The Phoenix Police Department said it purposely used the “element of surprise” to tackle a man to the ground while he was on a public sidewalk and giving a media interview to the Arizona Mirror during a Friday night protest.
The man tackled, 62-year-old Jorge Soria, was taken into custody — along with 15 other people — for unlawful assembly and blocking a public thoroughfare. Both are misdemeanors charges and were tossed out by a municipal judge on Saturday.
Police spokeswoman Mercedes Fortune said in a statement Tuesday the use of force and arrest in Soria’s case was within policy.
“The force used to arrest Mr. Soria was within policy,” Fortune said. “Mr. Soria was holding a flag stick, and in order to prevent the use of the stick as a weapon against them, the officers used the force necessary to take him into custody.”
Soria was a holding a Soviet Union flag on a stick in one hand. In the other, he had a sign that he told the Mirror read, “Police — Heroes. No. Child killers. Yes.”
He said on Tuesday his arrest was illegal.
Soria was among the last people remaining at the July 12 protest. He was being interviewed by the Mirror, but the conversation was interrupted by a man associated with the right-wing group AZ Patriots. The man, with a gun holstered to his hip, had been arguing and confronting protesters throughout the demonstration.
(AZ Patriots is being sued for disrupting church volunteers welcoming migrant mothers, fathers and children recently released from federal custody.)
The interview resumed a short time later. Soria had his back turned to the police line, which was several feet away from him. Moments later, a police officer tackled Soria into a puddle.
Fortune explained that Soria and another man “appeared to be involved in a verbal argument.”
“Officers prepared an arrest team and utilized the element of surprise to arrest both Mr. Soria and the other man who had been seen arguing with Mr. Soria in the area,” she said.
But police did not arrest the man that had yelled at Soria during his interview with the Mirror. Instead, they arrested Phil Martinez, who was walking away. The man who had been yelling during the interview cheered Soria’s arrest and walked away without incident after the police tackled Soria.
He was also live-streaming the protest on YouTube.
When asked for clarification, Fortune said, “It was my understanding that there were several males involved in an argument with Mr. Soria and that one of them was arrested.”
Soria and Martinez said they were not arguing with each other. The Mirror didn’t observe that either.
The Phoenix New Times reported Thursday that Soria’s arrest does not seem to have followed use of force protocol.
The Phoenix Police Department’s use of force policy states that force is only warranted when “all other alternatives have been reasonably considered and cannot be employed in a safe manner based on the totality of circumstances.”
The department’s own policy does not appear to justify the officer’s actions in this case, given that Soria was not a threat at the time of his arrest and the officer did not speak with Soria or make any reasonable attempt to detain him prior to tackling him to the ground.
Here is the full statement from Phoenix Police Department spokeswoman Mercedes Fortune on Soria’s arrest:
On July 12, 2019 at approximately 7:45 p.m., in the area of 2000 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix Police officers assisted event organizers with the Lights for Liberty event.
Events like this bring together the community, police and fire personnel. All three entities work together and meet in order to keep everyone safe. There had been an understanding of a pre-determined location for community members to exercise their first amendment rights. At approximately 8:00 p.m., that understanding was altered when a group walked onto north Central Avenue and blocked the roadway. Eventually this large group began walking south on Central Avenue and at one point blocked a vehicles from traveling north.
As you can imagine this caused a quick reaction from police officers in order to keep hundreds of people, including the group, commuters and drivers safe. The metro light rail was active and trains were traveling along Central Avenue. Officers quickly formed a police line in an attempt to stop any further disruption to the light rail and roadway traffic. Almost simultaneously, in accordance with protocol, officers began announcing messages in both English and Spanish for individuals to leave the area.
As you are aware, eventually the group of individuals which sat on the light rail tracks were taken into custody, along with four other individuals. Mr. Soria and a few others continued to remain even after the majority of the group had left. Prior to the arrests, officers had announced over 100 times the request and order for the individuals to leave the area, roadway and light rails. Almost an hour and a half later, Mr. Soria and another individual were still seen in the area and now appeared to be involved in a verbal argument.
Officers prepared an arrest team and utilized the element of surprise to arrest both Mr. Soria and the other man who had been seen arguing with Mr. Soria in the area. The force used to arrest Mr. Soria was within policy. Mr. Soria was holding a flag stick and in order to prevent the use of the stick as a weapon against them, the officers used the force necessary to take him into custody.