An Arizona sheriff’s deputy has been placed on administrative leave after disturbing cellphone video footage surfaced showing the deputy tackling and pinning a 15-year-old quadruple amputee to the ground. The incident sparked an internal affairs investigation by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and a spokesman for the sheriff’s department said Deputy Manuel Van Santen was placed on leave pending the investigation.
The Sept. 26 incident started when the 15-year-old, who was in a group home after being abandoned by his family, allegedly knocked over a garbage can and verbally threatened a worker. Van Santen was called to the group home to restore order. In the video, Van Santen is seen holding the boy down for more than a minute as the teen struggles to break free. The deputy is shown in the video kneeling next to the amputee and putting the teen in a headlock. The teen can be heard becoming more upset, asking the deputy not to hold him down.
When Van Santen loosened his grip, the boy attempted to break free but did not get far before the deputy tackled him, wrapping his arms around the teen to subdue him. Eventually, the boy stops protesting and the officer lets him get up, asking him what his problem is, and why he kept moving when he was told not to move. As the 15-year-old insists he doesn’t have a problem and only threw a trash can, the deputy gets louder, bending over so that his face is inches away from the teenager’s as he yells and swears at him.
The teen recording says to the deputy, “Hey, you asked him a question, and he answered,” he tells the deputy. “Shut the hell up!” the deputy snaps back. He orders the teen out of the room and the boy responds that he can’t eat his cereal in his room. The deputy storms over, screaming at him to stay out of something that doesn’t involve him. “You shut the hell up!” he yells again. Both teens were arrested on disorderly conduct charges but Arizona prosecutors dropped disorderly conduct charges against the quadruple amputee.
Pima County public defender Joel Feinman said the incident likely would not have come to light if it had not been recorded by another teen living in the home since Van Santen was not wearing a body camera. It is not clear how long the incident lasted, as the 8 minute video began in the middle of the struggle. Feinman said the 16-year-old boy who recorded the incident had his head pushed into a wall by deputies during the incident. “These are kids who have already been traumatized in some way,” Feinman, whose office is representing both boys. “Men with badges should not be acting this way,” Feinman told the television station. “Men and women who do act this way should not have badges and guns.”
Feinman stated that given that Immanuel has no legs and is missing most of his arms — and wasn’t even wearing a shirt, making it unlikely that he could have somehow been hiding a concealed weapon –it is hard to fathom that he posed a threat to “this very large policeman with a badge and a gun.” Regardless of what the teenager said to the officer, he argues, the better response would have been to sit down and try to de-escalate the situation.