An investigation is underway concerning the recent death of a man involved in an arrest by the Mesa Police Department that garnered criticism after it gained strong viral traction.
A press release sent by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office states the man, 37-year-old Matangi Tai, collapsed while exercising in the recreation yard of the Fourth Avenue Jail and was pronounced dead at the St. Luke’s Hospital on July 22. The sheriff’s office will investigate the cause of death, although a preliminary view of security tapes shows no indication an altercation occurred in the recreation yard.
Tai landed in jail in May 30 as a result of an incident that occurred at a Mesa Circle K on the corner of Center Street and McKellips Road. The incident began when Tai entered the convenience store and requested a refill of his prescription, a service Circle K does not fulfill.
After an officer escorted Tai out of the store, a scuffle broke out in which the officer shot Tai with a stun gun — he was hit with one of the two prongs — and engaged with him in a physical altercation. A second, off-duty officer proceeded to join the scuffle, and he was followed by two additional officers who were able to contain Tai and take him into custody.
Tai was subsequently charged with two counts of aggravated assault against an officer, resisting arrest, criminal damage and criminal trespass, and he, the initial on-duty officer and the off-duty officer sustained minor injuries during the incident.
The officers received criticism and praise for the arrest after video of the arrest was released on Youtube. The person who recorded the video, Kameron Babbitt, said his problem with the arrest was the conduct of the off-duty officer, who he said kicked and punched Tai repeatedly and caused an accident by driving through a red light.
Mesa Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Anthony Landato confirmed the off-duty officer did get into a “non-injury accident” with a female driver, but said an internal review of the incident indicated the officers followed appropriate protocol given the circumstances of the situation.