PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is set to fire a prosecutor who played a prominent role in multiple protest cases that were dismissed after an ABC15 investigation exposed egregious misconduct.
MCAO officials also allege that prosecutor April Sponsel engaged in a pattern of “extreme overcharging” in the protest case and four other matters in 2020, according to records obtained by ABC15.
POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 investigates false protest gang charges
Sponsel, who’s been with MCAO for 18 years, was given notice of MCAO’s intent to terminate on Monday, records show.
“I do not make the decision to terminate your employment lightly… Based on your extreme overcharging and lack of appropriate follow-up and review in the cases discussed above, I cannot trust that you are able to do the work of a (prosecutor),” wrote Chief Deputy Paul Ahler.
Sponsel has already filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging she was “scapegoated” by former County Attorney Allister Adel and falsely painted as a rogue prosecutor.
She gained awards and recognition for prosecuting gang cases but later joined the First Responders Bureau in late 2019.
The bureau, which was disbanded, prosecuted most of the protest-related cases in 2020.
In its “Politically Charged” investigation, ABC15 revealed that Sponsel and Phoenix police officers falsely charged protesters in multiple cases.
The most disturbing example followed the arrest of demonstrators on October 17, 2020, when Phoenix officers arrested 18 protesters in downtown.
Ten days later, Sponsel and Sgt. Doug McBride presented a grand jury with testimony that falsely alleged the group was a criminal street gang and like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.
Sponsel was placed on leave in the weeks following ABC15’s reporting.
An attorney for Sponsel did not return an email seeking comment about the notice to end Sponsel’s employment. But in a notice of claim filed before her lawsuit, it claims she was unfairly blamed for what happened.
“In an article titled “Politically Charged: ABC 15 Investigates Protest Prosecutions,” Ms. Adel began defending herself at Ms. Sponsel’s expense, rather than telling the truth about what had occurred before the October 27, 2020 charges had been filed,” according to a notice of claim filed by Sponsel before her lawsuit. “In fact, (Adel) purposely lied about it and made (“prepared statements”) to publicly and falsely blame Ms. Sponsel as the rogue prosecutor who was solely responsible for filing the charges without her (Ms. Adel’s) knowledge or approval in violation of MCAO policies and procedures.”
Adel had constantly distanced herself from the decision to charge protesters as gang members.
But ABC15 discovered the former county attorney had kept tabs on protest cases throughout 2020 and knew about the gang charges in the days following the indictments. Phoenix police executives and FBI agents also knew about the plan beforehand.
Adel resigned from office in March and died a few weeks later.
A spokesperson told ABC15 that Interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell would not comment on the decision to dismiss Sponsel because it’s an ongoing personnel matter.
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.