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"I think it's garbage": Protesters, attorneys react to 'gang' investigation, discipline

Phoenix police at protests
Posted at 6:16 PM, Aug 12, 2021

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department is once again embroiled in controversy and imposing discipline after an outside investigation found that the arrest of protesters, and subsequent 'street gang' charges, was not legal.

It is a scandal that has led to a one-day suspension of Chief Williams, the demotion of three Assistant Chiefs, and five officers referred to the Arizona Attorney General for potential criminal charges.

"If you're breaking the law and your job is to uphold the law, you shouldn't have that job," said Marysa Leyva.

Leyva, 26, was on the other side of the law just a few months ago, labeled a gang member.

"I think I had like five felonies," said the Ahwatukee native, trying to recount them all. "Assisting a criminal street gang, aggravated assault on a police officer, riots, [and] obstructing a public thoroughfare."

When she saw the charges for her role in an October 17 protest, she said she laughed.

"We were like, this is just so outrageous," said Leyva. "How are they ever going to prove this in a court of law? We know Phoenix PD is bad, but man, they like really were just seeing how much they could get away with."

They did not get away with it. The charges were dropped, and now a lengthy investigation has indicted Phoenix police leaders for their gross mishandling of the protected first amendment demonstrations.

"I wish I could say I felt relieved, but I don't," said Leyva. "I want to see Jeri Williams fired. I want to see criminal charges brought against those five officers, but I doubt that'll happen."

Marysa says she is not sympathetic because the ASU grad's life has been upended by the now-dropped charges.

"I think [the discipline] is garbage...I was fired and it was a direct result of Phoenix PD reaching out to my employer to inform them of my charges. So I lost my job," said Leyva, who told ABC15 she was let go as a patient care tech in Tempe St. Luke's emergency room.

Katie Gipson, a public defender with the county, has witnessed it too.

"People have to pick up and change their entire direction and trajectory of their life, because folks made decisions that were either biased, politically motivated, [or] unethical."

Gipson represented one of the men who was arrested in the "gang" arrests. It later came to light that the registered nurse was just taking photos and not at all involved in the protests.

She has called for reforms and served on one of the Mayor's advisory committees regarding policing. She predicts the fallout from this scandal will impact the department for years.

"Are we just going to promote Commanders and Lieutenants who were trained by the same folks who then were just demoted?" she asked. "I think it's just going to leave us in a spot where we have a void and not sure how we can fill that."

It is unclear how long Chief Williams will continue to lead the department with the growing calls for her resignation.

If she stays at the helm, she will have to make some tough decisions amidst the expectations of widespread reform and accountability.

"I don't know how any of this is going to get fixed. It's not going to happen quickly, and if it does happen quickly, then I don't think that real change is happening," said Gipson.