Five Mesa police officers who were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a criminal investigation in connection with an incident at a Mesa motel that involved a fetus being flushed down a toilet are back to work, but an internal investigation into the matter has begun.
Bryan Soller, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge No. 9, said Wednesday the union received word from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office that it will not seek criminal charges against the officers involved in the June 1 incident.
After agreeing to review its policies at the request of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the Mesa Police Department did agree to change how it handles the disposal of fetuses, according to a statement issued Thursday by the county attorney’s office. From now on, if police officers come across fetal remains as the result of a miscarriage, officers will alert the Mesa Fire Department, which has the experience in the appropriate handling of such remains, the office said.
The county attorney’s office concluded that the incident reflects the need for additional training and more sensitive procedures.
“It’s hoped the new Mesa police policies will prevent any further troubling incidents,” said Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. “We thank the department for bringing this matter to our attention and for its cooperation.”
Early June 1, Mesa police and fire crews responded to a medical call at the Motel 6 at 336 W. Hampton Ave. that turned into a drug-related arrest of Allen Coleman, 48. Officers also discovered that Raeann Bell, 24, had miscarried a 4-inch fetus that was 12 to 14 weeks old.
After a police officer contacted a supervisor, a decision was made by another officer to flush the fetus down the toilet, according to a Mesa police report. Management at the motel had requested that the fetus be discarded, according to the report.
An internal investigation into the matter now has begun to determine whether any of the officers violated department policy or did anything wrong during the incident, Soller said. The officers were allowed to return to their jobs last week, according to Soller.
“We’re very happy about the ruling, and we’re moving forward with the investigation,” Soller said. “We know that no criminal charges will be filed, and that’s a good thing. We never believed there was any criminal intent on the part of the officers. It’s always nice when the county attorney’s office agrees with us. That’s a good thing. The county attorney’s office talked to the medical examiner’s office about the fetus, and they said that no crime had been committed.”
According to state law, the death of a fetus must be reported to the county medical examiner’s office when it has been carried for a term of 20 weeks or more and weighs more than 350 grams.
Overall, three officers responded to the incident and two other supervisors were involved in the call, according to police.
Mesa police officers Nicholas Webster, Kristen Johnson and Robert Buquo responded to the incident, and acting Sgt. Glenn Pearson and Lt. Lynn Young also were involved, according to a Mesa police report released June 11.
Four Mesa fire personnel also were on the scene and were asked whether they wanted to take the fetus, and they said no, according to a Mesa police report.
Bell, who said she miscarried the baby after 12 weeks, was not arrested, but she was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Webster described the fetus as being inside a white, blood-soaked paper towel and lying on a table in the room, according to a police report.
Pearson told Webster not to take the fetus because there were no charges being sought against Bell, and Buquo stated in the report that after he took pictures of the fetus, “I took the paper towel and fetus into the bathroom, I placed the paper towel with the fetus into the toilet and flushed it.”
In the report released June 11, one of the officers said the fetus “looked as if it had two small eyes and some small arms,” and that hours after her miscarriage, a woman in the room had a syringe in her hand and was about to “shoot up” when officers knocked on the door.
Webster remains under investigation for possible use of excessive force in an unrelated incident. In that case, Webster held down a 21-year-old man on the back windshield of a police cruiser before he pushed him into a chain-link fence inside the department’s inmate booking area on May 16.
Mesa police Chief George Gascón released a video to the media in June that shows the incident between Webster and the man, who was arrested on suspicion of urinating in public and jaywalking.
Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association, a second union that represents police officers, including Webster, said he believes Webster’s actions were justified because he was protecting himself from the suspect advancing on him. Cota contends the man intentionally hit the door of the cruiser with his shoulder causing the door to hit Webster after they exchanged words.
“In my book, that’s an assault,” Cota said. “What I see him (Webster) doing is trying to control the situation by not allowing the suspect to take further action. Webster put an end to his actions by grabbing him by the back of the neck and by taking him to the back of the car. Just because a person is handcuffed doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you.”
Cota said his association took issue with Gascón for releasing the video before the investigation was completed.
“People need to wait until the conclusion of the investigation and not be quick to judge,” Cota said.