Police in Mesa, AZ, are defending their conduct during a recent arrest after a video was released that appeared to show two officers violently beating a black man for an alleged minor traffic offense.
Warning: graphic footage
During a Wednesday press conference, Jason Michael Barton, 35, claimed he was crossing the street on the evening of June 19, when two officers approached and accused him of jaywalking.
“They pulled up on me and said I was jaywalking,” Barton told reporters outside the Mesa Police Department. “I was saying, ‘I wasn’t jaywalking,’ and I said because ‘the light turned quick. The hand signal turned quick, so I was in there while it was blinking.”
Barton claimed he was tackled to the ground, and punched and kneed by the officers, with one allegedly telling him, “you’re lucky you’re alive and not dead,” during the arrest.
Jonathan Jimenez, a nearby motorist who filmed the arrest, told the Arizona Republic that he was shocked by what he saw.
“I was disgusted,” Jimenez explained. “You see all these videos on the internet and you usually get the middle of it but you don’t see the beginning. I usually think, ‘What did the guy do to deserve it?’ but I saw what happened and I know the guy didn’t deserve it, especially for a jaywalking violation.”
Mesa police, however, claim Barton was taken into custody for resisting arrest, and not a simple jaywalking charge.
“The force that they went after him with had nothing to do with jaywalking,” Mesa police representative Steve Berry explained to Fox10 News. “It had to do with an individual running from a lawful detention.”
According to the police department, Barton had been asked to stop by the arresting officers, and instead had turned to run. Fox10 News reported that, in blurry body-camera footage released by police, Barton can allegedly be seen moving away from the officers. Berry also claimed that, while on the ground, Barton attempted to reach for a bag of marijuana in his waistband—a move he said police interpreted as possibly reaching for a gun.
But, Barton maintained, he was never given a verbal command to stop, and was following his instinct to “move out of the way” when he saw the oncoming police. According to Fox10, the footage released by the Mesa PD does not contain audio for the first 30 seconds while the body cameras buffered, making it impossible to confirm whether or not a verbal “stop” command was given.
Footage of Barton’s arrest has prompted civil rights activists to speak out on his behalf, with many planning to attend a mass protest against the incident on Thursday evening.
“We are embarking on what I believe is an ambitious plan to cause gridlock and shut down major arterial streets in the city,” the Rev. Jarrett Maupin explained to KTAR. Maupin also appeared with Barton and his family in a short video posted to the Facebook group “Save Black Lives,” where he compared the violent arrest to attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, and beatings experienced during the civil rights era in the south.
“When you look at that video, it’s a black and white, classic, textbook case of police brutality and excessive force,”Maupin told KTAR. “There’s just no other way to describe it.”
According to Fox10, Barton had an existing warrant out for his arrest. The station claims that Mesa police have opened an internal investigation into the incident.