MESA, Ariz. (AP/KSAZ) - Mesa's police chief says his department has been in the news in recent days for "all the wrong reasons", as the department launches a new probe into the use of force against a suspect, this time a 15-year-old boy.
"Over the last few days, we've seen several videos showing situations involving our officers," said Chief Ramon Batista, during a news conference Friday afternoon. "They are disturbing, and they will not be tolerated."
The news conference came, amidst mounting controversy stemming from two use of force incidents. A police spokesman says two officers have been placed on administrative leave after a review of body-worn camera footage showed the youth being treated roughly.
Body camera videos in another recent case show Mesa officers punching 33-year-old Robert Johnson during his May 23 arrest. Four officers and one sergeant were placed on leave in that incident.
"I don't want this to happen to no one in particular, in this system,"said Johnson, during a news conference on Thursday. "I want Mesa to be held accountable for what they have done."
During the news conference held by Mesa Police on Friday, Chief Batista said he can't discuss the incidents in specific details, due to pending litigation in some of the matters, but did comment on the videos, in general terms.
"Please know that the actions shown on that video, in all these recent videos, do not reflect the vast majority of the men and women of the Mesa Police Department," said Chief Batista. "I'm angry, and I'm deeply disappointed by what I saw in those videos."
Chief Batista said he has asked the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum to conduct a "comprehensive and fully independent" investigation, looking into use of force incidents by Mesa Police over the past three years, in addition to Mesa Police's policy, procedure, and training.
"Simply put, these investigators will shine a glaring light on the areas where we have fallen short, and they will help us fix it," said Chief Batista.
According to its official website, Police Executive Research Forum (PEF) is a nonprofit organization that helps to "improve the delivery of police services through the exercise of strong national leadership; public debate of police and criminal justice issues; and research and policy development."
In addition, Chief Batista announced he has asked former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley to conduct a separate, independent investigation.
"If issues do arise, it is the obligation upon all, whether it is the police chief, whether it is the mayor or the city council, whether it is the unions that represent the officers, to make sure that the police officers conduct themselves in the most professional manner possible," said Romley.
Mesa Police officials have announced an investigation assessing any criminal conduct will be handled by the Scottsdale Police Department.
Mesa Mayor John Giles also released a statement on Chief Batista's announcements Friday.
“The last few days have been unsettling for this community. The videos I reviewed were alarming and deeply disturbing.
This is not the Mesa I know.
I applaud the immediate and decisive action taken by Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista. Nothing is more sacred than human rights. I expect that the independent investigations launched today will result in better training and an understanding that every person our officers encounter is to be treated with respect.
This week, I have met with many faith and community leaders who have expressed their concerns. I share those concerns.
The vast majority of Mesa Police officers work tirelessly every day to keep our community safe and welcoming. I want to encourage those officers to keep up the good work. I look forward to seeing the changes in the department that will help rebuild trust within our community.”
Members of the Mesa Police Association who attended Friday's news conference, however, were not very happy with Chief Batista's message.
"It seems as though that possible decisions appear to have been made, and these officers are condemned without an investigation being even completed," said Nate Gafvert with the Mesa Police Association.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.