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Valley woman files legal claim after accusing Phoenix PD of physically abusing her during traffic stop

Posted at 10:39 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2021-02-16 15:27:36-05

PHOENIX — A Valley woman has filed a legal claim saying a Phoenix officer manhandled her during a January traffic stop, which left her physically and emotionally scarred.

Police body-worn camera video shows Officer Michael McGillis approaching Mariah Valenzuela, 23, outside of her vehicle near 7th Avenue and Indian School Road.

For several seconds he asks for her identification, which she said she didn't have, and she repeatedly asked why the officer stopped her. Things appear calm until the officer pulls out handcuffs and tells her to put her hands behind her back. The video is hard to make out as McGillis quickly forces Valenzuela to the ground and eventually handcuffs her. Valenzuela is screaming, and she is later is photographed with cuts, scrapes, and bruises from her scalp to her legs.

After she is handcuffed, McGillis later pushes Valenzuela against the side of the car and asks why she doesn't "act like a young lady." She tells him, "You tackled me for no reason." Valenzuela is approximately 5-feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds.

According to the video, McGillis initially noticed Valenzuela veering with her car across the center line around 11:50 p.m. after leaving a bar's parking lot. She was originally charged with resisting arrest and DUI. She also received several traffic citations.

"I can't even fathom it," said Valenzuela's attorney Brian Foster. "The chutzpah to charge her with resisting arrest after she was physically assaulted and brutalized by this officer defies any comprehension."

Foster filed notices of claim, precursors to lawsuits, against both the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County this week. The claims contain several allegations, including civil rights violations and malicious prosecution.

The Maricopa County Attorney's spokeswoman said the resisting arrest charge would be dropped. One DUI charge in Phoenix Municipal Court has also been dropped, but Valenzuela still faces other violations cited by the officer.

The Phoenix Police Department tells ABC15 that McGillis acted within policy and had cause to arrest Valenzuela.

A Phoenix police spokeswoman emailed the following statement about the arrest:

On January 17, 2020, just before midnight Officer McGillis, who was assigned as a DUI motor officer was patrolling the area of 7th Avenue and Indian School Road when he observed a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road, in an opposing traffic lane. Officer McGillis attempted to stop the driver for the violation.

The driver, who was later identified as Mariah Valenzuela, pulled into a parking spot, and exited her vehicle. Officer McGillis greeted the female, and asked her for her driver license identification, but Valenzuela stated she did not have it on her. Officer McGillis then asked her if she had any form of identification on her, but Valenzuela failed to answer this question or provide any form of identification, and would only communicate by asking why she was being pulled over. Valenzuela's actions at this point constituted a violation of Arizona Revised Statute 28-1595, which is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Officer McGillis was attempting to relay information to his dispatcher including the location of his stop and the vehicle information, while also dealing with Valenzuela. Office McGillis asked Valenzuela for a third time if she had any identification on her, and she replied "no."

Due to Valenzuela failing to provide her identification as she was legally required to do, despite the three opportunities Officer McGillis provided her, the decision was made to place her under arrest for the misdemeanor violation. Officer McGillis asked Valenzuela to put her hands behind her back. Up to this point, even though she refused to provide her identification, Officer McGillis and Valenzuela had a cordial exchange, and he did not believe she would suddenly become uncooperative. Officer McGillis then attempted to place her in handcuffs.

Valenzuela immediately became uncooperative and actively resisted the lawful arrest by pulling away and refusing to place her hands behind her back. This constituted a violation of Arizona Revised Statute 13-2508, which is a class 4 felony. Valenzuela began screaming and yelling, and would not cooperate with the arrest. Since she was physically resisting arrest, for the safety of both the Officer and Valenzuela, he took her to to the ground. While on the ground, he requested backup while pleading with her to give him her hands. She refused.

Due to Valenzuela actively resisting the arrest, it took Officer McGillis one minute and twenty-seven seconds to place both hands in handcuffs. In the body worn camera video, Officer McGillis can be heard pleading with Valenzuela to put her hands behind her back no less than eight times. He also asked for her arm/hand no less than ten times, and said "stop" or "please stop" eight times. Officer McGillis remained calm and professional, and continually tried to get Valenzuela to calm down and stop resisting the arrest. During this time, he told her why she was under arrest and why she was originally stopped, but Valenzuela continued to argue.

When Officer McGillis thought she had calmed down enough to stand up, he helped her up and they began walking towards a vehicle when she began yelling again. Officer McGillis pushed her against her car to stop her from resisting again. At this time, Valenzuela told Officer McGillis her identification was in her vehicle, however he was never able to locate it.

Valenzuela was arrested and booked that evening for the class 4 felony resisting arrest, and was processed and submitted for DUI alcohol and drugs. The resisting arrest charge is actively being charged by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Charges were submitted to the City of Phoenix Prosecutor's Office for the DUI related and misdemeanor charges.

A supervisor is heard saying a "CYA" comment on the body worn camera video; The Phoenix Police Department often documents events where prisoners become injured in a "Use of Force Report", even when the actual force used would not warrant a Use of Force Report. The supervisor was directing the officers to complete a Use of Force Report, even though one was not necessarily required.

The Phoenix Police Department Professional Standards Bureau evaluated the body worn camera and other evidence, and determined there was no violation of policy on behalf of Officer McGillis. Officer McGillis has no other sustained allegations of misconduct within the last five years.