Vargas: Controversial video of arrest in Arizona shows ugly use of force

By Joe Vargas

Anyone who reads my columns has probably seen the video that was released by the City of Mesa, AZ, that shows a group of police officers using physical force to take a man into custody. The use of force is overwhelming and, honestly, ugly to watch.

Once again, the law enforcement community bears the collective guilt of a single incident in a city probably far from their own. The haters now have a new batch of ammunition to unload.

I’m sure that, like myself, many police officers are being asked by friends, family, and others to explain what they saw on the evening news and social media feeds. If my first reaction is, “damn!” I can only imagine the emotional impact on the average person without 30-plus years of police experience, who has never been in a physical altercation, practiced a martial art, played a contact sport, or served in the military.

The use of force is never pretty, especially for someone who has never had to use force. Also, as an observer after the fact, a lot is unknown. I can, however, be honest about what my first impressions were: I didn’t like what I saw.

Police officers sometimes have to overcome active resistance, especially when someone is attacking you. Passive resistance when someone just won’t do what you tell them to is something police officers have to deal with every day. And from what I hear, this is something that is becoming far too frequent.

In this case, I was especially disturbed by the fact there was no indication of active resistance that needed to be overcome. Some might argue that merely not obeying commands is enough. I agree with that. Maybe it’s just the disproportionality of the response.

That being said, here are a few of the the comments from the Mesa Police Department Facebook page.

I purposely excluded some that were filled with profanity, endless rants, and threats against police officers in general.

Chief Ramon Batista held a press conference where he expressed his anger over what he saw depicted in the video. Since the original incident, another video has come to light where the level of force used in taking a teenage subject is being questioned.

“I’m angry and I’m deeply disappointed from what I see in these videos…They are disturbing and they will not be tolerated,” Batista said during the press conference.

Press Conference – Use of Force incidents

Chief Batista holds a press conference on the recent use of force incidents and his renewed vision for the Mesa Police Department.

Posted by City of Mesa Police Department on Friday, June 8, 2018

There will be an internal investigation and review. There will be an external investigation by an outside agency. More than likely, there will be a prosecutorial review and, lastly, there will be civil litigation. This is all a lengthy process that often ends with no one left fully satisfied.

Batista has some hard questions to answer. Were the actions of the officers justified and within policy? The bigger question is one the department has to ask itself. What is it we need to fix and fix now?

For the nearly 1 million officers out there doing their job with no problem, it is just another punch in the gut as they assume the collective guilt associated with something they had no part in creating.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.