PHOENIX — In the wake of an ABC15 investigation into false charges against protesters, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is disbanding a specialized unit that was primarily created to prosecute crimes committed against police officers.
County Attorney Allister Adel sent an email to her staff Thursday announcing that the First Responder Bureau (FRB) will be shuttered and its work absorbed into other areas of the office.
Adel’s email said the decision was based on hiring challenges during the pandemic.
However, the FRB’s top prosecutor remains on leave and under investigation for her role in falsely charging protesters. The bureau’s chief also resigned earlier this year.
Adel specifically created the FRB almost immediately after being appointed to office in October 2019.
She set up the specialty unit with a specific goal: Prosecute acts of violence against police officers firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders.
ABC15 has extensively reported on the FRB’s role in colluding with Phoenix police to invent a gang and then falsely charge protesters as members.
Nearly 40 felony protest prosecutions were dismissed as a result of the scandal.
Because of ABC15’s reports, Phoenix and MCAO hired outside investigators to probe what happened in the protest cases.
The independent investigations concluded that members of the FRB were too biased in favor of police and failed to vet officers’ statements, testimony, and version of events.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to an email from ABC15.
Below is the text from the County Attorney’s emailed announcement.
As part of the officewide reorganization in February 2020, we created the First Responder Bureau to address increasing acts of violence against police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and other first responders. The goal was to increase consistency in how these cases were charged and resolved while improving communication with the victims of these crimes by assigning them to experienced prosecutors who specialized in use of force issues. Our commitment to provide the best service possible to all of our victims – including our first responders – remains unchanged.
Unfortunately, MCAO, like most other employers inside and outside the legal profession, is not immune to hiring challenges especially during this pandemic. As you all know, we simply have not been able to add additional staff and resources fast enough to do the work that needs to be done. While we are focused on increased hiring, we do not believe we will have the resources to staff the First Responder Bureau at the level needed to provide the high-quality service these cases deserve.
As such, we have decided to absorb the First Responder Bureau’s work into the Trial Division. This will allow us to designate one lawyer in each geographic trial bureau to handle the crimes currently assigned to the First Responder Bureau. Because these cases will now be divided among eight lawyers, these lawyers will be expected to handle other types of cases as well. This change will allow us to provide even better service to our first responder victims because each agency will have a single prosecutor point of contact for these cases. These eight attorneys will be expected to participate in use of force training and be experts in that area of the law. They will also be expected to work closely with their respective agencies to improve communication and better serve the specific local communities within their geographic area.
We do not yet have an effective date for this change. We have already discussed this change with those currently assigned to the First Responder Bureau, but we must still identify the eight lawyers who will serve in this new role; decide where the lawyers, paralegals, and administrative professionals currently assigned to the bureau will be reassigned; and make the necessary system changes within PbK.
Again, MCAO’s goals in the creation of the First Responder Bureau have not changed. But we believe we can better meet those goals with specialists within our Trial Division rather than staffing a completely separate bureau. We remain committed to the idea that designating specific prosecutors to handle these types of cases is the best way to meet our goals and protect our community.
I want to personally thank everyone who has worked so hard in this bureau. The caseloads have been substantial and all of you — attorneys, paralegals, and administrative professionals — have worked long and hard hours to do what needed to be done. Linda Garcia has performed an outstanding service to MCAO in her role as acting bureau chief for the last five months while maintaining an extremely high caseload. Thank you to each of you.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.