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Mesa police unions vote overwhelmingly against supporting Chief Ramon Batista

Posted at 12:51 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 22:33:23-04

MESA, AZ — Two unions representing Mesa police officers have declared Chief Ramon Batista does not have the support of the rank-and-file.

In an announcement Wednesday morning, the Mesa Police Association and Mesa Fraternal Order of Police said 95% of the 564 police employees who responded said they had no confidence in the chief's leadership. Only 23 officers said they supported the chief.

Batista is the third Mesa police chief in the past nine years and was hired in the aftermath of the high-profile shooting of Daniel Shaver by then-officer Phillip Brailsford. He quickly went about making changes aimed at installing a different culture in the department and rebuilding trust with the community.

Despite Batista's efforts, the department has found itself responding to several high-profile use of force incidents involving its officers, including one where a group of officers repeatedly punched a man, Robert Johnson, in the hallway of an apartment complex.

Union representatives have said officers were upset with how Batista handled that and other incidents, both in his statements and actions. The chief has called the level of force officers used in those situations troubling, and the union took issue with his decision to release body camera video to the public before an internal investigation was complete.

"Today's announcement of no confidence in Chief Batista was not driven by any single incident," said Will Biascoechea, president of the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police, in a statement. "Instead, our hand was forced by more than a year of public attacks on police officers' integrity, professionalism and a disregard for officer safety."

“Regardless of the results of the survey and how they feel about their leadership, Mesa police officers still need to be held accountable for excessive use of force such as in the case of Robert Johnson,” attorney Benjamin Taylor, who represents Johnson in a civil rights lawsuit against the city for the hallway punching incident, said.

Through a department spokesman, the chief declined all interview requests, instead choosing to issue a statement in response to the no confidence vote.

"As a command staff, we are committed to leading this department and supporting its officers as they carry out their duties," Batista said. "Together we have experienced tremendous growth and faced challenges that in the end will make us better. We will continue to build stronger relationships within the department and throughout the community."

When the vote by the unions was announced earlier this month, Mayor John Giles said in a statement that Batista and the officers had his support and that of the city council.