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MCAO admits protest case flaws, Phoenix reassigns 9 officers

PHOENIX — In a pair of major developments following an ABC15 investigation, the Phoenix Police Department has reassigned nine officers and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is admitting prosecutors failed to properly vet a controversial case that resulted in a group of protesters being charged as a criminal street gang.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 INVESTIGATES PROTEST PROSECUTIONS

The police officers have been placed in non-enforcement positions as the city and an outside law firm investigate a challenge coin scandal and issues tied to the arrests of protesters on October 17, 2020, according to the city manager’s office.

In response to questions regarding the abrupt dismissal of the protest “gang” charges on Friday, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said prosecutors did not follow procedures before bringing the charges and the case was not properly vetted.

“As County Attorney, it is my expectation that complex and/or cases of public interest are reviewed by my leadership team at the county attorney’s office prior to charging. This practice includes a review of the facts and evidence by seasoned prosecutors and a robust discussion about the case in its entirety. It concludes with a determination if charges are appropriate and what those charges should be, so I can make a final charging decision,” Adel said in a prepared statement. “In this case, this practice was not followed and at my direction, a review took place this past Friday, Feb. 12. I participated in the review and ultimately decided to dismiss the charges in CR2020-139581. We are reviewing the evidence to decide next steps in this case and determining if further review of other cases related to the protests this summer is warranted.”

ABC15’s investigation into to gang case found police and prosecutors provided the grand jury with gross exaggerations, dubious claims, and outright lies.

In one stunning example, officials testified that they believed the group of protesters were comparable to the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.

National and internal media outlets are also covering ABC15’s reporting.

The Washington Post posted an article on the front page of its website this weekend about three officers recored on a body camera video disparaging protesters and lamenting the requirement of body cameras. The Post’s report also discussed the large controversy with Phoenix and MCAO’s protest cases.

TMZ also covered the body camera story.

Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher released a statement Friday and called the cascading number of problems coming out as “disturbing.”

“The more information we learn, the more concerned I become. I believe the majority of Phoenix Police officers do great work for our community every day,” he said. “But it’s obvious we have deep rooted issues in the Phoenix Police Department that must be addressed. This department is going to change. I demand it. Chief Williams demands it. And the public expects it.”

As pressure grows on Phoenix and the county attorney’s office, community groups continue to cite ABC15’s reporting to push for further accountability and action.

A press release sent this weekend from Mass Liberation AZ called for the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation.

So far, emails sent to the United States Attorney’s Office in Arizona and the White House were not returned Monday.

While the controversial “gang” protest case was dismissed Friday, there are still major questions and issues to answer and address.

In the broadcast report posted in the video box at the top of the page, ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing outlines the key questions and issues that are still outstanding and what will happen next.

[Editor’s note: This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” The series can be found at ABC15.com/protests. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.]

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