Former Flagstaff police officer who punched the woman he was arresting in the face said he did nothing morally or ethically wrong during incident. Johanna Huckeba, The Republic | azcentral.com
The former Flagstaff police officer caught on widely circulated video punching a woman in the face said Thursday he is considering a return to law enforcement and stands by his actions.
Speaking to reporters two days after he entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault and sentenced to 18 months probation as part of a deal with prosecutors, Jeffrey Wilson said he misses the job. Though he’s not yet committed to becoming a cop again, he said it’s a distinct possibility he’s mulling over.
“I don’t believe I did anything morally or legally wrong,” Wilson told reporters outside his lawyer’s office in Chandler.
Wilson — whose legal name was Jeffrey Bonar when the incident occurred in November 2016 — will not spend any time in jail as long as he abides by the terms of probation, completes 80 hours of community service and attends anger management counseling.
Upon completion of the terms of the “diversion agreement” with prosecutors, the single misdemeanor charge will be dismissed, Victor said.
That would clear the way for his return to the job.
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board has an open case that has been pending the outcome of the criminal case, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Thursday’s news conference, alongside his attorney Marc J. Victor, was the first public statements he has made on the matter. Wilson’s argument has been that he was kicked in the groin and assaulted by the woman, Marissa Morris.
The punch was not excessive given the totality of the circumstances, Victor and Wilson said.
However, his behavior that afternoon was described as “frazzled” by the men who assisted him in Morris’ arrest. Despite his three years with the department, some said his demeanor was more like that of a rookie officer in his first physical altercation.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair statement,” Wilson said Thursday. “I was tired. It was stressful. I can see maybe why they would say that.”
Wilson had been indicted on two counts of felony aggravated assault in 2017. But the case halted when a judge ordered that it be reexamined by a grand jury, as prosecutors originally put forth a case that excluded evidence favorable to Wilson.
Grand jurors took another look with the potentially exculpatory information and determined there was enough evidence to show Wilson “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” caused physical injury to Morris as “she was bound or otherwise physically restrained or while her capacity to resist was substantially impaired.”
Wilson pleaded not guilty to those felony charges Feb. 8, and the case was headed toward trial before Tuesday’s guilty plea for the lesser misdemeanor assault charge.
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Wilson was placed on administrative leave shortly after bystander video of the Nov. 16, 2016, incident surfaced on Facebook. That video shows Wilson grappling with 30-year-old Morris after he arrived to help a Coconino County Sheriff’s Office deputy serve an eviction notice.
He said he believed a previous warrant for Morris remained active. It wasn’t.
Victor admitted the video appears on its face to be damning evidence of excessive force. But, he said, it only captured part of the incident and was ultimately in line with his training.
“Jeff did exactly what he was trained to do at the police academy,” Victor said Thursday. “He delivered a disruption blow with exactly the amount of force that he was trained to use in this circumstance. Indeed, it did work. And he was able, with the help of another officer, to get her under control and make the arrest that he was entitled to make.”
During the struggle, Wilson can be seen — and heard — punching Morris in the face after she tells him, “You cannot arrest me until I know I have a warrant.”
Wilson resigned after an internal review found him to be in violation of department policies. An independent review headed by Northern Arizona University police criticized his actions.
He was found in breach of six department policies, including using unreasonable and excessive force in the situation and not turning on his body camera. The device captured moments before and after the incident, but not the events that he said transpired too quickly to activate it.
Benjamin Taylor, the attorney representing Morris, said she was saddened by the Thursday news conference. He disputed the alleged assault on the officer and said she was punched “for no reason.”
“Ms. Morris did nothing wrong and former Officer (Wilson) received a deal from the prosecutor that most people do not receive because of his special treatment as a police officer,” Taylor said in a statement. “Officer (Wilson’s) plea of guilty proves that he was wrong.”
Attorneys remain in discussion about an ongoing civil suit, Taylor said.
A Flagstaff police officer has been placed on administrative leave after a video showing him punching a woman in the face surfaced Wednesday on Facebook. Danny Paredes/Special for The Republic Wochit