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MCAO, Phoenix PD facing new legal claims for bogus protest gang case

Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 21:36:16-04

PHOENIX — Dozens of police protesters falsely charged by officers and prosecutors have filed three new legal claims against the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office officials.

The notice of claims, which are settlement demands required before lawsuits can be filed, were served on Monday.

Attorneys for the protesters allege further collusion between Phoenix police and county prosecutors to falsely charge demonstrators in multiple 2020 cases.

The claims also include collections of never-before-seen text messages and emails that further connect top officials and a politician in the push to falsely charge protesters as gang members.

Some examples:

  • County Attorney Allister Adel was directly involved in responding to news inquires following a grand jury indictment. Adel has repeatedly blamed subordinates for the false gang charges and has claimed she was not involved in the decision.
  • Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio texted an MCAO executive the day after the gang charges were dropped to ask what was needed to re-file the charges.
  • MCAO executives created a “Riot Tracker” spreadsheet to keep tabs on protest cases throughout 2020 even though most of the people tracked in the document were not facing riot charges.

Officials for MCAO and Phoenix PD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the station’s “Politically Charged” investigation, ABC15 exposed police and prosecutors routinely lied and exaggerated in multiple protest cases to target known demonstrators and leading activists.

The most egregious case involves the decision to charge 15 protesters as gang members after an October 2020 protest.

The basis for the charges: Some of the protesters wore black, carried umbrellas, and they chanted common phrases. One of the many phrases they chanted on the night of their arrest was “All Cops are Bastards.”

So Phoenix officers and county prosecutors designated the group as the “ACAB” gang.

The Phoenix Police Department is under Department of Justice investigation for how its officers handled protest responses and arrests.

After reviewing the evidence included in the new legal claims, activists are questioning why federal officials haven’t expanded their probe to the county attorney’s office.

“It does seem like there is a mass cover-up going on,” said Joe Larios, an organizing director with Mass Liberation AZ. “The culture from Phoenix PD and MCAO is that they’re above the law — that they actually don’t have to be accountable.”

One of the legal notices adds new claims against county attorney officials for their roles in the gang case and a separate set of protest arrests in August.

With a series of new emails and text messages, the claim also accuses Adel of misleading the public.

“[Discussions within MCAO leadership] seem to undermine any suggestion that County Attorney Adel had only a “snippet” of information about the gang charges, as she would later claim in attempting to distance herself from the scandal,” attorneys wrote.

Another notice of claim targets the City of Phoenix and councilman Sal DiCiccio for text messages he sent MCAO regarding ongoing protest cases.

On February 12, 2021, MCAO dismissed the gang charges against protesters following a week of intense scrutiny because of ABC15’s reporting.

The claim alleges that DiCiccio sent the following text message to MCAO Director of Investigations Tom Van Dorn the next day.

“I didn’t want to text you on a Saturday,” the message states. “But my phone has been ringing off the hook all morning from the police regarding those dropped charges. Maybe we can talk later this week to figure out with [sic] the status is and why we got those charges dropped. One of the questions they had is can we re-file and what was needed. It’s coming mostly from the Police union guys and some of the upper management guys.”

Adel responded to Van Dorn and asked him to relay the following message.

“I spoke to Britt last night and told him the same thing I told JW,” wrote Adel, in an apparent reference to Phoenix Chief Jeri Williams. “While we are dismissing, we will be re-evaluating the cases and the evidence to determine what is in the interest of justice. I think you should simply just reiterate that to Sal.”

The third notice of claim was filed against the county attorney’s office for it’s alleged role in assisting Phoenix with arresting and charging more than 120 people with copy-and-paste probable cause statements in May 2020.

Protesters are already suing the Phoenix Police Department in the matter.

Following ABC15’s reports, the City of Phoenix and MCAO each hired outside investigators to probe their agency’s roles in the protest cases.

Both outside investigations confirmed that the gang charges were based on wild exaggerations and lies. But neither probe could conclude that Adel or Williams was involved in the initial decisions to charge the protesters.

Subordinates in each agency have filed their own legal actions claiming that both leaders knew of the plan and are unfairly scapegoating the people below them.

The final reports outline the outside investigations’ findings did not include the texts or emails included in the newly-filed notice of claims by protesters.

In response to ABC15's request for comment, DiCiccio released the following statement:

“The individuals who destroyed our city need to be prosecuted. Money from hard-working tax-payers was spent fixing the damages they created. This has become nothing more than political theater targeting police by radical anti-police hate groups.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at