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FBI reviewing arrest in Arizona, where officers beat man

The evaluation in Mesa, Arizona, includes a possible civil rights violation by police for punching a man after he refused to sit down.
by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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Editor's Note (Aug. 30, 2018, 6 p.m.): The name of a 15-year-old who was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery was removed from this article. It is the policy of NBC News not to identify minors who are charged with crimes.

The FBI will investigate the use of force by police in two arrests in Mesa, Arizona, including one in which a man was punched by officers who were responding to a complaint about another man, for possible civil rights violations, police said Wednesday.

The federal agency informed the Mesa Police Department on Tuesday about the review, which included the arrest of Robert Johnson, who was seen in surveillance video being punched by police in a May 23 encounter.

The other case centers on the arrest of a 15-year-old boy who the Mesa Police Department said was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery on May 16. Body camera video appears to show an officer threaten to "f--- you up" and place a foot near the back of his neck when the boy was on the ground and handcuffed.

The development comes days after the Scottsdale Police Department, which was called in to conduct the initial investigation, determined that the use of force by officers in Johnson's arrest was justified and recommended no criminal charges.

Johnson, 35, was punched and arrested after police responded to a report of a domestic disturbance involving another man who had allegedly tried to force his way into an ex-girlfriend's apartment. An officer wrote in a report that Johnson refused a request to sit down, and that the officer believed he was preparing for a fight.

Charges against Johnson were later dismissed by a judge at the request of prosecutors.

Johnson’s attorney, Benjamin Taylor, said in a statement Wednesday that he was pleased the FBI was looking into the use of force in the incident, which he called a case of police brutality.

"We hope that the FBI will do a fair investigation and help clean up the Mesa Police Department’s culture of hurting citizens and give justice to Mr. Robert Johnson," Taylor said in a statement.

A Mesa police public information officer said in an email that an internal investigation into Johnson's arrest is continuing, and the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.

Scottsdale police said in a statement Monday that in addition to surveillance video, officers' body camera videos "provided additional angles and audio that clarified what actually occurred."

"Based on the totality of the circumstances and all of the evidence in this case, our final determination is that no criminal charges are warranted against the involved officers as the use of force was legally authorized and justified under Arizona State Law," Scottsdale police said.

They added that the case was presented to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which agreed with the conclusion.

Taylor said he intends to file a civil lawsuit.

Prosecutors on Aug, 17 determined that no charges would be filed against the officers in the 15-year-old's arrest, saying state law permits use of reasonable force to effect an arrest.

The probe looked at possible aggravated assault because when a "mandibular," or jawline, pressure point was used the suspect was in handcuffs, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said. The 15-year-old is being prosecuted as an adult, the Arizona Republic reported.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said it made no determination whether the force used in that arrest complied with department policies.

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