Lopsided Melee

Man on trial on charges he assaulted three officers during his DUI arrest

Arizona Courts

Arizona Courts Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Officers this week testified that a Payson man they confronted after he drove his car into a wall continued to struggle, curse, kick and spit blood even after three officers wrestled him to the ground and punched him repeatedly in the face, fracturing his eye socket.

Testimony continued all week in the trial of Brandon Lew Lewis, 25, which the Gila County Attorney’s Office has charged with resisting arrest and assaulting Payson Police officers Jesse Davies, Lorenzo Ortiz and Justin Deaton.

All three officers testified that Lewis grew increasingly combative during the Oct. 30, 2011 confrontation, requiring them to forcefully subdue him.

Lewis suffered a fractured eye socket and multiple bruises from the altercation. None of the officers were seriously injured.

Lewis’ defense argued that officers used excessive force, pinning Lewis to the ground and punching him multiple times in the face and on the legs.

The defense also questioned the PPD’s investigation, especially the failure to preserve video tape from the county jail, where officers say Lewis continued trying to kick officers.

The case centers on the night before Halloween.

Lewis, who later admitted to officers he had been drinking, was driving to his apartment on West Frontier Street when he struck a low concrete retaining wall with his red pickup.

He called a friend and they used chains to pull the truck from the wall.

A neighbor across the street, who testified Thursday, watched the events unfold from her yard. She said Officer Jesse Davies arrived and started speaking with Lewis.

She testified she then heard yelling and saw Lewis lunge toward Davies, his arms up like he would strike. She said Lewis appeared very agitated and aggressive.

Others officers arrived and helped.

Officer Deaton testified that he hung back when he first arrived at the scene and watched as Davies gave Lewis a field sobriety test. However, when Lewis cursed at Davies and moved toward him, he and Ortiz positioned themselves on either side of Lewis, Deaton testified.

When Lewis refused to take his hand out of his pocket and started to walk away from the officers, Ortiz grabbed Lewis’ arm and put him in a control hold, Davies testified.

Deaton grabbed Lewis’ other arm. As he grabbed the hand, however, Lewis’ fist grazed Deaton’s nose, not injuring him.

The officers wrestled Lewis to the ground where Ortiz testified he sat on Lewis’ chest to stop his flailing and kicking.

Lewis screamed and struggled and Ortiz said he punched Lewis with a closed fist then waited to see if Lewis would stop.

“He continued to struggle with us, trying to break free from us by kicking and swinging,” said Ortiz’s police report. “We all gave Lewis commands to stop resisting and fighting ... I hit Lewis in the face twice more with my fist and twice more with my elbow and during that time I was giving him commands to stop resisting arrest.”

Defense attorney Michael Harper questioned why officers had used such force with a man that had only mouthed off and refused to take his hand out his pocket.

Deaton said Lewis was very hostile. After cuffing Lewis, officers walked him to a patrol vehicle with blood on his face.

“We separated his feet and Lewis began to hit his head onto Officer Deaton’s hood multiple times,” Ortiz wrote in a police report. ”I tried stopping him by grabbing his head, but he pulled away.” The impact from Lewis’ head left a dent in the police SUV, which remains today, Harper pointed out.

Ortiz said Lewis spit blood at him and Davies before they placed him in the back of a patrol vehicle.

Once at the Gila County Jail, officers testified Lewis continued to resist, flailing and cursing.

Sgt. Donny Garvin, who arrived at the jail just as officers escorted Lewis in, testified he saw Lewis “horse kick” at Davies and Ortiz up to the door.

At the jail’s front door, officers pinned Lewis to the wall until the door opened, then brought him straight back to a cell, bypassing the booking room.

Sgt. Jason Hazelo testified that when he arrived at the jail, he could hear Lewis yelling.

When Lewis saw Hazelo, however, he immediately calmed down. Hazelo, an acquaintance of Lewis’ stepfather, said he knew Lewis from non-police related work. Crying, Lewis told Hazelo he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

Lewis refused medical attention, saying he just wanted to sleep. Hazelo had Lewis sign a medical attention release form and brought him back to his cell.

A month after the incident, Harper sent Garvin a letter asking him to preserve all evidence related to the case.

On Thursday, Harper asked Garvin if he had secured video surveillance from the jail that night. Garvin said he hadn’t and wasn’t sure the jail had operating cameras at the time, since the system had frequent glitches. He also said he didn’t know where the jail cameras were located.

Swede Carlson, with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, said four cameras would have likely documented at least half of the officers’ movements with Lewis that night.

However, the jail tapes over video footage every three days. Harper sent the letter to Garvin several weeks after the incident, long after the footage was gone.

Harper asked Garvin Thursday if he “condoned” the officers’ actions, including officer Ortiz, who delivered the most blows to Lewis’ face. Garvin, who was the acting supervisor that night, said he did. He added officers have discretion on how they subdue a combative person. He said the force used was necessary and justified.

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