PHOENIX — Phoenix officers embellished the facts in another protest arrest last year by falsely claiming a demonstrator intentionally stabbed a sergeant with a sharpened umbrella tip, according to cell phone video and evidence photos obtained by ABC15.
Community groups said the criminal case against Suvarna Ratnam is the last Phoenix protest case that hasn’t been dismissed in the wake of an ABC15 investigation.
However, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has filed a motion to reduce the charges against Ratnam.
A new prosecutor assigned the case wrote that a further review has raised questions about Phoenix’s evidence and officers’ account of what happened.
“The whole profile of Sue has been outrageous and untrue and they need to dismiss this case,” said Ken Countryman, Ratnam’s attorney. “They need to stop targeting her and harassing her.”
Officers arrested Suvarna Ratnam on August 23, 2020, on multiple aggravated assault charges.
In jail booking documents, officers alleged Ratnam threw a water bottle and then turned to run from an officer.
“As she was running south, a police sergeant came northbound from Monroe Street and also told (Ratnam) to stop. She took the umbrella in her hand and started to swing it back and forth with force while running towards the police sergeant. Then [sic] leveled the umbrella towards the police sergeant and used it as a weapon to stab him in the hand. The stabbing occurred with such force that it broke the skin of the police sergeant’s right palm and caused him to bleed. The umbrella that was used as a weapon has a 3-inch sharpened metal tip on it that struck the police sergeant that it bent the metal of the umbrella,” according to the officers’ account of what happened.
Multiple cell phone videos show Ratnam never swung the umbrella or leveled it. The videos show her attempting to run past the sergeant.
An evidence photo of the umbrella’s tip also shows that it was not sharpened or bent.
The sergeant’s right-hand doesn’t appear to touch the umbrella tip, according to the videos. Instead, the sergeant raises his right arm and wraps it around Ratnam’s neck and shoulders as he tackles her to the ground.
“If anything, they sustained wounds while brutalizing me for standing on a sidewalk,” Ratnam said in an interview with ABC15. “I had my head slammed into a lamppost and put into a chokehold. So inflicting that kind of violence on somebody else might have left them with a wound. But I never attacked them.”
Phoenix police officials did not address specific questions about their officers’ version of the arrest in a written response.
Ratnam was initially charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — a class 2 felony.
The only charges that are higher in Arizona: First-degree and second-degree murder.
In a motion to reduce the charges against Ratnam, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office now disputes the initial claims about the umbrella.
“The State’s further review of the evidence has shown that the metal tip of the umbrella does not appear to have been modified or made sharper than its original condition,” the motion states. “Applying the legal definition of ‘dangerous instrument’ and considering the totality of the evidence, including body camera video, the State submits that it is appropriate to reduce the level of aggravated assault on this count.”
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office assigned a new prosecutor to the case after the previous one was reassigned and placed on leave following an ABC15 investigation into the protest cases.
The previous prosecutor, April Sponsel, is accused of misrepresenting evidence and exaggerating facts to grand juries in multiple protest cases.
The most notorious decision involves Sponsel and Phoenix police working together to charge a group of protesters arrested on October 17 as a criminal street gang.
Ratnam was also one of the people arrested on October 17, but those charges have been dismissed without prejudice.
Following the October arrest, Sponsel unsuccessfully attempted to have Ratnam held without bond before trial.
In a court hearing to discuss Ratnam’s release, Sponsel told the judge that she had used a sharpened umbrella to slice an officer’s hand during her previous arrest.
Sponsel also told the judge that Ratnam had bomb-making materials on her during her previous arrest that could be used in Molotov cocktails.
In police reports, officers wrote they found a bottle of acetone — or nail polish remover — in Ratnam’s backpack on August 23.
However, it was discarded and never tested, records show. Neither was the water bottle that Ratnam allegedly threw.
The motion filed by the new prosecutor raises concerns about the evidence.
“Undersigned counsel has also requested follow-up investigation and documentation regarding a bottle of acetone found in the defendant’s property and whether the water bottle contained anything other than water,” according to the motion.
For the water bottle, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is now requesting that she be charged with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge instead of aggravated assault.
“If they thought she had something, they wouldn’t have destroyed it. So that’s just false,” Countryman told ABC15. “It’s one thing to disagree with something. But it’s wholly different to fabricate lies and fabricate evidence and destroy evidence in order to prove what’s not true.”
In an emailed response, Phoenix police addressed some questions about the water bottle but didn’t provide any answers about the umbrella or the account given by officers.
“The Phoenix Police Department relies on evidence from different sources. Evidence can be gleaned from items such as but not limited to witness statements, video, images, physical items. As it relates to the water bottle, the contents of the water bottle are not relevant at the time of the arrest. The mere act of throwing a bottle at an officer is considered an aggravated assault,” a police spokesperson wrote. “All criminal cases have been submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney and upon their review, additional questions or requests may be made to the detective, which is the case for this investigation. We have no additional information to provide to you at this time.”
So far, more than three dozen Phoenix protest cases from 2020 have been dismissed without prejudice.
A trial date for Ratnam is pending.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.