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Tucson police: Activists promote false brutality claim on social media
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Tucson police: Activists promote false brutality claim on social media

Officers from Tucson Police and Adult Probation with Christopher Bullock, age 23, at a motel on Benson Highway.

For nearly two weeks, a tale of police brutality in Tucson has circulated on the internet, prompting a slew of calls and emails to police headquarters and City Hall.

It claims a young Black man was “beaten, tasered and abused by four white cops for 45 minutes.”

The law enforcers had “fury in their eyes” as they pummeled the suspect without regard for whether he lived or died, it says.

The police “did not care if this Black man went out in handcuffs or a body bag,” says the social media account of the Dec. 1 domestic violence arrest of Christopher Bullock, 23.

The day after Bullock’s arrest, two activist groups — Black Lives Matter Tucson and Los Angeles-based Allies for Black Americans — took to Twitter and Facebook to demand accountability from the Tucson Police Department.

But police video and more than two dozen documents related to the incident obtained by the Star under the state’s public records law do not support the claims of police using excessive force.

Even Bullock’s defense attorney says he was not brutalized.

The main author of the allegations is Bullock’s girlfriend and is an alleged victim in the Dec. 1 incident involving Bullock, a fact she did not disclose in her social media post. She also did not disclose that Bullock has three prior domestic violence convictions, at least one involving the girlfriend, according to a 2019 probation report.

In previous 911 calls, police reports show, the woman told police Bullock bit her and punched her in the face, and that she once followed TPD officers out into the parking lot to let them know Bullock was hiding inside and that she was “terrified” of him.

The Star does not generally identify alleged victims of domestic violence.

“You’re going viral”

Despite their past, Bullock’s girlfriend is on a mission to get him out of jail, records show.

“We’re saving the day, baby. You’re going viral. You’re not going to be in there long,” she told Bullock when he called her from the Pima County jail two days after his arrest.

The jail routinely records inmate calls. The Star reviewed two calls placed Dec. 3 a few hours apart.

“Your face is going to be on CNN News,” she told Bullock, who has three prior domestic violence convictions according to a 2019 probation report.

Activist groups “are raising money for you, thousands of dollar for you,” she added, explaining that Blacks Lives Matter and Allies for Black America had joined forces to help him and that she was working with both groups.

She says on one call that activists were paying for her to stay in a “nice-sized hotel,” in contrast with the southside motel the couple was living at when Bullock was arrested. She told Bullock to expect an infusion of money into his jail phone account, also courtesy of the activists.

The girlfriend could not be reached for comment on this story. Her phone number is unknown and she did not respond to a request made through her Facebook account or from a request texted to Black Lives Matter Tucson.

Officers from Tucson Police and Adult Probation struggle with Christopher Bullock, age 23, while attempting to detain him at a motel on Benson Highway on Dec. 1, 2020.

Both activist groups are demanding transparency from Tucson police, but neither would answer written questions from the Star.

A woman claiming to represent Black Lives Matter Tucson, who refused to identify herself, threatened in a phone call to sue the Star if this article was published. Soon after, a Facebook posting by the group accused the Star of pursuing a “smear” campaign.

Bullock didn’t initiate brutality claims

Bullock’s public defender, Lisa M. Surhio, worried the brutality claims might negatively affect her client’s current court case, in which prosecutors are trying to revoke his probation and send him to prison for his domestic violence assault.

It was the Pima County Probation Department, not Tucson police, that initiated Bullock’s Dec. 1 arrest at a low-rent motel on Tucson’s south side. The two police officers were at the motel finishing up a different call when probation workers asked them for help.

Surhio said she’d seen her client at the jail and he didn’t look the least bit brutalized, records show. So she telephoned Bullock’s probation officer to assure him her client had no role in the social media campaign, according to a memo in the probation officer’s file .

Though Bullock didn’t initiate the brutality claims, he did not try to talk his girlfriend out of her campaign during their jailhouse phone calls, the recordings show.

Bullock’s probation revocation hearing is set for Tuesday, Dec. 15 in Pima County Superior Court downtown.

Black activist groups are planning downtown protests on his behalf when he appears in court, the girlfriend told Bullock in their jailhouse calls.

Police force was limited

Contrary to the social media claim of a 45-minute beating in a motel room in front of “50 witnesses,” body camera videos from the two TPD officers involved show their physical contact with Bullock lasted less than three minutes.

Afterward, he emerged in handcuffs without any obvious sign of harm.

The TPD officers, both of whom are Hispanic, and the probation workers spent most of their time on scene trying to convince Bullock to come out of his motel room voluntarily so no one would get hurt during his arrest.

When they eventually found him hiding between the mattress and box spring of his bed, Bullock refused to cooperate with repeated commands to get on his stomach and put his hands behind his back so he could be handcuffed, the footage shows.

A probation worker tried to use a Taser to get Bullock to submit, but it appeared to have no effect. After two punches to the face by one of the TPD officers, Bullock stopped struggling long enough to get the handcuffs on.

During the struggle, he bit one of the probation officers on the thigh, resulting in another assault charge.

The girlfriend and Bullock’s mother were both at the motel when police showed up to make the arrest.

Initially they tried to help police talk Bullock into giving up, but then they yelled obscenities at officers as they entered the room to force Bullock out.

The mother has also been one of Bullock’s domestic violence victims, according to court records. She too has been active in the social media campaign against Tucson police. She could not be reached for comment through her Facebook page.

Tucson police case closed

Although no formal complaint of brutality had been filed, the TPD began an internal investigation and sent a detective to the jail to ask Bullock if he wanted to make a complaint. He didn’t, the detective said.

The department recently closed its investigation into the case, deeming the allegations unsubstantiated.

“This is emblematic of how social media can be used to grossly mischaracterize and inflame an incident,” Tucson police Chief Chis Magnus said.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or calaimo@tucson.com. On Twitter: @StarHigherEd

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