A week after the release of a video of a forceful encounter between a deputy and a limbless teen, the deputy said the group home where the incident took place is “notorious for chaos and poor supervision” and that he was called to the residence to deal with a “criminal matter.”
Pima County sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Van Santen said in his statement that the now viral video does not show critical events before and after the incident that was shown on the released video. Van Santen said he is cooperating with the sheriff’s investigation and that he looked forward to “clearing my name and returning to duty.”
“Remember, I was dispatched to the scene of a reported crime. I was there to secure and detain an individual who was identified as a criminal suspect, specifically threats, disorderly conduct and criminal damage to the facility,” Van Santen said in his statement, which was read by his attorney, Stephen Portell, at a news conference Friday.
“I was there to secure individuals who might be a threat to themselves, the staff and other residents. This was all confirmed upon my arrival and before I entered the building.”
The deputy’s initial report from the Sept. 26 incident identified the Tucson group home as VisionQuest, which has been operating in the city since 1973, according to the organization’s website.
On Nov. 14, an eight-minute video released by the Pima County Public Defender’s Office showed a portion of an altercation between Van Santen and two teen residents of the home.
Van Santen was dispatched to the scene after the limbless 15-year-old boy, Immanuel Oloya, allegedly knocked over a trash can and was yelling and screaming at an group-home employee.
The deputy’s incident report stated Immanuel was with the manager who told him he could not return to school after being suspended.
“The deputy showed up, found Immanuel still upset. Immanuel was then yelling at the deputy. Immanuel tried to move past the deputy and at that point, that’s when the deputy tackled him,” Joel Feinman, Pima County public defender, told the Star last week.
Portell said Van Santen was preventing the manager from being harmed in an altercation.
Van Santen said in the incident report that Immanuel “became so uncooperative that I grabbed hold of the back of his upper torso and pushed him to the ground. Immanuel squirmed and wiggled around in violent fashion and he was difficult to control.”
“One of the threats that was made was against the manager of the particular group home. When a suspect who’s been identified as the person posing the threat charges or comes towards the person who says, ‘I’m being threatened by that person,’ you have a choice,” Portell said.
“In the encounter, Deputy Van Santen took the force that was necessary to stop that from happening.”
Van Santen, who was placed on administrative leave, said, the video “does not show the entire encounter at the group home, there are events both before and after the video that were critical to the use of force and the overall context of the arrest. Unfortunately, some interactions were not captured in the video clip or cannot be seen in the video clip, interactions that were critical to my training and use of force.”
“I will be completely transparent at any inquiry to come and I’m offering to testify in front of any grand jury regarding my conduct. I followed my training and the directives of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Van Santen’s statement continued, “I am surprised the Pima County Attorney’s Office has changed course given the continuous reports of violence and threats at the group home. It is a place that is notorious for chaos and poor supervision of the residents.”
“Even though it is extremely difficult, I love my job as a law enforcement officer. I want to continue to serve and protect the people of Pima County. In that role I can only recall using force five times in the past 12 years. None of those incidents involved deadly force, none were found to be out of compliance. The greatest amount of force I ever had to use was a Taser.”
“I can look my wife and my children in the face tonight and know that I did my job to the best of my ability. I look forward to clearing my name and returning to duty,” the statement said.
The Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association said in a statement also released by Portell that the group home involved in the incident is the “subject of almost daily 911 calls and appears under-staffed and overwhelmed. It is an extremely difficult place to handle a 911 call.”
The association called on the Arizona Department of Child Safety to do its own investigation of the home. The union also asked the sheriff’s department enact new guidelines that protect deputies from being constantly dispatched into “privately run group homes.”
“The system is broken, and crucifying Deputy Van Santen will not fix it,” the union’s statement said.
The union also criticized Sheriff Mark Napier for “condemning our fellow deputy” before giving Van Santen a chance to explain his side of the story.
“Blaming one of our deputies is not leadership — it is a cynical political calculation that diminishes his office,” the union’s statement said.