Police investigators say Arizona beating was justified

The beating of a 33-year-old man by five Mesa, Arizona, police officers was justified, according to the results of an investigation released Monday.

The findings from the Scottsdale Police Department come three months after Mesa police officers punched and kneed Robert Johnson as he stood in the hallway of an apartment complex on May 23. The encounter was captured on surveillance video.

The Mesa Police Department, about 20 miles east of Phoenix, asked the Scottsdale Police Department to conduct an independent criminal investigation of its officers. Scottsdale officials said they “thoroughly reviewed eight On Body Camera videos which consisted of just over two hours of footage as well as the apartment complex surveillance video.”

Based on their investigation, Scottsdale investigators determined “no criminal charges are warranted against the involved officers as the use of force was legally authorized and justified under Arizona State Law.” Scottsdale officials also said the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office agrees with their findings.

Benjamin Taylor, an attorney for Johnson, maintains that the beating was not justified.

“The video flatly contradicts the self-serving accounts of the police officers involved,” Taylor said. “The use of government violence against cooperating citizens, who have committed no crime and who pose no threat, is a crime without justification or legal authorization.”

Taylor also said that he will seek justice “before a civil jury.”

Surveillance video shows beating

On the day of the incident, Johnson was with a friend who police say was trying to enter an ex-girlfriend’s apartment, prompting a 911 call, officials told CNN affiliate KNXV. The responding officer was told of a possible weapon at the apartment. Johnson lives in the building and was not trespassing, Taylor said.

Mesa police officers said Johnson resisted arrest and did not comply with their commands. Taylor says his client did nothing to provoke officers.

The surveillance video shows the incident after an officer encounters Johnson and his friend in the hallway of the apartment complex. Johnson appears to be standing near an elevator, making a call on a cell phone. His friend is nearby, seated on the floor around the corner.

In the body camera footage, an officer who has joined the scene is heard telling Johnson to sit on the floor near the landing of the elevator. That officer or one of the other two officers near Johnson repeats the instruction for him to sit down.

Johnson puts his buttocks against the wall and leans back. The officers say they want him to go “all the way down, all the way down.”

Within a few seconds, they converge on him, and force him to the ground. The video shows one officer grabbing Johnson by the neck and kneeing him in the torso twice. An officer repeatedly punches Johnson in the face until he falls to the ground.

One officer says during the heated confrontation, “See what happens. See what happens.”

Another officer says, “Just relax, buddy.”

One of the arresting officers wrote in an incident report that Johnson was being confrontational and had refused to sit down, where he would be less of a threat.

“Johnson’s body language was projecting he was preparing for a physical altercation,” the officer wrote.

The officer said that during the confrontation he used hard strikes to Johnson’s jaw because other efforts to get him to comply had failed.

Another officer wrote that knee strikes were used because Johnson had fought off an attempted leg sweep.

Johnson was held on charges of disorderly conduct for allegedly kicking the door of the apartment where his friend’s ex-girlfriend lives and hindering prosecution for refusing commands during his detention. Charges against Johnson were dropped in June, CNN affiliate KNXV reported.

Before the investigation, Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista said he was “disappointed” by the video. He put the officers on leave after viewing it.

Other police beatings in Mesa

Johnson’s beating was one of three incidents to come to light this summer in which Mesa police officers are caught on camera aggressively handling citizens.

Two of those incidents, including Johnson’s beating, prompted Batista to ask the Police Executive Research Forum “to conduct a comprehensive and fully independent investigation looking into our use of force events over the past three years, as well as our policies, procedure and training.”

In June, police bodycam footage was released showing the May 17 arrest of a 15-year-old boy who was suspected of committing a robbery.

In the bodycam video, an officer can be seen placing a foot behind the boy’s head while he is on the ground. Officers also appear to pull the teenager’s handcuffed arms behind his back and toward his head, and he appears to react in pain.

The teenager was arrested and booked on multiple charges, including armed robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Two officers were placed on administrative leave after video of the arrest was reviewed. An internal investigation is ongoing.

Another bodycam video from a January 28 arrest, also released in June, shows an officer repeatedly punching 23-year-old Jose Conde. Conde was later mocked by an officer as he lay on a hospital floor covered in blood. A police report said Conde resisted arrest and threw punches at an officer who found cocaine concealed in his sock. Batista said in a statement the department was reviewing the incident.