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Phoenix Police Department hit with complaints about use of force, mass arrests

Phoenix Police Department
Posted at 4:43 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 22:18:03-04

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department is already facing multiple lawsuits and legal claims stemming from officers’ use-of-force, arrests, and the mass jailing of protesters using copy-and-paste evidence during the last weekend in May.

ABC15 obtained copies of several civil rights lawsuits and notice of claims filed against the city on Monday.

Attorneys said more lawsuits will also be filed in the coming days, including a potential class action case on behalf of dozens of people who were booked into jail with the same exact probable cause statement.

The complaints obtained by ABC15 contain varying allegations, including unlawful arrests, civil rights violations, and excessive force.

One of the lawsuits was filed in federal court by David Saccoccio.

The Phoenix bartender and hairdresser claims he went downtown to demonstrate after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, according to his complaint and a corresponding notice of claim

Saccoccio said as he and other protesters tried to leave, they were “funneled” by Phoenix Police into the Garfield Neighborhood, where they were teargassed.

He then claims police shot him with a beanbag, which broke his arm. The injuries required emergency surgery; court documents show.

“For the next several hours, Phoenix Police officers made fun of Mr. Saccoccio, belittling his injury as ‘just a scratch’ and refusing to get him necessary medical attention despite the degree to which he was bleeding and his reports of intense pain,” according to the lawsuit. “During this period of time, Mr. Saccoccio sat on a curb, in tears, and listened to Phoenix Police Officers engage in radio traffic with other officers, hearing them compare numbers about how many people they had shot and arrested. He heard them joking callously about people’s responses to being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets and acting as if the ‘hunt’ for protesters who had been funneled into the Garfield neighborhood was a game to be won by the officers who had assaulted and arrested the most people.”

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Steve Benedetto. He also provided ABC15 with another claim filed Monday on behalf of Yohan Stokes.

Stokes, a 20-year-old college student on scholarship in Illinois, also came to exercise his First Amendment rights.

His lawsuit claims he was arrested with cause, held for 26 hours, and then pressured to make an immediate plea deal.

“After 26 hours, Yohan finally talked to someone who explained to him what was going on: A City of Phoenix Prosecutor told Yohan that he was being charged with disorderly conduct and violating an emergency order, and the City would be willing to dismiss the disorderly conduct charge and release him immediately for “time served” if he agreed to plead guilty to the emergency order violation,” a notice of claim states.

On the first weekend of protests, Phoenix police arrested more than 300 people.

Last week, ABC15 revealed that Phoenix Police arrested dozens of protesters on May 30 and booked them into jail using the same generic copy-and-paste probable cause statement.

Defense attorneys said some of their clients are banding together and are working on a potential class-action lawsuit against the city.

Even though a judge found probable cause was lacking in huge batches of arrests, the cases are not over.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office can choose to move the cases forward.

On Tuesday, County Attorney Allister Adel was asked on KTAR about ABC15’s report about the copy-and-paste arrests.

“I did see the news headline. I have looked at the probable cause statements. There were so many people booked and a lot of them for the same charges. So, the facts were very, very similar,” Adel said. “So [inaudible] necessarily copy-and-paste in a nefarious way, but more of an efficient way.”

Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams also defended her department during an interview last Monday.

“There’s always a concern when there are not charges. But at the end of the day, I do know that my officers were functioning under justice, under trying to protect public safety, because our number 1 priority is safety,” Williams said. “ So you’re talking about pulling people out of cars, those cars were used to help fortify and give guns, knives, [Williams stopped and corrected herself as she didn’t mean to say guns and knives] rocks and bottles, water, food, to those individuals who were absolutely there to commit crimes.”

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