, Napier said his executive leadership team at the PCSD had examined the video and reviewed Van Santen's written report on the incident.
"Closer examination did nothing to ameliorate the initial concerns we had over the conduct of our deputy," Napier said.
That Friday, Napier authorized a criminal investigation into Van Santen's conduct and placed him on administrative leave. After the criminal investigation wraps up, its findings will be shared with the Pima County Attorney's Office, where it will be up to County Attorney Barbara LaWall to decide whether to file criminal charges against the deputy.
Besides pinning a quadruple amputee to the ground and screaming in his face, Van Santen was also caught on camera slamming another teenager's head into a wall for no reason.
In the video, when Van Santen leans down and begins screaming at Immanuel, another boy, C.J., who had been recording the encounter from the next room, speaks up.
"You asked him a question, and he answered," C.J. says.
"Shut the hell up!" Van Santen snaps. He then walked over to the other teen, who is eating cereal, and tells him to stay out of the situation as it does not involve him. C.J. tells Van Santen to get out of his face.
"You're going to get arrested, too," Van Santen says.
Another teen in the group home then begins recording the incident. C.J. can be seen placing his cereal down and complying with the deputy by putting his arms behind his back. C.J. is not resisting and Van Santen has already restrained the teen when the deputy suddenly slams the 16-year-old's face into a wall.
“These are kids who live in a group home because they can’t live with their parents,” said Pima County Public Defender Joel Feinman. “This is exactly the type of person that law enforcement needs to protect and defend. Instead, we see them being treated like they’re animals.”