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City expands investigation into Phoenix Police Department after ABC15 interview

Posted at 7:22 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 11:24:15-05

PHOENIX — As a direct result of an ABC15 interview, City Manager Ed Zuercher is expanding an outside investigation into the Phoenix Police Department to include their role in bringing gang charges against a group of protesters.

Initially, the investigation only focused on a challenge coin — with language mimicking hate speech — that was owned, shared, and sold by Phoenix officers.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 investigates protest prosecutions

The broadened scope will add to the investigation being run by outside law firm Ballard Spahr.

ABC15 interviewed Zuercher about the station’s ongoing “Politically Charged” investigation on Thursday.

A few hours later, a spokesperson notified ABC15 that based on the station's questions the city decided it should expand the investigation.

So far, 13 officers are under investigation, according to the city.

Officers in Phoenix’s protest response team collaborated with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to charge a group of protesters as a criminal street gang. An ABC15 investigation revealed those charges were based on dubious claims, exaggerations, and lies.

In grand jury proceedings, one officer compared to the group to the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.

The gang charges were dismissed by Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel the week after the launch of ABC15’s investigation. Adel also ordered an outside investigation into her prosecutors’ conduct in the case.

During the interview, Zuercher originally told ABC15 he planned to wait for MCAO’s outside probe to finish before launching any investigations into his own officers’ conduct and role in the case.

Mayor Kate Gallego is supportive of Zuercher’s approach.

“The city manager acted quickly to bring in an outside investigation,” Gallego said. “We are committed to following through.”

There’s been a growing call for a Department of Justice civil rights investigation, including support from Councilmember Carlos Garcia and some state lawmakers with districts in the city.

“As someone who has been critical of the Phoenix Police Department for a long time,” Garcia said, “we need to either implement the Office of Accountability and Transparency as soon as possible, or someone like the Department of Justice should come in and take care of the situation.”

The city manager also said he has not heard from the Department of Justice or FBI about a civil rights probe into the Phoenix Police Department.

Zuercher said would welcome one if that happened but believes Phoenix can effectively police itself.

Here are some excerpts from Zuercher’s interview with ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing.

BISCOBING: (Chief Jeri Williams) was shown (the coin) in 2019, pictures of it. She was deposed about it, nothing happened. I mean, you’re her boss, is that acceptable?
ZUERCHER: That’s why I have the outside investigation going so I can have the facts surrounding what happened and why. What’s the timing? Where was the information flow? And then make decisions based on that information and based on those facts.
BISCOBING: Ok, but she knew, nothing happened, that’s why we’re here. So does that concern you?
ZUERCHER: I’m concerned to understand the context of what happened. I’m concerned with the coins. I’m concerned with the speech on the coins. That’s why I brought in Ballard Spahr to do that review.

BISCOBING: What kind of trust can you have in the chief of the police department if (ABC15’s reporting is) what it requires to get here?
ZUERCHER: I have total trust in the chief because the chief is the change agent for the department.

ABC15 also asked Zuercher if he was worried about police officials failing to recognize the significance and constitutional concerns with charging protesters as a criminal street gang

BISCOBING: So how do you feel about that? That’s a huge decision, it’s an embarrassing decision looking back on it in retrospect?
ZUERCHER: I think it illustrates why the County Attorney is doing a review and an investigation, and we’re going to follow up on that when we get that information with investigating our side as well. It is concerning. We do have to be very clear and concerned with people’s constitutional rights… I would like to get the information from the County Attorney.

BISCOBING: So that’s very passive though. You’re going to rely on some open-ended investigation from an outside agency that may not be interested in fully admitting what happened, and you’re going to act on that some time in the future. Why can’t you do that now?
ZUERCHER: I don’t think that’s passive at all. I think it’s people getting information from people. It’s people staying in their lane. The county attorney has a lane.
BISCOBING: Your officers lied to the grand jury. Your officers.
ZUERCHER: If they did that, they will be reviewed for that. They’re going to be investigated for that.
BISCOBING: So why not start that now?
ZUERCHER: I want to get all of the information so we can do a thorough review.
BISCOBING: So those officers will get a nice free pass for months while we wait for the County Attorney to turn over what she might turn over?
ZUERCHER: If we have information that any of our officers are lying, we’ll investigate it.
BISCOBING: I have presented plenty of it in black and white documents on my newscasts, so I’m surprised you haven’t already started to be quite honest with you.
ZUERCHER: Well the chief is investigating a variety of things. Like I said I want to get information from the county attorney and we’ll pursue our side as well.

BISCOBING: Has the DOJ of the FBI contacted the City of Phoenix about this?
ZUERCHER: They have not contacted me.
BISCOBING: What if they do? Would you welcome that?
BISCOBING: Yes. I’m not afraid, and the chief isn’t either, of any outside scrutiny from people to make us better.

Editor’s note: This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” The series can be found at Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at