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Maricopa County Attorney’s Office dismisses case against protesters charged as criminal street gang

Posted at 8:49 PM, Feb 12, 2021

PHOENIX — Following a series of ABC15 investigative reports, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has dismissed a highly-controversial case against a group of protesters who were charged as a criminal street gang.

County Attorney Allister Adel announced the dismissal of the criminal case against 18 individuals late on Friday night.

There is a potential for future charges.

The decision comes just a week after ABC15 began airing reports in its “Politically Charged” investigation into the case and other protest arrests.

The original report can be found at abc15.com/protests.

Adel issued this brief statement about the dismissal.

“The Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO) has filed a motion to dismiss case CR 2020-139581. The office is re-evaluating the evidence that has been and continues to be submitted for review. MCAO remains committed to holding those who committed criminal acts in this event responsible.”

A motion to dismiss was filed for each of the defendants.

The short filing gave a simple reason for the dismissal: “In the interest of justice.”

The gang charges, based on broad and easily-abused statutes, were a clear “political prosecution” intended to silence dissent and scare protesters from organizing, according to community activists, defense attorneys, and legal groups like the ACLU.

ABC15 spent months investigating the gang charges and other protest prosecutions. The station interviewed defendants and their attorneys, obtained hundreds of pages of police reports and grand jury transcripts, and watched hours of police body camera and surveillance video.

The evidence shows police and prosecutors presented grand jurors with dubious claims, one-sided evidence, exaggerations, and lies.

Arizona statutes regarding criminal street gang classification are broad and only require two of the following criteria to be met: (1) Self proclamation; (2) Witness testimony or statements; (3) Written or electronic correspondence; (4) Paraphernalia or photographs; (5) Tattoos; (6) Clothing or colors; (7) Any other indicators.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Doug McBride, a “grenadier” who manages the Tactical Response Unit and former gang detective, testified that all members of the group met the criteria for three reasons.

The first is the chanting of “All Cops are Bastards,” which he claimed is self proclamation. The second was most of the group dressed in black, which meets the colors requirement. And the third was many of the group carried umbrellas, which McBride claimed was part of their uniform.

ACAB is a common protest chant that originated almost a century ago and is used across the world.

Maybe the most stunning grand jury testimony was when McBride and MCAO prosecutor, April Sponsel, repeatedly compared the group to notorious street gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and Hells Angels.

One of the defense attorneys in the case, Christopher DuPont, filed a motion that put the allegation into context.

“The state called a witness to testify at grand jury that ACAB was just as dangerous — and in many ways more dangerous — than notorious gangs like the Crips and the Bloods, two gangs that have accounted for as many as 15,000 homicides in the United States during their 30 year run,” DuPont wrote.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was also going to have to weather mounting allegations and evidence of bias.

ABC15 exposed that members of the Tactical Response Unit owned, shared, and sold celebratory challenge coins to commemorate shooting a protester in the groin.

The coin has messaging inspired by hate speech, and the city has launched an outside investigation.

ABC15 also obtained body camera video that recorded officers on scene of the arrest disbarring protesters by calling them “dickheads,” “asshole kids,” and “f***ing liberal pieces of sh**.”

Defense attorneys and community groups issued a flurry of statements about the motions to dismiss late Friday. [ABC15 will continue to cover this development in the coming days with more reaction.]

While pleased with the decision, they believe the charges should be dismissed with prejudice.

They also want MCAO to further evaluate a number of other controversial protest responses and arrests.

[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.]