Despite specific and clear knowledge, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and other top department leaders failed for years to investigate a controversial challenge coin circulating among the ranks that celebrated officers shooting a protester in the groin with a pepper ball, according to an outside investigation obtained by ABC15.
The investigation was completed by Ballard Spahr, a law firm hired to look into the matter after an ABC15 report exposed the coin’s existence and its ties to hate speech. The law firm also was hired to probe Phoenix’s role in charging protesters as a criminal street gang.
ABC15 obtained significant portions of the law firm’s final findings into the coin.
According to investigators, officers not only sold and traded the challenge coins, they also had patches and t-shirts. The “memorabilia” was also readily available in an open box in a “high-traffic area” of a downtown Phoenix police station.
“As discussed above, no official investigation was completed until Ballard Spahr was retained, nearly four years after the coin’s creation,” the law firm found.
Investigators also repeatedly noted that some Phoenix police officials — both current and retired — refused to be interviewed or turn over key documents.
On Thursday, Mayor Kate Gallego released the following the statement in regards to this investigation.
Read the full statement below:
For those reasons, Ballard Spahr said it was unable to conclusively determine if any Phoenix officers helped create the design of the coin and symbol or whether they were aware of its controversial language.
The coins commemorate the moment when a protester was shot in the groin by a pepper ball in August 2017 following a rally for President Donald Trump in downtown Phoenix.
The back of the coin reads: “Make America Great Again One Nut at a Time.”
The front of the coin reads: “Good Night Left Nut.”
The phrase is derived from hate speech used on both the far right and far left. It began as the anti-racist slogan, “Good Night Right Side.” It was then inverted by far-right groups, including some white supremacists, as “Good Night Left Side.”
ABC15 had previously confirmed that at least six members of the Phoenix Police Department owned the coin. The station also obtained video showing an unnamed Phoenix sergeant bragging about the coin with right-wing extremists at a community event.
The law firm’s report names several additional officers who had the coin and similar material.
ABC15 is still reviewing the findings to determine a more definitive count of the number of police personnel who shared, sold, and traded the material.
The coin was widely shared among the Phoenix Tactical Response Unit (TRU), which is responsible for responding to and managing protests. Members of the unit helped falsely charge dozens of police protesters last year, an ABC15 investigation found.
The most notorious example was charging more than a dozen protesters as a criminal street gang. Ballard Spahr determined those charges were based on dubious and non-existent evidence.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.