Joshua Bowling | Arizona Republic
Troy Warren for MesaNewsAndTalk.Com
Three years before the U.S. Department of Justice would open an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department, the feds launched a pair of probes into a fatal shooting and three use-of-force cases in the Mesa Police Department. There’s no word on where those investigations stand.
The probe in Phoenix — much like recent ones opened in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky — is focused on systemic issues, investigating a “pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.” The Mesa investigations were much more narrow, focused on specific officers and use-of-force cases, Arizona Police Association Executive Director Joe Clure said.
“It’s intended (in Phoenix) to be broad, it’s intended to be a moving target,” he said.
The broad goal of an inquiry like the one in Phoenix is to look at the departments from top to bottom to examine systemic issues, cultural challenges, training problems and internal mechanisms for accountability, according to Tom Perez, a former assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights under former President Barack Obama.
The Mesa investigations were far more specific.
How the Mesa investigations were different
In March 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a civil-rights violation investigation against a former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man and was later acquitted of murder. Later that year, the FBI opened a probe into three use-of-force cases in Mesa.
The 2018 probes in Mesa were focused on specific people and incidents.
“They were not looking at systemic problems in the agency,” said Andre Miller, a Mesa pastor who was part of a committee that met regularly in 2019 and 2020 to review improvements for when Mesa police use force. “They were looking to see if there were specific civil rights violations.”
The probes into Mesa started under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Donald Trump appointee. Former Attorney General William Barr, appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate in 2019, cut back on the department’s ability to oversee local police departments.
Miller pointed to the Trump administration’s “hands-off” attitude toward local police as a reason why the investigations in Mesa have dragged on for years. He said he’s not sure anything will ever come of the probes.
Clure agrees that the investigations in Mesa will drag on, but sees them as politically motivated probes. Having the feds monitor local police for years costs taxpayers and is a “sophisticated move to defund the police,” he said.
“DOJ doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to do anything,” Clure said.
No word on whether Mesa probes were resolved
Three years after the feds launched investigations into Mesa police officers’ conduct, there is seemingly little to show for it.
The feds requested all of the Police Department’s documents related to the 2016 shooting that killed 26-year-old Texas resident Daniel Shaver. Then-Officer Philip Brailsford shot Shaver, who was unarmed, five times in an east Mesa La Quinta Inn and Suites.
The city recently settled a lawsuit with Shaver’s parents for $1.5 million.
Detective Richard Encinas, a Mesa police spokesperson, said the department has “not been notified of the status of the Brailsford investigation,” nor has the department “been notified of anything related to this case.”
He said the same was true of an FBI investigation into three use-of-force cases launched later that summer. That investigation involved three Mesa police use-of-force cases: five officers punching and kneeing 35-year-old Robert Johnson during an arrest, two officers using expletives and one appearing to grab 15-year-old Gabriel Ramirez’s neck during an arrestand three officers shooting and killing U.S. Army veteran Scott Farnsworth, who pointed a handgun at officers after they told him to drop it, according to a police report.
The Justice Department and FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this article.
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