A blind man says he was assaulted by a Phoenix police officer, then falsely arrested and charged with aggravated assault while in a restroom at QuikTrip. Part of the encounter was caught on video by Walter Gastelum, another person in the restroom, who says the incident was police brutality.
“He just came out of nowhere,” Marco Zepeda told 12 News.
The June 15 incident happened at QuikTrip near 83rd Avenue and McDowell Road.
Zepeda was snapping his fingers and feeling around for the urinal, when the officer shoved Zepeda.
Being blind, Zepeda did not know it was an officer that had assaulted him, so he tried to defend himself, by pushing back and wrestling with him.
The officer claimed he identified himself as an officer to the victim, but Zepeda says that was a lie.
“He grabbed and he screamed at me ‘I told you I was the police.’ But he never did it. I swear to God he never did it,” Zepeda said.
In the video, Zepeda says, “I’m blind” in English and “I’m blind. Do you see my eyes? Look.” in Spanish.
Zepeda told 12 News the officer didn’t identify himself until he had attacked and thrown him to the ground.
Gastelum, the witness, says the attack was police brutality.
“After I opened the door, the police officer stood up, looked up at me, he’s like, ‘He hit me first,'” Gastelum said. “And I was like, ‘He’s blind.'”
The Phoenix police department says the unnamed officer pushed the blind man because he was approached by him in the restroom, adding that there were no physical indicators Zepeda was visually impaired.
Zepeda pointed out that he was wearing a white plastic orbital prosthetic at the time, so it was obvious that he was blind.
Gastelum seems to doubt the officer’s power of observation if he was unable to realize the man he was attacking had vision problems.
“Marco kept screaming, ‘I’m blind. I can’t see. I’m blind. I’m blind,'” Gastelum said. “You can clearly see that he’s blind. I don’t know how you can miss that.”
The PD also says the officer suffered minor injuries after being punched in the face, but Zepeda says he never punched him.
“I’m telling the truth. There’s no reason for me to lie to the public,” he said.
After being attacked by an officer, Zepeda was charged with aggravated assault. Those charges were later dropped by the Maricopa County attorney.
Zepeda, who had to spend the night in jail, intends to file a complaint and is considering a lawsuit as well.
“To go to prison, it’s freaking hard. It’s a nightmare for me,” he said.
Gastelum says the officer was definitely out of line by attacking and arresting an innocent man who just wanted to use the restroom.
“He’s an officer. He shouldn’t have responded like that. If anything he should’ve guided him,” Gastelum said. “The cops are here to serve and protect, not to harass and collect. That’s the truth.”