Video of fight between suspect and Flagstaff Police Officer

August 1st, 2019 at 2:19 PM

On July 31, 2019, the Flagstaff Police Department was called to the Westside Wal-Mart for a report of a person refusing to leave the Wal-Mart property when requested by management to do so in violation of Arizona Revises Statute Section 13-1502.   The manager from Wal-Mart who, called for assistance, was Donald Walus who described the trespasser as an African American male in a brown hat, brown shirt, and black shorts playing a guitar out in front of the store. The Manager stated he asked the man to leave; however, he refused stating he didn’t have to leave because the manager did not own the land.  Under Arizona law a person commits trespassing if they remain on real property after a reasonable request to leave by law enforcement, an owner or any other person who has lawful control of the property such as the manager of the store. Officer Cooke was dispatched to Wal-Mart to make contact with the trespasser and determine whether enforcement action needed to be taken.  

Officer Cooke speaks to the manager and then contacts a male matching the description that was provided to him and attempted to make contact with him by stating “Hey Sir, can I talk to you real quick?”.  Officer Cooke mistakenly asks if his name was Donald confusing the reporting person with the suspect. However, Officer Cooke had reasonable suspicion to stop and legally detain the male who matched the description of the trespasser based upon the call for assistance from the Wal-Mart Manager.   

Officer Cooke made contact with the suspect, later identified as Justus Law, Mr. Law refused to stop and talk to the Officer.  Officer Cooke was calm and professional and explained that Mr. Law had to stay and talk to him because he matched the description of a person who was asked to leave Wal-Mart.  However, Mr. Law refused to comply stating that the Officer could not detain him despite the fact that Mr. Law admits he is the person who Officer Cooke was called about. Mr. Law states he was not trespassing however Law does not stop and talk to the officer so that Officer Cooke can investigate and obtain his information as well as his side of the events that led to the call. 

 Officer Cooke repeatedly tells Mr. Law that he is detained, and he is not free to leave once detained lawfully by law enforcement.  Officer Cooke makes an attempt even to explain Mr. Law his rights, but Mr. Law will not stop and listen and allow Officer Cooke to conduct an investigation.  Pursuant to his training, Officer Cooke attempts to use minimal force by putting his hand out and trying to direct Mr. Law to a safe location, not in the road way in front of the store in order to conduct his investigation.  Officer Cooke does put his hand on Mr. Law’s chest to prevent him from leaving and to direct him to a safe location.  

Mr. Law uses his elbow then to hit Officer Cooke’s arm away committing an assault and unlawfully resisting the lawful detention by Officer Cooke.  Mr. Law then becomes very aggressive and yells and comes at Officer Cooke, at which point Officer Cooke tells him he is going into handcuffs and grabs onto his right arm and pulls him around telling him again he is being detained.  A struggle ensues and Officer Cooke’s glasses and body camera are knocked off therefore you can’t see on Officer Cooke’s Body camera what happens after that. However, citizens who were present videotaped the interaction from a different perspective and posted that video on face book.  That video however does not have sound and the person recording was not aware of the circumstances surrounding the lawful detention of Mr. Law by Officer Cooke.

That video shows Mr. Law strike Officer Cooke’s hand away and yell at Officer Cooke, resisting Officer Cooke’s attempt to detain and place Mr. Law into handcuffs.  That video shows that Officer Cooke is using only minimal force in an attempt to control and lawfully detain Mr. Law as they grapple with each other and walk round each other.  Officer Cooke and Mr. Law pause at one point facing each other and Mr. Law removes his backpack and Officer Cooke grabs his arms to place him in handcuffs. Mr. Law pulls away and cocks back his arm making a fist and attempting to punch Officer Cooke who puts his arm up to deflect any blow.  At this time two citizens who were present also attempt to assist Officer Cooke in detaining Mr. Law.    

The three men attempt to control Mr. Law and they all go to the ground struggling to control Mr. Law as he continues to physically resist being lawfully detained by Officer Cooke.  At that point one of the individuals takes a hold of Mr. Law’s dog while the officer and other citizen continue to struggle on the ground. The struggle stops at one point and it appears that Mr. Law may be complying however he then reaches back and attempts to grab and gain control over Officer Cooke’s Taser weapon attached to his belt, at which point Officer Cooke does strike Mr. Law.  The citizen’s video then ends; however, Officer Cooke’s body camera is still on and you can hear Officer Cooke ask if someone can help him. At that point a second citizen who had been holding onto Mr. Law’s dog assists Officer Cooke and the other citizen in placing Mr. Law into handcuffs.    

Had Mr. Law complied with Officer Cooke’s request for his name and allowed him to investigate the trespassing report this incident would not have occurred.  It was Mr. Law’s failure to comply with Officer Cooke and his aggressive resistance that resulting in Officer Cooke having to use force to lawfully detain Mr. Law and conduct his investigation.  Under the Flagstaff Police Department Response to Resistance Policy 300, Mr. Law was displaying active aggression and Officer Cooke was authorized to use more force than he actually did.  The policy allows for officers to use strikes, batons, and even a Taser when faced with the type of active aggression displayed by Mr. Law. Officer Cooke did not use these alternatives available to him, but continued to use the minimal amount of force that was necessary to detain Mr. Law.  

However, no force would have been necessary had Mr. Law not chosen to resist the lawful detention.  Mr. Law was offered medical assistance on the scene and refused stating he was not hurt.  The Flagstaff Police Department would like to thank the citizens who intervened and came to the aid of Officer Cooke during this incident to assist in lawfully detaining Mr. Law and preventing any further violence.  

Mr. Law was booked into the Coconino County Jail on the charges of trespassing, failure to identify, resisting arrest, aggravated assault and possession of drug paraphernalia.   

Citizen video below. This video was recorded by a Citizen which was then publicly posted on Facebook. We do not own the rights of this video.

Police body cam:
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