Recorded on surveillance video assaulting an unarmed man who was not fighting back, four Arizona police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave after the Mesa Police Department recently released the footage to the public. Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista admitted that the department released the video before someone else could upload it, but the police body cam footage of the incident still has not been released.
On May 23, Mesa police officers responded to a 911 call concerning a woman in distress at an apartment complex. After arriving at the scene, officers found Robert Johnson standing on the fourth-floor hallway while talking on his cellphone.
According to Batista, Johnson’s friend, Erick Reyes, allegedly attempted to enter his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, which resulted in her 911 call. After patting down Johnson for weapons, the officers reportedly ordered him to sit on the floor.
When Johnson refused to sit on the floor, he calmly stood with his back leaning against the wall. Recorded on a surveillance camera, Johnson remained leaning against the wall as four officers immediately surrounded him and began punching him in the face without provocation.
As the elevators doors opened, two more officers entered the hallway while Johnson continued receiving punches without defending himself. One of the officers pulled Johnson’s leg out from under him as another cop repeatedly punched Johnson’s exposed face.
“When the person didn’t sit down, our officers then engaged in use of force to make him sit down,” Batista told The Arizona Republic. “I don’t feel that our officers were at their best. I don’t feel that this situation needed to go in the way that it went.”
Handcuffed with his legs zip-tied, Johnson was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and hindering. His friend, Reyes, was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia. Although Reyes appeared in the surveillance video, he remained sitting on the floor as Johnson was assaulted.
Shortly after the video was released on Tuesday, Johnson’s attorney Benjamin Taylor released a statement: “On May 23rd, 2018, Robert Johnson was beaten by multiple Mesa Police officers while others looked on. Mr. Johnson was cooperative and following police instructions. Mr. Johnson was sitting peacefully against a wall when the assault began. He did not resist. The misconduct of these officers would have gone unnoticed if it had not been captured by surveillance videos at the apartment complex where the assault occurred.
“We hope and pray that the Mesa Police Department will accept responsibility for the misconduct of these officers. Mesa must take concrete steps to ensure that culpable officers are disciplined, retrained, or dismissed. The Mesa Police Department must develop a law enforcement culture that meets community and constitutional norms and ensures that police and citizens go home safely after police interactions.”
“It would be irresponsible of me to convict these officers in the court of public opinion before they are guaranteed their constitutional right to a fair trial as I understand there is a criminal investigation,” Mesa City Council member Jeremy Whittaker wrote. “I am eager for due process to take place. We hired Chief Batista last year to focus on making sure our police department is fairly serving the public. Leadership change takes time and I have full faith he is focusing on the issues that plague our community.”
In addition to placing the police sergeant and three officers involved in Johnson’s arrest on administrative leave, Batista announced Tuesday that the department has issued a new policy prohibiting officers from striking a person’s head or face unless they are fighting back. The officers have not been identified, and none of their body cam footage has been released to the public.
In February, the Mesa Police Department was criticized after a body cam video revealed officers slamming an 84-year-old grandmother onto the street for no apparent reason, leaving her heavily bruised with a black eye. In December, former Mesa police Officer Phillip Brailsford was acquitted of second degree murder after killing Daniel Shaver, who was crying and begging for his life on police body cam video in the moments before his death.