There wasn’t just one gang protest case.
In addition to filing criminal street gang charges against a group of police protesters, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office filed similar allegations in a different protest case.
The additional allegations, which have since been withdrawn amid growing public pressure, raise questions about whether county prosecutors were expanding a strategy to label protesters as gang members as a way increase potential prison sentences and force plea deals.
“It’s a way to make charges even scarier than they already were,” said Armando Nava, a defense attorney, whose client was labeled as a member of an unidentified gang by MCAO. “It was something we were flabbergasted by because there wasn’t any indication of any gang activity. So we were all shocked.”
Different from the criminal gang charges filed against a group after an October 17th arrest, MCAO filed special motions that are known as sentence enhancements against four defendants in a separate protest case.
The single case involves protest arrests on two different dates — one in August and the other in early October.
Basically, the official gang allegations can be used to aggravate sentences — even for minor crimes — to mandate prison time.
Deputy County Attorney Nicholas Michaud filed the motions on January 19 and then withdrew them on February 17.
“The filing of this allegation was inadvertent and the State has no intent to purse this allegation against this defendant,” Michaud wrote in his withdrawal.
Multiple defense attorneys involved in various protest prosecutions told ABC15 that’s hard to believe.
“It does seem odd given the timing of everything,” Nava said. “This is something a prosecutor had to sign their name to and file with the court. It seems a little weird that this was inadvertent.”
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not answer specific questions about the filings and released a short statement, "This was a clerical error that has been corrected."
Michaud’s initial motions only stated, “The crimes of all counts charged in the Indictment were committed with the intent to promote, further, or assist any criminal conduct by a criminal street gang.”
He did not provide any information about what gang the four defendants were accused of being a part of.
Despite multiple requests to the county attorney’s office, Nava and other defense attorneys said that information was not provided.
Some attorneys questioned whether MCAO was moving toward claiming Black Lives Matter is a gang. Some of the four defendants are organizers with BLM-related organizations.
“That’s correct,” Nava said. “My client was specifically mentioned in the police reports as being an organizer and was told she’s one of the people that they wanted.”
In the month between the motions being filed and withdrawn, ABC15 has aired a series of investigative reports exposing how Phoenix police and county prosecutors have used dubious claims, gross exaggerations, and lies to arrest and charge protesters.
The series began by focusing on the group of umbrella-carrying protesters who were given criminal street gang charges.
Under immense public pressure and growing evidence of misconduct and bias, County Attorney Allister Adel dismissed the case on Friday, February 12, in a late-night announcement.
Adel claimed the case wasn’t properly vetted before the charges were brought before a grand jury.
Adel had previously defended the case in public statements multiple times.
Editor’s note: This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” The series can be found at abc15.com/protests. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.