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Judge dismisses Phoenix protest gang charges, blasts prosecution

Judge dismisses Phoenix protest gang charges, blasts prosecution
Posted at 11:19 AM, Jun 07, 2021

PHOENIX — A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has permanently dismissed gang charges against more than a dozen police protesters in a scathing ruling that found the Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office colluded to lie to the grand jury.

The felony gang charges against more than a dozen defendants arrested during an October protest were dismissed with prejudice by Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill on June 3.

In her ruling, Ryan-Touhill found that a key sergeant, Doug McBride, and the case’s lead prosecutor, April Sponsel, engaged in “egregious misconduct” and said portions of their case were “absurd," “ridiculous,” “disingenuous,” and “baffling.”

According to the judge's order: “Both Sgt. McBride and Ms. Sponsel colluded in their efforts to present the grand jury with false information regarding a non-existent gang."


ABC15 has spent months exposing a series of exaggerations, lies, and dubious evidence in protest cases brought by Phoenix police and county prosecutors throughout 2020.

In the gang case, McBride and Sponsel told the grand jury that the group could be compared to notorious gangs like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels, court records show.

The officials also testified that the protesters met the definition of a criminal street gang for three reasons: They wore mostly black, they carried umbrellas, and they chanted “All Cops are Bastards.” For that, police and prosecutors designated them as the “ACAB” gang.

The judge’s order called the testimony “clearly false, misleading, and inflammatory.”

“This Court cannot begin to fathom how co-defendants wearing the color black—especially at a time when people protested that Black Lives Matter and wore black clothing—proved membership in a gang,” according to the order. “Compounding the Court’s bafflement is the analogy then given to the grand jury about colors chosen by the Crips and the Bloods—two well-known, well-documented, and feared gangs.”

All charges, including the gang counts, were dismissed without prejudice a week after ABC15 published a copy of the grand jury transcript in February.

Defense attorneys are still pushing to get all other charges dismissed with prejudice and the court will hold oral arguments on that issue later this week.

A Phoenix spokesperson released the following statement.

"The City has hired Ballard Spahr to conduct an independent investigation. This court ruling is being reviewed as part of that independent investigation. Phoenix police officers commit to the highest levels of integrity and honesty. The community deserves nothing less. When they fall short of that expectation, appropriate action will be taken."

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Both agencies have ordered a series of outside investigations in response to ABC15’s reports.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at