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Maricopa County judge finds police, prosecutors presented unfair, biased case to grand jurors

KNXV Phoenix Police Officer Paul Rutherford.jpeg
Posted at 8:07 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-27 17:40:02-04

PHOENIX — UPDATE: The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office notified the court on August 23, 2022 that prosecutors will not resubmit a case to a grand jury but instead seek charges through a preliminary hearing. A date has not yet been set.   

In a new ruling, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found police and prosecutors presented a troubling, unfair, and biased case to grand jurors in order to obtain negligent homicide charges against a woman in the fatal traffic accident of Phoenix officer Paul Rutherford.

Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill remanded the case against Nubia Rodriguez back to the grand jury, essentially resetting the criminal proceedings.

“The State allowed their witness [Phoenix Detective Michael Davidson] to present evidence designed to evoke sympathy from the jurors to distract the Grand Jury on whether probable cause exists,” according to the judge’s order. “The court finds the State failed to present evidence to the Grand Jury in a fair and impartial manner.”

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office now has less than two weeks to bring the case back to grand jurors.

If prosecutors do not, the case will be dismissed.

Rodriguez was charged more than a year after the crash, which occurred on March 21, 2019.

The following is a summary of “undisputed facts” pulled from the judge’s ruling.

Since the criminal charges, her defense attorneys have filed multiple motions alleging that Phoenix police and MCAO prosecutors used false testimony, faulty data, and cherry-picked evidence to obtain the negligent homicide count.

Judge Ryan-Touhill agreed with several of the defense’s arguments in her motion.

A significant issue highlighted by the judge is when Det. Davidson and prosecutors withheld clearly exculpatory evidence from Phoenix police’s own investigation that showed Rutherford stepped out into moving traffic without looking both ways.

According to the final report filed by the department’s traffic reconstruction expert, Alex Gibbs, “It needs to be considered that [Officer] Rutherford could have also avoided the collision if he had stopped and looked west down the two-way left turn lane prior to entering it.”

The judge ruled that omission was “critical.”

“Nowhere in his testimony does Det. Davidson acknowledge that Officer Rutherford failed again to look west into traffic before stepping into the two-way left turn lane.

This is critical.

Det. Gibbs’ statement regarding Officer Rutherford’s contribution to the incident is clearly exculpatory and the State should have presented it to the Grand Jury,” Ryan-Touhill wrote. She added, “If the Grand Jury was told that Officer Rutherford ‘could have also avoided the collision,’ the jurors may not have found probable cause that a crime was committed and Defendant committed that crime.”

Ryan-Touhill issued a similar rebuke to MCAO and Phoenix PD last year after ABC15 had exposed the two agencies colluded to falsely charge protesters as members of a made-up gang.

When we reached out to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for comment, this was their response:

Because this case is still being litigated, we will not comment on the facts of the case. As with all of our cases, the merits of this case will be litigated in the court system. We can comment, however, on the ethical conduct of our attorneys. This office has closely reviewed the conduct of our attorneys who have participated in the prosecution of this case and we have not found any ethical misconduct and we do not have any ethical concerns with the way the case has been handled. While the court found errors in the presentation of the case to the grand jury, not every error amounts to misconduct or an ethical violation and we do not believe any of the issues the court identified give rise to any ethical concerns.

Jennifer Liewer
Communications Director

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