A recent arrest outside of a Mesa convenience store has drawn criticism from people who say Mesa Police Department officers appeared to use excessive force.
Mesa Police Department public information officer Sgt. Anthony Landato said the incident — captured on video and posted to YouTube — occurred last Thursday outside a Circle K located on the corner of Center Street and McKellips Road. It began when a clerk called police about a man, identified as 36-year-old Matangi Tai, wandering in the store. Tai allegedly asked to have a prescription filled, a service Circle K does not offer.
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The officer who arrived at the scene proceeded to address Tai and asked him to step outside the store with him, Landato said.
“We try to get him out of the business if we can,” he said.
Once they left the store, Landato said Tai would not comply with the officer’s requests for either his name or to sit down at the curb, which Landato said is common procedure. The officer then attempted to arrest Tai by using a stun gun — Landato said one of the two prongs latched onto Tai — and by engaging him physically, which led to a fight between the two men.
During the scuffle, a second, off-duty officer arrived and helped the other officer bring Tai to the ground, while a pistol from the officer’s waistband fell onto the concrete during their efforts. They were joined by two additional officers who were able to contain Tai and take him to custody.
Tai faces charges on two counts of aggravated assault on an officer, one count of resisting arrest, one count of criminal damage and a count of criminal trespassing. Landato said a stun gun was used on Tai while he was on the ground, and said Tai, the original on-duty officer and the off-duty officer sustained minor injuries from the incident.
The incident has drawn criticism from some who saw a video of it posted on Youtube — other comments praised the officers’ actions — for the amount of force used in the arrest. The man who recorded the video, Kameron Babbitt, said his main complaint with the situation was with the off-duty officer, who he said did much of the kicking and punching and caused an accident by driving through a red light when he arrived at the scene. Landato confirmed the officer did get into a “non-injury accident” with a female driver.
“I’m not a cop hater,” Babbitt said. “If they’re doing their job, do it right.”
Landato, however, said an internal review of the incident by the department found the officers involved followed appropriate protocol given the circumstances of the situation, and said factors like the gun that fell to the ground made it a particularly dangerous incident. He added an off-duty officer becomes an on-duty officer once he or she takes police action.
“All of this was appropriate and within our use of force protocol,” he said. “This is a whole different ballgame than it started out to be ... God forbid, this could have gotten much, much worse.”
Court records indicate Tai faced criminal charges from an incident that occurred last September. The charges were dropped after Tai was found to be too incompetent to assist in his defense and required an interpreter to translate the proceedings into Tongan. Landato said he wasn’t sure of Tai’s level of comprehension, but said he was able to communicate with the officers on some level.
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