Mesa, AZ Cops get sued by man they burned
February 18, 2013 in Resistance
MESA, Ariz. – Police are put in awful situations every day, and most of the time, we marvel at the way officers handle them. But one man is suing Mesa Police for an arrest that left him horribly burned.
Mesa’s Golfland Sunsplash — a place for fun and family — where memories are made.
On June 10 of last year, Chris Simpson hoped he would create a lasting memory here with his dying father.
But the only lasting things left from that day are horrible scars from burns Chris suffered on hot asphalt after he was taken down in the parking lot by Mesa Police.
“I thought it was over. I thought they were taking me out, you know,” says Chris.
Chris planned to meet his father in the park that day. His father was dying of pancreatic cancer. Chris was in a fragile emotional state.
“I was a little depressed, despondent, I mean I didn’t feel very good about myself. I was depressed.”
He snuck into the park, stole a piece of pizza.
Chris was not on drugs. He wasn’t drunk. But when his father failed to show up, Chris began acting out. He made a scene when he jumped into an inner tube in the lazy river fully clothed.
He made bizarre statements such as, “I’m a lifeguard, and I’m a thousand years old.” And Chris refused to get out of the water.
911 caller: “I’m at Mesa Golfland, I have a gentleman who will not leave the park.
Dispatch: “Where is he at? ”
911 caller: “He’s currently in the lazy river… he has not been confrontational, he’s just not listening.”
Three Mesa Police officers arrived and lifted Chris out of the lazy river. He was not combative, but he would not communicate with them. Officers rolled him out of the park in a wheelchair.
Once outside the gates, Chris repeatedly refused to get into the police car. The police report says Chris was “yelling … he became more angry… he kept stiffening his body… struggling with us, not complying with verbal commands.”
Police cuffed him, they threatened to “hobble” him, and they eventually took him down.
“His hands are handcuffed behind him. If three police officers can’t take somebody with their hands handcuffed behind them and control ‘em well then they need to go back to the police academy,” says attorney Buddy Rake.
It was 102 degrees that day. But the pavement in the parking lot was approaching 130 degrees. Chris was hobbled, a police term for hands cuffed behind his back and hogtied. He estimates he was pressed to the scorching ground for several minutes.
“They knew I was being burned. I told them I was being burned. Repeatedly,” says Chris. “It’s an eternity. I mean I thought I was dead.”
Chris’s lawyer Buddy Rake says it all could have been avoided had officers simply followed proper police procedure.
“The Mesa Police Department training manuals and their in-house protocols specifies in detail how you’re supposed to react when you encounter somebody like Chris,” says Rake.
Mesa Police Chief Ralph Milstead insists his officers did everything by the book that day.
“Once he escalated his level of force to that of physical resistance, head-butting officers, trying to kick the officers, at that point the officers have to take some action,” says Chief Milstead.
The police report indicates officers suspected Chris was suffering from mental illness. The Mesa Police training manual says “empathy is critical (when dealing) with mentally ill individuals. Do not threaten, avoid exciting the individual, command and control techniques can be ‘counterproductive.’”
“Those procedures are written for a reason,” says Rake. “If you just follow them, then you don’t have somebody with the scars over about a third of his body.”
“Do you think any of the officers involved that day went over the top, lost their cool?” we asked.
“Absolutely not, in fact I think they were as cool as could be,” says Chief Milstead.
Once Chris was in the patrol car he was taken to the Mesa Jail.
“I said hospital. They looked at me, they knew right away. They were like, what happened, what did you guys do to this guy? It was evident to the sergeant or whoever was running the jail,” says Chris.
Officers then drove Chris to the hospital.
“Within 10 minutes they had him transported to a medical facility to ensure his immediate treatment,” says Milstead.
These pictures were taken after Chris received skin grafts for his burns. He will be scarred for the rest of his life.
“Have you seen the pictures of the burns on Chris?” we asked.
“Yes absolutely and they are horrible. And obviously this whole thing is tragic, that he was hurt is not good,” says Milstead.
In Chris’s mind, the cops went over the line.
“I think that they did everything within their power to make this as reasonable of an arrest as possible,” says Milstead.
Chris may forgive them, but his attorney is suing Mesa PD for $17 million because of medical expenses. The Mesa City Attorney has indicated they will not settle this case. So it may end up going to trial.
Did Mesa Police do an internal investigation into this incident? They did. It’s still ongoing. But Chief Milstead tells me to this point they’ve uncovered nothing to indicate the officers acted inappropriately. The officers involved have no disciplinary issues in their background.