After shooting a protester in the groin, a special team of Phoenix Police officers celebrated the shot with commemorative coins to sell and share.
The “challenge coins” clearly depict the man being shot on the front and have the date of the protest on the back, according to images and photos obtained by ABC15.
This story is part of an ABC15 investigation series titled "Politically Charged"
The coins also have the following two phrases: “GOOD NIGHT LEFT NUT” and “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN ONE NUT AT A TIME.”
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams was made aware of the coins, but no officers were disciplined, records show.
“They relish in the use of violence against these protesters,” said Jared Keenan, an attorney with ACLU Arizona. “It sends a clear message that this is the appropriate way to act. It’s okay not only to use extreme violence against protesters, but to glorify it and relish in it.”
The protest occurred on August 22, 2017.
Following President Donald Trump’s visit to the Phoenix Convention Center, things outside got tense. Phoenix police shot pepper balls at the feet of a crowd, while some people threw objects and gas canisters back at the officers.
The scene then descended into chaos.
The Phoenix Police Department faces an ongoing class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU Arizona and Puente.
“On August 22, 2017, [Phoenix police] eviscerated the First and Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds of peaceful protesters when it grossly overreacted to a small group, who appeared to be moving a fence toward a fully armed phalanx of PPD officers standing at the ready,” according to a court motion filed by attorneys against the city.
A DIFFERENT ANGLE
In all of the chaos, the shooting of Joshua Cobin became the iconic and lasting memory of the night.
Video captured by Phoenix station KTVK shows Cobin kicking a gas canister away toward the police line. Seconds later, he’s shot in the groin with what’s called a pepper ball.
Until sitting for an interview with ABC15, Cobin had not seen the challenge coin.
“Honestly, it’s pretty unprofessional that Phoenix police would commemorate that,” he said.
Cobin also provided ABC15 with previously unreported video of the incident. It’s from a different angle that provides context into what caused him to kick the canister toward police.
The video shows Cobin rushing in to help a woman on the ground who was shot in her back by a gas canister or pepper ball.
Cobin and another person can be seen picking her up and running away when the same officer fired another shot into his back.
“My instincts kicked in to help her,” Cobin said. “As me and this other lady went in and ran with her, we got shot in the back by the same officer again as we were fleeing. And then when we got her to safety, that’s when I turned around."
“I was pretty frustrated at that point,” he said. “I got shot in the back while helping someone and that’s what provoked me to kick a tear gas canister back at them.”
The officer who fired all three shots is Christopher Turiano.
Turiano, a 24-year member of Phoenix police, is a “grenadier” in the department’s Tactical Response Unit, which is responsible for responding to civil unrest and handling protests.
ABC15 discovered Turiano is also on the Brady list for choking a handcuffed man in 2004, internal police records show.
Two other officers reported the choking, and Turiano was criminally charged. However, those charges were later dropped.
The coins were largely kept and shared by the Tactical Response Unit.
As part of the ongoing class-action lawsuit against the department for their protest response in 2017, Chief Jeri Williams and several members of the special unit were deposed.
Williams' deposition took place in August 2019.
The chief was asked several questions about the coin and whether it would be appropriate for her officers to create or have an image like that.
Williams said, “No.”
But apparently no officers were investigated or disciplined related to the coin, according to an email sent to attorneys seeking records in 2020.
In response to a request for any documents and actions related to the coin, Phoenix police responded by saying there are none.
“There are no records because the coin was not a department sponsored, or funded, coin,” according to the city’s response.
In a statement sent to ABC15, a police spokesperson wrote, “the Phoenix Police Department did not participate in, encourage, fund or sanction the creation of any such challenge coin. There is also no indication such a coin was used for any public or official purpose on the Department’s behalf. A review at the time by a Commander with the Department was unable to substantiate any claims of misconduct related to a challenge coin.”
And check this statement from Phoenix Police.— Dave Biscobing (@DaveBiscobing15) February 6, 2021
“...any such coin...”
It exists. PD knows it exists. The Chief was shown it during a deposition. Officers testified that they owned, shared, and sold them. And the department and its lawyers have these records. pic.twitter.com/e7cNcifRb9
“I think it undermines any sort of argument that it’s just some bad actors and bad apples,” Keenan said. “This goes all the way to the top.”
“I think the rot starts at the head,” Cobin said. “If it’s something they’re not investigating, then they don’t care.”
Police and prosecutors did care about aggressively investigating Cobin.
Days after he was shot, Cobin was arrested at his job. Police also raided his home and towed his car.
Cobin was charged with aggravated assault against police and other charges.
But he ended up pleading guilty to a simple misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
“I would. I definitely would,” said Cobin, when asked if he could go back and do things differently. “I would still go help the woman. But I let my emotions get the best of me. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I think I was just frustrated.”
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and City Manager Ed Zuercher released a joint statement Saturday night in response to this story.
"There are disturbing claims that members of the Phoenix Police Department circulated an inappropriate challenge coin related to a 2017 incident. This is unacceptable and not in line with the behavior expected of my officers. I not only expect more, but demand more from my officers," said Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.
"Working together with Chief Williams, I have instructed the City Attorney’s office to begin the process of outside investigation,” said City Manager Ed Zuercher. “We do not accept hate speech at the city of Phoenix. It is unacceptable and we must have an independent look at these disturbing allegations so we can take appropriate action."
Read full statement here:
Editor’s note: This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” The series can be found at ABC15.com/protest. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.