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MCAO plans to permanently dismiss all charges against protesters accused of being gang members

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Posted at 8:50 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 23:50:28-04

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office plans to permanently dismiss all charges in the criminal case against more than a dozen protesters who were falsely accused of being a criminal street gang, according to multiple defense attorneys.

The case had been previously dismissed without prejudice — meaning prosecutors could re-file charges — following an ABC15 investigation into the protesters’ arrests on Oct.17, 2020. MCAO had repeatedly told the court they wanted that option.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 investigates protest prosecutions

But Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill had recently dismissed the gang charges with prejudice in a scathing ruling last week that called out officials for their “absurd,” “baffling,” and “disingenuous” conduct.

On Friday, defense attorneys and prosecutors were scheduled to have oral arguments in front of the same judge to discuss whether other charges in the case should be permanently dismissed.

ABC15 has spent months exposing a series of exaggerations, lies, and dubious evidence in protest cases brought by Phoenix police and county prosecutors throughout 2020.

In the gang case, Phoenix Sgt. Doug McBride and MCAO prosecutor April Sponsel told a grand jury that the group could be compared to notorious gangs like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels, court records show.

The officials also testified that the protesters met the definition of a criminal street gang for three reasons: They wore mostly black, they carried umbrellas, and they chanted “All Cops are Bastards.”

For that, police and prosecutors designated them as the “ACAB” gang.

The judge’s order called the testimony “clearly false, misleading, and inflammatory.”

“This Court cannot begin to fathom how co-defendants wearing the color black—especially at a time when people protested that Black Lives Matter and wore black clothing—proved membership in a gang,” according to the order. “Compounding the Court’s bafflement is the analogy then given to the grand jury about colors chosen by the Crips and the Bloods—two well-known, well-documented, and feared gangs.”

All charges, including the gang counts, were dismissed without prejudice a week after ABC15 published a copy of the grand jury transcript in February.

On Friday, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel released a statement about the decision to dismiss the charges. The statement did not address what the attorney's office plans to do about the egregious misconduct found in the case.

“Today the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss all charges stemming from the events of Oct. 17, 2020, with prejudice. It is the decision of this office that it is in the interests of justice to not proceed.

Prosecutors must continually assess all the facts, evidence, and circumstances surrounding any case. I believe we must not be afraid to change course when it serves the interests of justice and is in the best interest of the community. My decision today reflects just that.

I want to be clear this decision does not mean that no crimes were committed. This decision in no way reflects negatively on the hard work law enforcement performed that night in preventing violence and
property damage, and other crimes to keep our community safe.

The events of that night were captured on video. It clearly shows there was probable cause to arrest and file charges against certain individuals who committed misdemeanor crimes. However, as we highlighted in recent pleadings to the court, the more serious charges as originally filed did not meet our standards.

Therefore, considering the time and resources required to pursue the appropriate misdemeanor charges, and all the facts and circumstances in this case, I have decided it is not in the interests of justice to move forward on this particular prosecution. I must use our limited resources where we can do the most good for our community.

I believe that just because we can legally pursue charges does not always mean that we should. It is not an easy decision to step away from a case when we believe crimes were committed, but in this case, it is the right thing to do.”

ABC15 will continue to bring you any updates to this story.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.