TUCSON, Ariz. — Advocacy groups and two lawmakers are demanding changes at the Pima County Sheriff's Department after the release of a viral video where a deputy wrestles and pins a limbless teenager to the ground.
The group wrote a letter to the department and governing board urging more non-violent crises intervention training, body cameras, and for the hiring of a representative from the disability community.
“I'm not sure why he felt the need to use force at all in this situation,” said Direct Center for Independence’s Vicki Cuscino.
The Arizona Center for Disability Law, the DIRECT Center for Independence, Ability360, the Alliance for Global Justice and Arizona ADAPT and state representatives Kirsten Engel and Domingo DeGrazia are urging the sheriff's department to require more non-violent crisis intervention training and body cameras.
“I think it is a win-win with law enforcement and body cameras because it protects them as well as the general public,” said Cuscino.
The video recorded secretly by another teen shows Deputy Manuel Van Santen screaming even after the disabled boy has calmed down. He eventually appears to slam that teen's head against a wall.
“What police officers may see as resisting or not complying may very well be a person’s inability to understand what law enforcement is asking or them communicating in the only way they know how,” said Cuscino.
Cuscino says more training and transparency with body cameras could help keep something like this from happening again.
“This was a horrible situation, but I think it is just one situation that is really calling out for an overhaul of a broken system.”
The deputy is on administrative leave. We asked the sheriff's department for a response to the assertion that deputies need more training and the need for body cameras. A spokesperson said they appreciated the organizations for writing the department and understand their concerns, but then pointed to the fact that the investigation is ongoing.
Deputy Manuel Van Staten released a statement last week through his lawyer that there were events before and after the video that warranted his actions and that he followed department protocol
Update 6:11 PM:
The Pima County Sheriff's office later sent us an email: "The Pima County Sheriff’s Department appreciates the opportunity to provide you with a statement. Although I am unable to address those specific questions right now. I do want to give you some information about our process. Upon completion of an administrative investigation, the results could identify policy, equipment, and training needs. As stated in the Sheriff’s letter, we will make no further comment on this matter until the investigation has concluded."
We also received an email from the foster care group home addressing the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association union's statement saying that home is the site of almost daily 911 calls:
You requested information regarding a publicized incident at one of our Foster Care Homes that involved a Sheriff’s Deputy. As I hope you can appreciate, we are limited in what we can say during an ongoing investigation. We are cooperating fully with that investigation and do not want to do anything that would hinder the pursuit of truth.
With that said, I can tell you that our staff are instructed to contact law enforcement if they ever feel concerned for their own safety or feel they are the subject of overt or imminent threats. Similarly, staff are instructed to contact law enforcement to report as missing, any youth who is either absent without approval for more than an hour or is otherwise reasonably considered to be at risk, either themselves or to others. This practice can sometimes lead to police reports when a youth is not actually in danger or their unauthorized absence is later explained by innocent circumstances. We believe it is better to be safe by acting in this manner than be sorry for failing to do so. In addition, we also report to the police when requested by youth in respect of their youth rights, no matter how minor the matter such as a missing item. Nevertheless, in light of the concerns inherent in your questions as they related to the number of calls being made, we are taking a closer look at our practices and are planning to meet with the Sheriff's Department to discuss possible alternatives that would be more beneficial to all interested parties.
Director of Operations, AZ, VisionQuest