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Union casts no-confidence vote against Mesa police chief

June 6, 2019
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FILE - This June 8, 2018 file photo shows Ramon Batista, the police chief of Mesa, Ariz. The union representing police employees in Mesa has cast an overwhelming no-confidence vote against Batista for what the union's president said was the chief's condemnation of officers investigated on excessive-force allegations and unwillingness to listen to officers. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The union for police employees in Mesa has cast an overwhelming no-confidence vote against Chief Ramon Batista, a decision the group’s president said was for condemning officers investigated on excessive-force allegations, being unwilling to listen to officers and driving down morale.

The vote unveiled Wednesday isn’t binding, but union president Nate Gafvert said his group has $30,000 set aside to launch a public relations campaign to get local residents to pressure City Council members to remove Batista.

Gafvert said the problems with Batista started when he publicly condemned officers videotaped in May 2018 punching a man and, in another incident, cursing at and grabbing the collar of a teenager. The union president also said officers have since tried, unsuccessfully, to repair relations with Batista, a former Tucson police administrator who was appointed as Mesa’s chief nearly two years ago.

“He is no longer welcome in the Mesa Police Department,” Gafvert said. “He is no longer welcome in our home, and we would like him to leave.”

The no-confidence vote was made in May, but the tally wasn’t released until Wednesday. Ninety-five percent of the 564 officers and civilian employees who participated in the vote said they had no confidence in the chief, Gafvert said.

Batista released a statement saying his command staff is committed to leading the agency and supporting its officers, but the chief didn’t directly mention the no-confidence vote in his written comments. The police department declined to respond to a follow-up request from The Associated Press for comment from Batista.

The City Council said in a statement that it’s committed to improving relations within the police department. The AP requested an interview with Vice Mayor Mark Freeman, who serves on the City Council, but Mesa spokesman Randy Policar said council members were making no further statements Wednesday about the union’s no-confidence vote.

Gafvert said the majority of City Council isn’t in favor of removing Batista. The union leader said police employees don’t plan a work stoppage if council members don’t get rid of the chief.

In one of the videotaped encounters cited by Gafvert, officers repeatedly punched Robert Johnson, who was unarmed, as he stood against a wall at an apartment complex after he failed to follow their instructions to sit down.

Johnson had accompanied a friend who was picking up his belongings from his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. Someone called 911 and alleged Johnson’s friend had tried to force his way into the apartment and police confronted the men outside an elevator at the complex.

A police report described Johnson as being verbally defiant and confrontational. Johnson has filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force.

In the case of the teenager, officers cursed at the youth and grabbed the collar of his T-shirt. The teen had been arrested on suspicion of armed robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The pair of videotaped encounters prompted Batista to hire an outside attorney to investigate.

In the end, the department, acting on Batista’s recommendation, disciplined several officers involved in the incidents. Two officers are appealing their discipline.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at www.twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.

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