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Phoenix leaders refuse to answer questions about police chief scandal

Posted at 7:27 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-21 21:41:22-04

PHOENIX — UPDATE: ABC15 obtained an email written by City Manager Jeff Barton for city councilmembers in the wake of ABC15's reports on the secret recordings that capture top police officials saying that Chief Williams misled the public about her role in the protest gang case. A copy of the email is embedded at the bottom of this report.

City Manager Jeff Barton declined to answer questions on Wednesday about a series of secret recordings that reveal Phoenix top cops saying the police chief misled the public and city council about her knowledge of a case involving falsely-charged protesters.

ABC15 reporters approached Barton and multiple city councilmembers outside the council chambers ahead of a regularly scheduled public meeting.

Only one councilmember, Carlos Garcia, provided substantive statements about the new scandal involving Chief Jeri Williams.

“It’s all worrisome. I think we need to take it seriously. I’ve asked for a policy meeting,” Garcia said. “The time is now. The mayor and the city manager need to step up to these questions and answer for what’s been happening.”

POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 INVESTIGATES PHOENIX PROTEST CASES

When approached outside the meeting, Barton told an ABC15 reporter “no comment” before a question was asked. He continued, “The City of Phoenix does not litigate in the public forum.”

On Monday, three former Phoenix assistant chiefs filed a lawsuit alleging that Williams and the city unfairly blamed, scapegoated, and demoted them following an outside investigation conducted by a law firm into the bogus gang charges.

The outside probe was launched because of ABC15’s “Politically Charged” investigation, which exposed how police and prosecutors colluded to invent a fake gang and then charge protesters as members.

Williams claimed that she was not informed of the decision and remained unaware.

But ABC15 recently obtained multiple recordings that capture Executive Assistant Chief Mike Kurtenbach, the department’s second-in-command, and other assistant chiefs stating that Williams was repeatedly briefed about the protest gang case following the indictments.

“The boss herself knew about this for months. We didn’t hide it,” Kurtenbach said in a recorded conversation on August 13, 2021.

Councilmember Ann O’Brien ignored an ABC15 reporter who asked if she was worried that Williams misled the council and the public. Councilman Jim Waring said he had not seen ABC15’s news reports.

Councilmember Laura Pastor, who has recently asked for more public hearings about the protest scandal, said information was going to come out in an investigation.

“That’s all going to come out in our investigation,” she said.

Pastor did not clarify what investigation she was talking about. The law firm’s outside probe was completed in August. There is currently an ongoing Department of Justice pattern-of-practice investigation.

Williams, Mayor Kate Gallego, and other top city leaders have continued to decline comment on the recordings, citing the litigation facing the city.

ABC15 asked Garcia if Williams was still fit to run the department.

“I think that’s a decision (Barton) has to make,” he said. “That’s his first big decision. And we’re waiting to see what happens. I think we need to have a public discourse to make sure the community has input on the decision.”

UPDATE: BARTON EMAIL TO COUNCIL

ABC15 obtained the following email from multiple sources. Barton's message was sent the day after ABC15's initial reports on the recordings and a half-hour before the station was schedule to air another report about City Hall's connection to the case.

"We have no reason to believe that Chief Williams had any knowledge of the conversations, testimony and decision-making that led to the gang charges," Barton wrote. "The Ballard Spahr investigation did not uncover any evidence that Chief Williams was even aware of the decision to charge the Protesters as members of a criminal street gang until after the Grand Jury presentation on October 27."

Barton focused on the fact that Chief Williams claimed to have no prior knowledge of the plan. But he doesn't address larger issues being raised by Williams' own staff: Once she knew, she did nothing until the city was embarrassed by the scandal.

Ballad Spahr's 50-page report never states when the chief learned of the scandal. During a public hearing to discuss the report's findings, no councilmemeber asked the chief that question either.

Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.