A video of an altercation between a female police officer and a 15-year-old girl has gone viral, along with seemingly contradictory accounts of what happened. The video has prompted witnesses to accuse the officer of punching the girl to subdue her.
The incident occurred in Mesa, Arizona on Friday, and was uploaded that evening to Facebook by Luis Paul Puleo Santiago. From there it made its way to Youtube, and as of Saturday evening the video reportedly had over half a million views online. The attention comes amidst protests that erupted in cities across the country over the failure to indict officers in the deaths of either Eric Garner or Michael Brown, both of whom were unarmed when police shot them.
Santiago and another woman caught the incident on camera from a car across from the street corner where it occurred. The figures are in the distance, but the video clearly captures a struggle between the female officer and the girl, ending with the officer pinning the girl to the ground. At that point, the girl repeatedly screams “stop” and “I can’t breathe.” On the soundtrack, Santiago and the woman can be heard gasping and saying “she just punched her in the face.”
Police told ABC News 15 in Arizona that the girl had run away in the past, and that her mother had called the police asking for help after the girl got out of the mother’s car and walked away. Esteban Flores with the Mesa Police Department told the news outlet that “authorities tried three times to convince the girl to stop before a female officer reached for the girl’s arm.” According to the police, the girl then kicked the officer and “punched her in the face.” After that, the female officer — a 12-year veteran on the force, according to Esteban — made the arrest, “which involved physical force by the officer.”
On the video, another male witness and the girl’s mother approach the struggle after the officer gets the girl to ground, and the mother proceeds to have an angry but indistinct exchange with the officer. When Santiago and the woman pull over and exit the car, the screen goes dark, but Santiago can be heard saying, “She punched her in the face, I have it on video.” Another female voice, presumably the girl’s mother, says “Please be a witness.”
According to ABC News 15, Esteban said both the girl and the female officer were treated for minor injuries at the scene.
“Just watched mesa PD punch a 15 year old girl in the face 2 times,” Santiago wrote on his Facebook page. “She was a runaway is this rely [sic] how we treat emotionally unstable teens? The cops wanted to delete this off my phone share the fuck out of this shit.”
“Cop pulled up parked in the middle of the street and ran up on the girl and grabbed her and tried throwing her down right then was when I started recording the girl was just trying to walk away her mom kept screaming she was emotionally unstable,” Santiago continued. According to his comments, the girl had asthma, and a second cop on the scene told Santiago “the female cop acted correctly and if she needed to she can shoot her dead.”
Peter Moskos, a criminal justice professor and former Baltimore police officer, told ThinkProgress last December that assuming the function of police is to play a role in community affairs, or to call 911 over a family dispute, is often a mistake. “This idea that cops are always at your beck and call is the basis of the 911 system and it doesn’t work,” Moskos said. “When you call the police, you have to remember what cops do is arrest people.”
The Mesa Police Department has previously participated in studies investigating the impact that body cameras have on policing. Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead told The Arizona Republic earlier this year that at least one of those studies found citizen complaints dropped 40 percent and the use of force by officers was cut by 75 percent when he cameras were in play. According to Milstead’s website, a program to spread the use of body cameras amongst Mesa’s police force is underway, though it is unknown if the female officer in Friday’s incident was wearing one.
ABC News 15 reported that the incident is under investigation, and that charges of aggravated assault are pending against the teenager.