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Arizona police chief: Cops "weren't at their best" when they violently beat unarmed man

After a brief exchange, the officers charge toward him, punching him repeatedly in the face and abdomen.

by Tess Owen
Jun 6 2018, 4:15pm

Three police officers and a sergeant from the Mesa Police Department are on leave after they aggressively beat an unarmed man at an apartment complex, punching him even when he was on the ground.

Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista ordered the release of surveillance footage from the May 23 incident this week, showing the beating outside an elevator. "I don't feel that our officers were at their best," said Batista, who became police chief in the Phoenix suburb last summer. "I don't feel this situation needed to go the way that it went."

Batista said that Robert Johnson, 33, was not complying with the officers’ orders to sit down, but added that their use of force seemed disproportionate given the circumstances.

In the video, you first see an officer patting down Johnson for weapons. Then they motion for him to stand against a wall. He leans against the wall and after a brief exchange, the officers charge toward him, punching him repeatedly in the face and abdomen. He eventually slumps to the ground.

Johnson’s lawyer Benjamin Taylor said Johnson is in “terrible condition” having suffered from trauma to his head and chest.

Batista said that the sergeant was the only one who did not throw a punch, but he has been placed on administrative leave anyway, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The encounter stemmed from reports that another man, Johnson’s friend, Erik Reyes, 20, was attempting to enter his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. She called 911. When police arrived on the scene shortly before midnight, Reyes reportedly complied with their orders.

Johnson was later arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and hindering. Reyes was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct and suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia.

“This is terrible for Mesa police culture, and we’re going to be doing everything we can to pursue justice for our client,” said Benjamin Taylor, a lawyer representing Johnson, according to the Arizona Republic. "Mesa has a culture of police brutality, and this affects all people that live in Mesa and travel through Mesa, and this culture needs to be cleaned up immediately."

This is not the first time the Mesa Police Department has come under national scrutiny for brutality allegations.

Last December, the department released shocking body camera footage from the January 2016 fatal shooting of Daniel Shaver, a 26-year-old unarmed man, in a hotel hallway. Officer Philip Brailsford orders Shaver to lie on his stomach, and then kneel, and crawl towards him. Shaver is heard begging for his life, and then Brailsford opens fire with his AR-15 service weapon. Brailsford was acquitted of murder charges, but the incident is currently under investigation by the Justice Department.

Mesa Police Department did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.