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Phoenix officer accused of misconduct after woman says she was injured during traffic stop

Mariah Valenzuela was stopped by a Phoenix officer for allegedly driving on the wrong side of the street. She says the arrest left her with injuries.
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An Arizona woman is accusing a police officer of misconduct after he allegedly slammed her to the ground and shoved her against a car during a January arrest, leaving her with injuries.

Mariah Valenzuela, 23, was stopped by Phoenix police officer Michael McGillis just before midnight on Jan. 16 for allegedly driving on the wrong side of a city street, according to a police report.

Police body-camera video obtained by NBC News shows her pulling over in a parking lot and getting out of her car as McGillis approaches. The video was also obtained by NBC affiliate KPNX in Phoenix

The videos obtained by NBC News, which have not been publicly released by police, appear to be the complete footage of the arrest.

The officer asks for Valenzuela's license, and she says she doesn't have it on her, the body-cam video shows.

"Do you have any ID on you?" the officer asks, one of his repeated requests for her ID.

Valenzuela turns toward her car, then asks McGillis why she was pulled over, the video shows. McGillis does not appear to respond.

The officer then attempts to arrest Valenzuela and yells for her to put her hands behind her back.

Valenzuela starts screaming and repeatedly asks why she is being arrested as the officer takes her to the ground, according to the video.

Mariah Valenzuela indicates where she sustained an injury in footage recorded by a police-worn body camera in Phoenix on Jan. 17, 2020.
Mariah Valenzuela indicates where she sustained an injury in footage recorded by a police-worn body camera in Phoenix on Jan. 17, 2020.Courtesy James Palestini

"What did I do? ... What did you tackle me? You tackled me for no reason," she says.

McGillis picks Valenzuela up off the ground and then appears to shove her against her car. "Why don't you act like a young lady?" he says.

Valenzuela accuses the officer of manhandling her. "You act like I'm a f---ing threat. You serious?" she says before the officer leads her to the back of a police vehicle.

Video showed that Valenzuela had a bruise on the top of her head that was bleeding as well as injuries to her hand and face.

McGillis could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Valenzuela's attorney, James Palestini, told NBC News in a phone interview Wednesday that when the officer decided to arrest Valenzuela, "he immediately grabs her and throws her on the ground violently, causing her some pretty nasty injuries."

He said his client "had several abrasions, cuts. There was some bleeding as well and the vessels in her eye, they were damaged."

She received medical treatment at the scene, Palestini said.

Ann Justus, a police spokesperson, said in a statement that McGillis repeatedly asked Valenzuela for identification, but she refused.

"Due to Valenzuela failing to provide her identification as she was legally required to do, despite the three opportunities Officer McGillis provided her, the decision was made to place her under arrest for the misdemeanor violation," the statement read.

"Officer McGillis asked Valenzuela to put her hands behind her back. Up to this point, even though she refused to provide her identification, Officer McGillis and Valenzuela had a cordial exchange, and he did not believe she would suddenly become uncooperative. Officer McGillis then attempted to place her in handcuffs," the statement continued.

"Valenzuela immediately became uncooperative and actively resisted the lawful arrest by pulling away and refusing to place her hands behind her back," the statement said, adding that McGillis took Valenzuela to the ground "for the safety of both the Officer and Valenzuela."

"Due to Valenzuela actively resisting the arrest, it took Officer McGillis one minute and twenty-seven seconds to place both hands in handcuffs," the statement read. "When Officer McGillis thought she had calmed down enough to stand up, he helped her up and they began walking towards a vehicle when she began yelling again. Officer McGillis pushed her against her car to stop her from resisting again."

Officers wrote in a police report that Valenzuela smelled of alcohol and marijuana. She admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana, the report states. The police report also says that Valenzuela has a medical marijuana card.

Palestini said his client's blood-alcohol content came back as .043, which is below the legal limit of .08 in the state.

Valenzuela was arrested and charged with several misdemeanors, including driving under the influence. She was also charged with felony resisting arrest.

Her attorney said Wednesday that all of the charges were dismissed Tuesday. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office confirmed that the resisting arrest charge was dismissed.

A phone call to the City of Phoenix Prosecutor's Office, which police said is handling the DUI and misdemeanor charges, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Valenzuela's lawyer said, "I think the thing that shocked her the most was seeing everything that's going on on TV in the news. And now she's like, 'That's me too, now.'"

He said Valenzuela plans to sue the police department over the misconduct allegation.

Another body-camera video from the scene, that was obtained by NBC News, and which is apparently from after Valenzuela's arrest, shows a different officer calling a supervisor and saying that he's going to write a use-of-force report.

"She's like super emotional, super Looney Tunes," the officer says about Valenzuela.

The supervisor tells the officer "just to CYA ourselves," an apparent acronym for "cover your a--."

The police spokesperson's statement to NBC News acknowledged the supervisor's comment and said he was "directing the officers to complete a Use of Force Report."

Police said in a statement obtained by KPNX, "The Phoenix Police Department takes allegations of misconduct seriously and the complaints are investigated thoroughly. In these investigations, body worn camera footage is reviewed and documented ... The incident was reviewed by the Professional Standards Bureau and no police violations were found."

The statement to NBC News on Wednesday said Officer McGillis has no other sustained allegations of misconduct within the last five years.

The Phoenix Police Department fired an officer last year after he pointed a gun at Dravon Ames, his fiancée and their children while they were in their car.

The confrontation with the police began after the officer accused the couple's daughter of taking a doll from a Family Dollar store.