PHOENIX — The City of Phoenix is poised to face multiple civil rights lawsuits after police arrested many protesters this weekend using the same copy-and-paste probable cause statement.
Multiple people who were arrested and attorneys tell ABC15 they are preparing legal complaints with some that could be filed as soon as the end of the week.
“We have been contacted by numerous people, and we have several clients right now,” said Phoenix attorney Steve Benedetto. “Police can’t just go and deprive people of their freedom willy-nilly… There is a major constitutional concern here.”
On Saturday, officers arrested 114 people in downtown protests.
Multiple defense attorneys present at the initial appearances for those arrests told ABC15 that judges determined nearly every case lacked sufficient probable cause and were submitted with the same copy-and-paste statement as evidence.
Brandon Lemar and his fiancé Erika Marie were two of the people arrested and released.
“I’m excited to go to court,” Lemar said. “We already have attorneys. It’s just ridiculous what they’re trying to pull here.”
The couple said they drove downtown following a date night to find Marie’s younger sister in the crowd. Marie posted about 10 minutes of video of their car driving slowly on public streets among the protesters.
The two then claimed they were stopped by officers, pulled out of their car at gunpoint, and charged with rioting.
“They said I was supplying protesters with bricks, and water, and milk,” said Lemar, who said all of the allegations are false.
Multiple people and attorneys also told ABC15 that police have misplaced, lost, or inappropriately holding property taken during the arrests.
Lemar spoke with ABC15 as he attempted to get his belongings. During the interview on FaceTime, he showed many people lined up outside the police building.
“They can’t find our vehicle. They can’t find my credit cards. They can’t find her purse or any of her property,” Lemar said. “They took all of our information and threw it into bags and then took all of our property and threw it into bags separately. So, they don’t know whose is what. They didn’t log anything or put tags on anything.”
On Monday, ABC15 asked Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams about Saturday’s arrests.
““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.”
Mayor Kate Gallego would not comment for this story. A spokesperson told ABC15 to contact police.
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.”
The comments didn’t sit well with Lemar and other people arrested by police.
“Efficiency is one thing. Outright lying is another,” Lemar said.”
Adel’s office also released a separate statement to ABC15.
“As County Attorney, I am committed to ensuring the due process rights of defendants and county prosecutors in this office act with integrity when charging any individual with a crime. Our criminal justice system has redundancies for a reason and these steps are in place to protect an individual’s due process rights. An initial appearance and probable cause finding are the first step of many when arresting, detaining and charging someone with a crime. A probable cause statement is written by police and reviewed by the court. Our office then reviews all of the evidence and facts on cases submitted to us by law enforcement and determines if charges should be filed.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.