Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Mesa police video shows violent arrest, suspect files claim
MESA, AZ - A man who was reportedly Tased, kicked and punched on the ground by Mesa police officers has filed a notice of claim against the Mesa Police Department, saying the officers knowingly and intentionally breached their duties and exceeded their authority, and that he was taken into custody in a negligent manner.
A video of the chase and arrest shot by a Mesa police helicopter shows Aaron Belander raising his arms in the air. A voice from the chopper says, “He’s got his hands up, he’s got his hands up. I don’t see anything in his hands.”
“We’ve got a man who appears to have stopped running, doesn’t seem to be making any types of aggressive movements towards anyone, and he’s Tased in the back,” said Belander’s attorney, Matt Schwartzstein. “The moment he falls down, he’s kicked in the head.”
Police reports from the officers involved that night last November paint a very different picture. The officers said they were conducting the high-risk traffic stop of a violent convicted felon who did not comply with commands to show his hands. The reports say police were tipped off that Belander had a gun.
“The officers did note in their reports that he had a history of violence in his past,” said Schwartzstein. “I did not see any crimes of violence that he was convicted of as of November 6th, 2009.”
According to police reports, Belander drove away in his truck during that traffic stop, initiating a chase that ended at Highland High School, where Belander got out of the truck and started running. Police reports say Belander threw a gun on the ground during the chase.
The video shows officers catching up to Belander, who stops running and raises his hands in the air. A voice apparently from the helicopter communicating to officers on the ground, advises them that Belander has his arms up and does not appear to have anything in his hands.
Officers wrote in their reports that they believed Belander was reaching for his midsection, where he may have had a gun, and that he did not comply with verbal commands to get on the ground. Several officers also stated that Belander resisted arrest, fighting, kicking and grabbing an officer’s arm as they tried to take him into custody.
“He had his hands up and he wasn't moving-- that changed from the moment they Tased him in the back,” said Schwartzstein. “They kicked him in the head, and then they kicked him again in the side and in the arm and it went on from there. It's hard to say at what point a person is resisting arrest or just protecting themselves.”
One officer said he tried to kick Belander in the shoulder to subdue him, but ended up kicking him in the face because he was flailing around.
“For all I know, he was convulsing after being kicked in the head,” said Schwartzstein.
Belander’s attorneys say the video shows six officers Tasing Belander multiple times and delivering dozens of blows to the suspect after he surrendered and was on the ground and did not make any threatening movements.
A medical exam at the jail concluded Belander suffered cuts, scrapes and broken bones. Belander’s notice of claim says he may have also suffered memory loss and posttraumatic stress.
Belander is behind bars. His attorneys filed a notice of claim for $350,000.
None of the officers involved have been placed on leave.
It is the Mesa Police Department’s policy not to comment on ongoing internal investigations.