Three police officers and one police sergeant in Arizona have been placed on administrative leave after a surveillance video released Tuesday night appeared to show them collectively beating a man without provocation.
The silent video was captured just before midnight on May 23. In the footage, 33-year-old Robert Johnson can be seen standing next to an elevator when he’s approached by four members of the Mesa Police Department. Words are visibly exchanged but everyone appears calm and a violent incident doesn’t seem to be in the offing. Then the elevator door opens.
Inside are two additional officers who exit to find the altercation already in progress. In the few seconds between the elevator door opening wide enough for those two officers to enter the hallway, the four initial officers surround Johnson and beat him to the point that he passes out.
The video is graphic and violent. Johnson is grabbed, shoved, and punched repeatedly in the face and midsection before being cold-cocked by an officer who throws his weight into the coup de grace. Next, Johnson slides limply to the floor and is subsequently dragged, tackled, and pinned to the floor.
All through the incident, Johnson never appears to fight back. Indeed, due to the proximity of the officers involved and the close quarters of the small hallway next to the elevator, he never appears to have the chance because his range of motion is limited and his leverage–from the angle of the security footage–looks to be exactly nil.
After the video went public, Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista immediately placed four of those involved on administrative leave.
“It is disappointing because this isn’t the way I see the people that I work with and the community that we serve,” Batista said to AZ Family
An investigation into the officers’ and sergeant’s behavior is now underway. Batista noted that prior to the attack, Johnson had refused to sit down when asked to do so. Police had previously conducted a pat-down and determined that Johnson was not armed. Johnson was in the complex with his friend, who was allegedly trying to enter his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, prompting a 911 call.
The release of the footage was criticized by the Mesa Police Association. They issued the following statement in response to Batista’s decision to release the footage:
The Mesa Police Association feels it is grossly inappropriate to release a portion of video with no audio that does not include the full context of the encounter. Furthermore, we don’t understand why video is being released when an internal investigation has not been completed. It is important to understand that any use of force, when viewed, is difficult to watch and never looks “good.”
Benjamin Taylor, Johnson’s attorney, also released a statement after the video was released on Tuesday. That statement reads, in part, “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.”
[image via screengrab]