MESA, AZ — Mesa police investigated a challenge coin that seemed to exalt officers accused in two excessive force cases, but no one was disciplined for creating the keepsake commemorating two violent events.
On one side of the challenge coin said, “DOING IT RIGHT DESPITE THE HYPE.” The other side said, “INGLORIOUS BASTARDS.” It included the last names of seven Mesa police officers accused in excessive force cases.
Five officers were involved in the beatdown of Robert Johnson in May 2018.
“He had been accused of no crime and posed no threat to the officers,” said Jesse Showalter, Johnson’s attorney.
Two other officers were involved in the violent arrest of 15-year-old Gabriel Ramirez, which was also in May 2018.
Ramon Batista, who was Mesa’s police chief at the time, condemned the behavior and ordered an outside investigation.
Batista’s reforms and approach to discipline led to a rift between the chief and the rank-and-file officers. Mesa’s two officer unions later staged an effort to have the chief removed from his position. Batista resigned in November 2019.
Three of the five officers on the coin from the Johnson case were disciplined for their actions.
Outside investigators recommended criminal charges for the officers in the Ramirez case, but ultimately no charges were filed.
“My understanding is that the officers themselves maintained they did nothing wrong that night,” said Showalter, who filed a civil rights lawsuit against Mesa on Johnson’s behalf.
Showalter had obtained a copy of the Mesa’s challenge coin, and he learned about a similar coin that celebrated Phoenix’s officers use of violent force in an ABC15 investigation last week.
“It seems clear that there is a culture within the police departments of celebrating incidents which horrify everybody else,” Showalter said.
“There are cases where the force is excessive, and we have to recognize when it happens, said Pastor Andre Miller, a Mesa community activist. “We do not celebrate and commend that and make a commemorative coin.”
Miller said he first saw the coin in spring 2019 and reported it to Chief Batista.
Mesa police told ABC15 they did investigate the allegations about the coin, but their investigators could not determine the origin of the coin. There was no information indicating officers listed on the coin were responsible for the images, according to Mesa police.
"The Mesa Police Department works diligently to foster and maintain relationships with the community we serve, said police spokeswoman Irene Mahoney. “Any conduct, including unprofessional comments in any form, which has the potential to adversely harm the public’s trust for the Department will not be tolerated.”
The Mesa Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers told ABC15 they are not responsible for the challenge coin.
"The men and women of the Mesa Police Department are held to the highest standard," MPA President Glenn Pearson said in an email. “This coin is not a reflection of the good work being done every day.”