Tucson police officers’ overall actions were justified in how they dealt with a large crowd after the UA men’s basketball team’s loss in the NCAA tournament, according to a police board of inquiry.

However, the board found that Sgt. Joel Mann’s “use of force on three individuals during two separate incidents was inappropriate and should be referred to his chain of command for review of potential policy violations and disposition.”

Mann’s “use of force against the first two individuals occurred when he left his assignment as the supervisor of the arrest team to assist on the left side of the skirmish line. The use of force against the third individual occurred as she approached the rear of the skirmish line approximately eight minutes later,” states the report.

In that incident, Mann, an 18-year Tucson police veteran, was seen on video pushing a woman after students gathered March 29 at East University Boulevard and North Tyndall Avenue. The video went viral on the Internet and social-media sites.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety did a criminal review of both incidents involving Mann. The DPS was asked to investigate Mann’s actions “to avoid any appearance of impropriety”, said Tucson police Lt. Christian Wildblood in April.

No findings on Mann were released Wednesday because he is on military leave, said Sgt. Pete Dugan, a Tucson Police Department spokesman. He said the findings will be released later.

However, the police board of inquiry report states that the FBI “is in the process of conducting a review for any civil rights violations on the actions” of Mann. “Any decision regarding criminal prosecution will be determined by the Pima County Attorney.”

The Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs conducted an administrative investigation of Mann’s actions and that was forwarded to Mann’s chain of command for review and final disposition recommendations, states the new report. The investigations were not completed prior to the conclusion of the board.

Internal affairs also handled a complaint on another officer involving a minor injury and found the “complainant was an active agitator inciting the crowd to riot.” The officer’s use of force was within the department’s policy and guidelines, and the case was closed by internal affairs, documents state.

On Wednesday, the Police Department released the board’s report and findings into how officers handled a raucous crowd that had gathered at University and Tyndall following the Wildcats’ loss in the Elite Eight round of the tournament. People in the crowd, which was peaceful at first, began taunting officers and throwing bottles and firecrackers at officers before they were dispersed near Main Gate Square.

“Overall, this incident was handled appropriately, insofar as the crowd was dispersed in a fairly short time frame with no significant injury or property damage,” the report said. “The isolated issues involving use of force are being dealt with appropriately .... and should not cast a shadow on the general success of the response,” the board found.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor convened the board after the incident, which resulted in 15 misdemeanor arrests, mostly of UA students, several minor injuries and officers using nonlethal ammunition against the crowd.

In a letter to city officials, Villaseñor said the board’s report is a “thorough, informed critique of the event.”

“Despite excessive coverage by the media concerning a couple of incidents within the event, the overall outcome was that there were minimal injuries and damage that occurred during this highly volatile situation,” he wrote.

Villaseñor said in his letter that “the impact of social media and the viral effect of the video concerning Sgt. Mann cannot be ignored.”

“I take responsibility for holding ourselves accountable for those actions and putting in place the necessary discipline, training and supervision to ensure they are not repeated,” he wrote.

The board was composed of: Deputy Chief Sharon Allen, Assistant Chief John Leavitt, Capt. Greg Roberts, Sgt. Colin King, Officer Martin Escobar, assistant city attorneys Julianne Hughes, Lisa Judge and Michael Silva, and independent police auditor Liana Perez.

In its report, the board said it interviewed numerous police officers, including Mann, read hundreds of pages of reports, interview transcripts and operational plans, and watched more than a hundred hours of video footage of the incident.

Many of the officers involved in crowd control that night were equipped with body cameras. The report listed 27 police commanders and officers whom the board interviewed, as well as two dispatchers.

The board did make numerous recommendations for the department about training, equipment, finances and supervision in preparing for future crowd-control incidents. The report also said the Police Department’s cost for planning and carrying out its response to the fray was nearly $96,000.

The board’s recommendations to the department included:

  • Further training for such operations and more police staffing next year during Sweet 16 and Elite Eight tournament rounds. If the department utilized its available sworn staffing on overtime for these events, the cost could be between $400,000 and $500,000.
  • Work with the UA to promote safe and smart celebrations, and for the UA to possibly provide a place for students to watch the basketball events to stay out of harm.
  • Planning should include a partnership with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, the Tucson Fire Department and Tucson Code Enforcement officers. Liquor control agents should be encouraged to conduct site visits before and during events with a potential for large crowds. Similarly, the Fire Department should enforce occupancy requirements during the events.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@azstarnet.com or 573-4104.