PHOENIX — Defense attorneys and community leaders are calling for controversial gang charges against protestors to be dropped after learning members of the Phoenix police protest response unit possessed commemorative coins with neo-Nazi inspired hate speech.
But Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel dodged questions Monday about whether or not she would re-evaluate any protest cases in a prepared statement.
Adel did call ABC15’s reports very troubling.
JUST IN FROM COUNTY ATTORNEY @AllisterAdel re: challenge coin and protest cases.— Dave Biscobing (@DaveBiscobing15) February 9, 2021
The cases go on. But she promised to do what she's constitutionally required to anyway.
We asked the below questions (left). We got the following answer (right). pic.twitter.com/Z2YtcS1s5p
The challenge coins depict a man shot in the groin by a pepper ball during an August 2017 protest.
“Black and brown communities in Phoenix have known for quite some time that Phoenix PD and white supremacy are two sides of the same coin. Actually, two sides of the same challenge coin” said Joe Larios, who’s with Mass Liberation Arizona, a community group that works to reform the criminal justice system and reduce incarceration.
The coin was sold and shared among Phoenix police officers, and especially between members of the Tactical Response Team (TRU), court records show.
The Phoenix city manager, mayor, multiple council members and the main police union have called ABC15’s reporting on the challenge coin disturbing and supported the decision to launch an outside investigation.
A spokesperson for City Manager Ed Zuercher said law firm Ballard Sparr would handle the investigation.
Mayor Kate Gallego and councilmembers Sal DiCiccio, Michael Nowakowski, Carlos Garcia and Debra Stark expressed support for the outside investigation.
"While I support our officers," Stark said, "That kind of conduct is not only unprofessional but never excusable."
Garcia said the coin controversy is further evidence of the need for independent civilian review of police misconduct investigations. He urged city leaders to finalize plans to open the Office of Accountability and Transparency, which stalled in November.
Both Stark and Garcia expressed their continued confidence in Police Chief Jeri Williams to operate and reform the Phoenix Police Department.
"It’s not just on the chief, but it’s a systematic problem that we need to give the chief the tools to deal with," Garcia said.
The city also told ABC15 that Chief Jeri Williams will place officers under investigation in non-enforcement assignments pending the results of the external investigation.
It’s not clear if any officers have been identified by the department and reassigned yet.
ABC15 has confirmed five officers have admitted to possessing the coin in court testimony: George Herr, Jeffrey Howell, Glenn Neville, Jay Scott and John Sticca.
An ABC15 viewer also provided images from a 2018 eBay sale showing the coin for sale by Bury Bryce, who’s a Phoenix officer, according to state police certification records.
Phoenix’s response to the coin has evolved in recent days, beginning first as a dismissive statement that distanced the city from “any such coin.”
On Friday, Phoenix Police told ABC15 that a commander did a review at the time but didn’t find any misconduct.
In response to follow-up questions, the city confirmed the commander who did the review was Brad Burt. But a spokesperson said there are “no records related to this supervisor review.”
The Phoenix Tactical Response Unit and its sergeant, Doug McBride, have been heavily involved in several controversial protest arrests and prosecutions.
McBride’s testimony is full of exaggerations and false statements, according to multiple defense attorneys. He repeatedly compared the group to notorious street gangs like the Crips, Bloods and Hells Angels.
“Sgt. McBride is the same so-called gang expert who either ignored or missed the fact, that members of his own unit created and shared this challenge coin that was modeled after neo-Nazi gang paraphernalia,” Larios said. “What this demonstrates is that Sgt. McBride has no credibility, and he should not be allowed to shape the prosecution of these protesters.”
This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.