Ex-Flagstaff officer Jeffrey Wilson pleads guilty in punching of woman
A Flagstaff police officer has been placed on administrative leave after a video showing him punching a woman in the face surfaced Wednesday on Facebook. Danny Paredes/Special for The Republic
The former Flagstaff police officer caught punching a woman in the face on bystander video pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor assault.
After reversing his earlier plea, Jeffrey Wilson — whose legal name was Jeffrey Bonar when the incident occurred in November 2016 — was sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation. He will not spend any time in jail as long as he abides by the terms of probation, completes 80 hours of community service and attends anger management counseling.
The hearing in Coconino County Superior Court concluded the ex-officer’s criminal case, which generated worldwide attention after video of the confrontation went viral on Facebook.
“It’s good that he stepped up and took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty today,” said Benjamin Taylor, the attorney representing Marissa Morris, the woman in the video. “It was uncalled for. Pleading guilty shows his guilt that day, that he should not have punched her.”
Wilson was indicted on two counts of felony aggravated assault in 2017, but the case halted when a judge ordered that it be reexamined by a grand jury, as prosecutors originally put forth a case that excluded evidence favorable to Wilson.
Grand jurors took another look, this time with the potentially exculpatory information, and determined there was enough evidence to show Wilson “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” caused physical injury to Morris as “she was bound or otherwise physically restrained or while her capacity to resist was substantially impaired.”
Wilson pleaded not guilty to those felony charges Feb. 8.
The case was headed toward trial before Tuesday’s guilty plea for a lesser misdemeanor assault charge.
Marc J. Victor, the attorney representing Wilson, said in a statement that he and his client were “very pleased with the outcome.” He declined to comment further after Tuesday’s hearing, saying instead that Wilson planned to make a statement to reporters at a news conference Thursday.
Wilson was placed on administrative leave shortly after bystander video of the Nov. 16, 2016, incident surfaced on Facebook.
That video shows Wilson grappling with 30-year-old Morris after he arrived to help a Coconino County Sheriff’s Office deputy serve an eviction notice.
Wilson said he believed a previous warrant for Morris remained active. It wasn’t.
During the struggle, Wilson can be seen — and heard — punching Morris in the face after she tells him, “You cannot arrest me until I know I have a warrant.”
Wilson resigned after an internal review found him to be in violation of department policies. An independent review headed by Northern Arizona University police criticized his actions.
All told, he was found in breach of six department policies, including using unreasonable and excessive force in the situation and not turning on his body camera. The device captured moments before and after the incident, but not the events that he said transpired too quickly to activate it.
The officer said he was kicked in the groin and assaulted and that his use of force was not excessive given the situation.
However, his behavior that afternoon was described as “frazzled” by the men who assisted him in Morris’ arrest. Despite his experience, Wilson’s demeanor was described as more like that of a rookie officer in his first physical altercation.
Records obtained by The Arizona Republic show Wilson was hired by the Flagstaff Police Department on Dec. 30, 2013, and completed his training May 8, 2014.
In addition to the felony assault indictment, an attorney representing Morris has sued the city of Flagstaff and the officer.
The lawsuit, filed in October, says Morris remains scarred by the incident, which was broadcast on national television.
It also claims the city was negligent in its hiring of the officer and its supervision during his interaction with Morris.
Additionally, the officer inflicted “emotional distress” on Morris, committed battery and falsely imprisoned her, according to the lawsuit.
A previously filed notice of claim sought $1 million in damages.
Attorneys are continuing discussions about the civil case, Taylor said Tuesday.
“Ms. Morris was hurt badly that day, and this will affect her for the rest of her life,” he said.
Flagstaff Police Officer Jeff Bonar resigned Jan. 4 after an internal review into the Nov. 16 incident where he punched a woman he was trying to arrest. The Flagstaff Police Department concluded that Bonar violated six policies.
Nicholas Rabe/NAZ Today
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