From [HERE] Mesa police Officer Nathan Sund punched Christian Topete as he sat on a couch in his apartment. Later, another officer explained to Topete that he was punched because he attacked Sund first.
Footage released Thursday by Mesa police indicates that Topete did not attack Sund or his partner, Officer Kristen Johnson.
Prosecutors have charged Topete, 32, with two counts of aggravated assault on an officer and one count each of resisting arrest, unlawful imprisonment and assault, court records show. His trial is set for November.
The altercation, which occurred October 12, 2017, is the subject of a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations filed this week in U.S. District Court by Topete’s lawyer, Nathaniel Preston.
In the past year, the Mesa Police Department has drawn scrutiny over officers’ use of force. This case is among a string of police brutality allegations being examined in the courts, by the FBI or by an independent police organization.
The lawsuit says Topete was also kicked in the face by Johnson and urinated on himself as Sund had him in a chokehold.
“We’re soaked in blood and urine,” Johnson says in one of 25 body-cam videosof the incident released by Mesa police. The department used an effect on the videos to blur them.
Preston said, “These officers clearly and knowingly violated rules and training procedures if they have even been trained at all. And then, later, they try to pin it back on the victim.”
The encounter started when a neighbor called 911 to report that she heard Topete and his ex-girlfriend arguing.
The ex-girlfriend later explained to police that she went over to Topete’s apartment to drop off a “sippy cup” for their 2-year-old son, who was sleeping at the time, according to the video and police report. The ex-girlfriend, who lives nearby, also said that when she stood in front of Topete’s apartment door, he pulled her inside and they began to argue.
What the videos show
Johnson’s body camera shows Sund walk into the apartment and ask Topete to put his hands on his head. Topete asks, “What did I do?”
As Topete begins to raise his hands, Sund grabs one of them, but Topete pulls it away, the video shows.
Then Sund begins to punch Topete in the face, the video shows.
“Are you going to punch me?” Topete asks. He goes on to say, “Are you going to punch me? I’m no b—h.”
Johnson curses and calls him a profane name.
Johnson also began to punch and kick Topete, using her baton to hit him while also “driving her combat-style boots directly into” Topete’s face and nose, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that Sund put Topete in a choke hold because Topete kept resisting. Topete momentarily passed out and urinated himself, the lawsuit says.
In Johnson’s footage, she is heard later telling other officers, “We’re soaked in blood and urine.”
In a second video, Topete appears to lunge toward the second-floor railing, as medics escort him out of his apartment. Police officers pull him back into his apartment and pin him to the ground. “I didn’t do anything,” Topete says, crying.
“I say we just f—king hobble him and drag his fat ass down there,” an unidentified officer says.
In a third video, an officer questions Topete in a hospital.
“My question to you is, what were you thinking about when you attacked the officers then,” the officer asks.
Topete says he was punched in the face.
But the officer responds that Sund “punched you in the face after you attacked him.” Topete denies this and asks to see the video and the officer says he would eventually view it.
FBI launches civil-rights violations investigations into Mesa police
Topete tried to explain that he couldn’t have attacked the officer because he was sitting on his couch, but the officer doesn’t believe him, the video shows.
“Whatever you want to say, boss,” the officer responds.
“It’s not whatever I want to say. It’s what I remember. I remember getting punched in my … face. And I’m sitting down on the couch,” Topete says in the video. “And yeah, I did struggle because I’m getting beat up. As a human being, you have a reflex of defending yourself or trying to protect yourself when you’re getting beaten up.”
Still, the officer tells Topete he doesn’t believe him.
“Well, that’s all the questions I have for you,” the officer says. “Because obviously, you’re either still intoxicated, so you’re not going to tell the truth.”
Topete responds that he isn’t drunk and ends the conversation by saying he wants to talk to his lawyer.
Preston told The Arizona Republic in a phone interview that the way the officers acted after the attack on Topete was an attempt to try to justify “police brutality.”
Ryan Tait, Topete’s attorney representing him in the criminal case, said he couldn’t comment because the case is pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.
What police say
In an email, Mesa police Detective Nik Rasheta said that the case has been under internal investigation since April when the city of Mesa received a notice of claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit. Rasheta also said that the officers are “working” but couldn’t confirm if they are on patrol.
“This case is currently under investigation by the professional standards unit,” Rasheta said. “We are unable to provide additional information beyond this statement.”
Other use-of-force incidents
In August, an 84-year-old woman sued the city of Mesa, claiming two police officers used excessive force and unlawfully arrested her when they arrived at her house to do a welfare check on her grandson. Her case caught national attention when pictures uploaded on Facebook by her granddaughter went viral.
The FBI is reviewing several use-of-force allegations against Mesa police, according to an Aug. 28 letter sent by a federal agent to the Mesa Police Department.