A Flagstaff police officer has resigned after an internal review found him to be in violation of department policies and an independent report released Wednesday criticized his actions in punching a woman he was trying to arrest, authorities said.
Officer Jeff Bonar resigned after the department recommended his termination, Flagstaff Police Chief Kevin Treadway said at a news conference Wednesday.
Treadway said Bonar was found to be in violation of six department policies, including using unreasonable and excessive force in the situation and not turning on his body camera.
Flagstaff police also received a copy of an independent investigation critical of Bonar’s actions shortly after the Northern Arizona University Police Department submitted it to the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.
Treadway said he met with Bonar to discuss the findings Tuesday and that Bonar was to return Wednesday to be terminated and to meet with officials to talk about the situation. However, Bonar called in at about 9:30 a.m. to say he would be resigning, Treadway said.
“I believe both parties, Miss (Marissa) Morris and Officer Bonar, had options in this case,” Treadway said, adding that Bonar held the majority of the blame for the physical altercation.
Bonar faces the possibility of charges against him pending a decision by the Mohave County Attorney’s Office, which has been asked by the Coconino County’s Office to review the NAU police report. There are no standing charges against Morris.
Studying the video, reports
The Nov. 16 altercation between Bonar and Morris of Flagstaff has been under scrutiny for weeks.
Bonar was placed on administrative leave shortly before the incident was captured on camera and posted on Facebook. Bonar had gone to Morris’ home that afternoon to help a Coconino County sheriff’s deputy serve an eviction notice, but he ended up arresting Morris on suspicion of aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
In his report, he wrote that he believed Morris had a warrant out for her arrest and he was trying to apprehend her when she began to struggle, kicking him multiple times in the groin and knees. His strikes to her face in return were “distraction blows,” he wrote.
The NAU police investigation into Bonar’s actions was conducted by Sgt. Michael O’Hagan, who concluded that the two fist strikes to Morris` face “do not appear to be reasonable, or necessary to make the arrest, in accordance with Officer Bonar’s department policy or state law.”
In the 36 pages of documents obtained by The Republic on Wednesday afternoon, O’Hagan detailed several interviews he conducted with Bonar, Morris and witnesses to the incident, along with reviews of the different body-camera footage that Flagstaff police made available.
Neither Coconino Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Bill Rackly nor Deputy Joel Winchester, who had been at the scene with Bonar, corroborated his claims. Neither of them observed Morris assaulting Bonar as he depicted in his report.
A witness said he didn’t see Morris make contact with Bonar from where he stood, but said he saw Bonar react in a way as if he had been hit in the groin, the report said.
Bonar contended in his interview with O’Hagan that Morris’ assaults came before the video was recording.
O’Hagan described in the report how Winchester had one of Morris’ arms, Bonar the other, and that another officer was en route. The level of force shown by Bonar was not necessary to make the arrest, the NAU report said.
O’Hagan defined Morris’ behavior as “defensive resistance,” as she was hiding her hands and breaking free from Bonar’s grip. Nothing on the video was able to support that she was using “active aggression,” he wrote.
“Marissa in the video does not appear to rise to the levels … according to (Flagstaff police) policy … it would prohibit the officer from ‘head and neck strikes,’ ” O’Hagan stated.
Morris’ reaction to the strikes is described to be of shock; she stands still with her mouth open as she does not retaliate.
“I watched the video, and after slowing it down and zooming in, found that the skin-colored flash that everyone thought was Marissa kicking or kneeling Officer Bonar just prior to this punch, was actually her hand as she struggled to break free from Officer Bonar,” O’Hagan wrote.
Bonar’s behavior under scrutiny
Bonar’s behavior that afternoon was described as “frazzled” by the men who assisted him in Morris’ arrest. Despite his experience, his demeanor was described as more like that of a rookie officer in his first physical altercation.
Records obtained by The Republic show Bonar was hired by the Flagstaff Police Department on Dec. 30, 2013, and completed his training May 8, 2014.
Winchester reported that he arrived in the area that afternoon to assist in a “lock out,” an eviction in which the residents were asked to be removed immediately. He said he requested Flagstaff police send an officer in case he needed assistance.
He said that Bonar was not familiar with a “lock out,” and that he took time to explain the situation to him before they made contact with a man in the area.
Winchester said he didn’t anticipate any issues in the process when the man was cooperative. However, in that moment, Bonar observed a woman walking by and Bonar said he had a warrant for her arrest.
A warrant for Morris’ arrest had been issued for failure to appear in court on a DUI violation, but it was no longer active at the time of the incident. According to court records, Morris had been cited for a DUI in March.
While he couldn’t hear what they were saying, Winchester said he observed the woman, Morris, shake her head before she turned to leave or go inside the residence. He said Bonar then reached out and grabbed her by the arm and detained her, preventing her from going further.
Winchester then described that the two walked further up the driveway, where they ended up in a “confined space” between a vehicle and porch. As he approached them, Winchester said the struggle ensued.
Bonar was trying to explain that Morris had a warrant but Morris denied that she did, the report stated. Bonar then grabbed her wrists and tried to place them behind her, but Morris continued to struggle as Bonar asked her to comply.
When Winchester asked Morris not to fight, she replied that she wasn’t, as she continued to resist.
Then he saw Bonar pull out a stun gun and that it came between all three of them, the report said.
Morris saw the stun gun as well. She backed up and said, “Oh, no,” Winchester said.
Then he saw Bonar’s fist make contact with her chin.
While Winchester said Morris was surprised at this, he said that the punch “didn’t seem to have much effect on her,” as she continued to resist.
Bonar brought out his handcuffs and the two men worked together to successfully place them on her wrists.
Rackley said he arrived and approached as both Bonar and Winchester were in struggling with Morris. He described how the officers were in a “tight area” and that the people on the porch were yelling and looking down at them, making him concerned from an officer safety position.
Asked if he observed any resistance from Morris, Rackley explained there was pushing, pulling and “avoiding anyone taking any control.”
He said Morris made it difficult as she continue to plant her feet in front of her and kick the side of the car as they attempted to place her in the back seat of a patrol car.
“You can’t take me … there is no warrant,” Rackley said Morris repeated.
Bonar defends actions in interview with NAU investigator
In his interview with O’Hagan, Bonar cited Morris’ “erratic behavior” and the fact that he was larger than her and he was losing the fight, unable to detain her. He stated he believed she was stimulated by drugs. He explained how Morris’s “jitteryness and the erratic yelling,” appeared to him that she was on something, along with her dilated pupils.
Bonar said he definitely remembered being struck twice by her knee, once in the leg and again in the groin. He said Morris was kicking and probably striking him, although the blows weren’t significant or painful, he said.
Bonar said he was struggling for a minute before Winchester arrived to assist him. He said for he struggled with Morris’ hands as she tried to conceal them.
Bonar demonstrated how he placed his hands on Morris’ neck, with his right arm up and his hand cocked to the right with his thumb up and open away from himself
He said the tactic was to create distance.
“It wasn’t a choke, it wasn’t a strike, it was just part of the struggle of me trying to get away from her,” he said.
Bonar said he struck Morris then two times, with a short pause between the two punches. The first contact “got the effect he wanted,” he said, although he said he only used 30 percent of his available power.
His goal was “whatever the case may be to help me win the fight,” Bonar said.
After the strikes were delivered, Bonar said he thought the men on the porch was going to join the melee, so he drew his stun gun and activated it. He said he threatened to use it, but did not intend to.
On the way to the jail, Bonar said Morris kept talking about how she didn’t have warrants and couldn’t be arrested. He said he was finally able to run her name through dispatch once he got the the jail.
Bonar described how he struggled to breathe after the exchange with Morris, and that he considered calling for the medics on the drive over to the jail. But once he caught his breath, he said, he notified his supervisor about what had occurred, he said.
Morris’ attorney Benjamin Taylor weighed in after the police reports were reviewed and Bonar’s resignation was announced.
“Officer Bonar caused Ms. Morris physical and emotional harm. We are glad that NAU did a fair and complete investigation,” Taylor said. “We will pursue justice for Ms. Morris.”