Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista, who led an embattled department that faced multiple investigations for their use of force, abruptly resigned from his post, Arizona’s Mesa Police Association said Monday.
“Chief Batista’s resignation marks the third leadership transition in less than a decade for our department,” the officers union said. “We look forward to working with the city council and city management to find a long-term chief who will serve our city well.”
The chief was praised by some for the reforms he implemented within a department already under scrutiny over allegations of excessive force, including a policy he enacted following the beating of a 33-year-old man by five police officers.
Batista said he was “disappointed” after he watched the May 2018 video of the incident and placed a sergeant and three officers on administrative leave. He also said he’d issue a special directive forbidding his officers from hitting someone in the head “unless they are showing us active aggression.”
The chief also “worked very hard on expanding the training for a lot of our field officers” and worked on updating that training, City Manager Chris Brady said Monday.
“He has opened up a door of transparency that was needed,” Pastor Andre Miller, a community leader, told CNN affiliate KNXV. “I believe that he has implemented a lot of policies that were needed — for instance, striking someone in the head only if they are showing signs of aggression.”
But some of Batista’s officers said they felt betrayed by his comments and felt the officers involved in the incident were convicted by the chief in the court of public opinion, the police association said.
The Scottsdale Police Department, which was tapped to investigate the Mesa officers’ conduct after the beating incident, later said “no criminal charges are warranted against the involved officers as the use of force was legally authorized and justified under Arizona State Law.”
Since then, Batista became a target of calls for him to resign. Police unions even put up billboards over the summer calling for a new leader, the affiliate reported.
“For him to come out as strong as he did right out of the shoot and attack the officers in an emotional manner really began the erosion of any confidence in him as a police chief,” former Mesa police officer Bill Richardson told CNN affiliates KPHO and KTVK.
Mounting pressure took a toll on chief, official says
The 2018 beating was one of three incidents that came to light in the summer of 2018, in which Mesa officers were caught aggressively handling citizens on camera.
Two of the incidents, including the May 2018 beating, prompted the chief to ask the Police Executive Research Forum to “conduct a comprehensive and fully independent investigation looking into our use of force events over the past three years, as well as our policies, procedure and training.”
But mounting pressure eventually took a toll on Batista, City Manager Chris Brady said Monday.
“Being a police chief in a major city and certainly with the amount of the different types of activities and issues that face police departments in the last couple years, it wears on you,” he said. “I think he just felt like this was a good time to move on.”
A statement from the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police Monday said the organization wanted to “express its gratitude to the City of Mesa’s city management team for bringing closure to a strained two-year period” by the chief.
But city manager Brady said no city or elected leaders had asked Batista to resign.
“All of us and .. (the city council) were surprised by this decision he made. He will be missed,” Brady said. “His service and certainly his connection with the community will be missed.”
Benjamin Taylor, an attorney who represented the 33-year-old beaten by officers last year, told KNXV that whoever gets the job next, “if they have a good heart, they can clear up the culture here.”