Former Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista abruptly resigned after enduring a vote of no confidence earlier this year by the Mesa Police Association and criticism for his reaction to two controversial use of force incidents.
Assistant Police Chief Ken Cost was quickly promoted to interim chief by city officials – who praised Batista for his community outreach and for improving training to reduce use of force incidents.
Mayor John Giles noted that Mesa has its lowest crime rate since the 1960s, and said it’s important for residents not to lose perspective by focusing on the controversial incidents.
“We need to step back and reassure ourselves that the Mesa Police Department is a very good police department, that crime is down and that officer use of force is down,’’ Giles said.
“I hold Chief Batista in high regard. This was the chief’s decision. He leaves having accomplished a lot,’’ Giles said.
Giles acknowledged that complaints had been filed against Batista, but he said he did not think some of them were legitimate.
“He was in a situation where he was attacked internally,’’ Giles said. “He was never going to have a particularly long term anyway. He was really coming in at the tail end of his career.’’
Mesa Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Sally Harrison said, “‘I’m sad to see him step down. The Chamber Board appreciates the efforts Chief Batista made and wish him well.”
Batista was hired in July 2017, by Mesa after a 35-year career with the Tucson Police Department.
City Manager Chris Brady said the city was looking at the time for someone with experience who would bring new ideas and communicate well with everyone in the city, including minorities.
Brady echoed Giles in saying that Batista’s short, stormy term was far from a failure.
He said Batista’s clashes with the police association wore on him. At one point, the association posted a billboard in central Mesa calling for Batista’s ouster.
“As much as we assured him that we had his back, I think it just wears on you,’’ Brady said.
“He’s been through some tough times. He decided it was time for him and his whole family to do some different things,’’ Brady said. “He’s done a lot of good things for the city.’’
But while Batista may have pleased the city’s management, it was clear that he poisoned his relationship with rank-and-file officers when he released two controversial videos of some patrolmen’s violent encounters with suspects.
One depicted an officer pummeling a man during a response to a domestic violence incident, punching him three or four times and delivering knee strikes.
Union officials at the time said they thought Batista rushed to judgment on the actions of officers after viewing the controversial videos, without the benefit of an internal affairs investigation.
“I don’t feel our officers were at their best,’’ Batista said at the time he released the video. “I don’t feel this incident went the way it should have went.’’
Batista later hired a national police organization to review Mesa police use of force tactics and enlisted the help of former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley in investigating use of force incidents.
“They are disturbing and they will not be tolerated,’’ he said about the videos during the press conference.
“The actions shown on that video and all these recent videos do not reflect on the vast majority of men and women with the Mesa Police Department,’’ Batista said. “I am angry and deeply disturbed by what I saw in those videos.’’
In tersely worded responses to Batista’s resignation, both the Mesa Police Association and the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police chapter avoided commenting directly on Batista’s departure and instead focused on the future.
“Batista’s departure marks the third leadership transition in less than a decade for our department. We look forward to working with the City Council and city management to finding a long-term chief who will serve our city well,’’ the MPA said in a prepared statement.
Glenn Pearson, the association’s new president, said officers look forward to working with Cost, a longtime Mesa officer who previously commanded the Fiesta District in west Mesa and all patrol operations.
Will Biascoechea, president of the FOP’s Mesa Lodge, said in a prepared statement, “The Mesa Fraternal Order of Police wishes to express its gratitude to the City of Mesa’s city management team for bringing closure to a strained two-year period by former Chief of Police Ramon Batista.’’
John Goodie, a retired Mesa park ranger and longtime civil rights activist, said he was saddened to hear about Batista’s resignation.
“I liked Chief Batista. I thought he was a man of character. I know he believed in good policing,’’ he said.