Actions

Mesa officer: Robert Johnson was preparing for a fight

Mesa PD: Man was preparing to fight
Posted at 1:27 PM, Jun 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 10:55:59-04

Police involved in the beating of an Arizona man who on video doesn't appear to resist or attack officers say his body language was projecting that he was preparing to fight.

A report from the May 23 incident in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa states the man, 33-year-old Robert Johnson, was "verbally defiant and confrontational." Mesa police released the report, along with footage from police-worn cameras, on Wednesday afternoon after a video released by Johnson's attorneys circulated this week, raising criticism over the handling of the incident.

RELATED: Two more Mesa officers placed on leave following arrest of teen suspect

But Johnson's attorney, Benjamin Taylor, said his client was not a threat and had already been searched. Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct and hindering prosecution.

"Mr. Johnson did not put himself in this light. Mesa police put him in this light. Mr. Johnson did not ask to be the face of police brutality," Taylor said. "This is not a race issue. This is a culture issue. A police culture issue that has to change. It can happen to any one of us when we have an encounter with the police and it should not."

Three officers and a sergeant are on leave while the department investigates. In an afternoon update from police, an additional officer was placed on leave Thursday afternoon.

Officers were responding to a call from a woman who said her ex-boyfriend was trying to break into her apartment, police said. Police arrived and found the ex-boyfriend, Erick Reyes, 20, along with Johnson. Both were detained.

Audio-free surveillance footage from the apartment complex where the incident took place shows Johnson standing against a wall, looking at his phone, while Reyes is sitting on the ground nearby.

Officers approach Johnson and punch him numerous times. They pull him to the ground and flip him over. Johnson never appears to threaten or resist the officers. He was unarmed.

"Johnson's body language was projecting he was preparing for a physical altercation," one of the officers wrote in the report. "It appeared Johnson was trying not to sit down in order to retain a position of physical advantage by remaining on his feet."

The Scottsdale Police Department will be reviewing the case to determine if there was any criminal conduct by the Mesa officers. 

Will Biascoechea, the president of the police union that represents two of the officers involved, said in a statement that the incident was more complex than what is shown in the video.

"To add some context to the video, it is important to understand that the Officers were responding to a 'domestic dispute' that included a subject attempting to force his way into an apartment as well as the report of the presence of a gun," Biascoechea wrote. "At this point, we urge caution and patience rather than a rush to judgment."

The department has been criticized in the past for incidents involving the use of force as police departments nationwide have also faced scrutiny. A former Mesa officer who was fired for violating department policy was tried but acquitted on a murder charge in the 2016 fatal shooting of a Texas man who was unarmed and on the ground.

Taylor said Johnson was not a threat and had already been searched when police started punching him.

"He's a good guy, and he didn't deserve to be beat up," Taylor said. The lawyer said he wants the charges against Johnson dropped.

Johnson spoke briefly on Thursday as his attorney's addressed the media.

"I'm a family man, a God-fearing man. I want Mesa to be held accountable for what they've done," Johnson said.

You can watch that press conference in the player below.