WARNING, disturbing content. This video recorded by a teenager living in a Tucson-area group home shows a confrontation between Deputy Manuel Van Santen and a teen with no limbs. USA TODAY Handout


PHOENIX – An Arizona public defender said he cried when he first saw a video released Wednesday by KOLD News 13 in Tucson that shows a sheriff's deputy tackling and cursing at a 15-year-old boy with no limbs.

"I don't understand how we, as a society who have law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect and serve, can treat the most vulnerable among us this way," Joel Feinman told The Arizona Republic. "I mean, these are children."

The deputy, Manuel Van Santen, should be "punished accordingly," for tackling the teen, whose first name is Emmanuel and is under Arizona Department of Child Safety custody in a Tucson group home, said Feinman. He said the Pima County Public Defender's Office represents the teen.

Deputy James Allerton, spokesman for Pima County Sheriff's Department, said Friday that Van Santen was placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the incident is being conducted. He said Van Santen is an 11-year veteran of the agency.

In the video, recorded in September in a group home in Tucson by another 16-year-old resident of the home, Van Santen is seen holding the boy down for over a minute as he struggles to break free. The video begins in the midst of the struggle, so it's unclear how long the incident really lasted.

The teen has no arms or legs, Feinman confirmed.

After releasing the boy, Van Santen stands above the teen as he sits in the corner. "I'll raise my voice to you whenever the f--k I want, do you understand?" Van Santen is heard yelling at the teen.

The teen who recorded the incident is also taken into custody during the video. At that point, he hands the phone off to another young person at the home, who continues filming while he and Emmanuel are both arrested.

The television station reported the teen apparently kicked over a garbage can and verbally threatened a staff member at the home, prompting staff to call the deputy there.

Feinman said both teens are facing misdemeanors for disorderly conduct. He said he hopes Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall will dismiss the charges against the children.

"Emmanuel is precisely the person that our law enforcement officers should be protecting the most — not assaulting," Feinman said.

He noted that children who are in the custody of the DCS have already suffered trauma.

"They don't have the love and affection that a lot of kids are fortunate enough to have," Feinman said. "Even more reason to treat them with special care, special patience and understanding – not traumatizing them all over again."

In 2016, the Sheriff's Department honored Van Santen, naming him a Patrol Division Deputy of the Quarter.

"(This case) needs to serve as a cautionary tale to other law enforcement officers who we entrust with our lives and safety," Feinman said. "If you act this way around children – around our most vulnerable citizens – then you don't deserve that badge and that gun, and you don't deserve our trust."

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