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Phoenix probing if challenge coin image, video were shown at academy

Challenge coin
Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 23:47:36-04

PHOENIX — Phoenix Regional Police Academy recruits from multiple departments were shown video of a protester being hit in the groin along with the hate-speech-inspired image used to commemorate the shot, according to a person in attendance.

The source also said Officer Christopher Turiano, who fired the gas canister at the protester, was brought into a training room to address the academy class in early 2018.

“[It was] very celebratory,” said the source. “Recruits are kind of molded, which is why I think it was a bit of an issue… It was not only a justified use of force but a celebrated use of force. Something to look up to.”

The source spoke with ABC15 on the condition of anonymity due to a fear of retribution. The station confirmed the person was present during training for academy class #507, which had recruits from ten departments and graduated in February 2018.

After ABC15 inquired about the allegations, a city spokesperson confirmed the matter is now under investigation.

The allegations are significant because the Phoenix Police Department is under a Department of Justice pattern-or-practice investigation with a focus on how officers responded to protests and treated demonstrators.

RELATED: DOJ interviewed protester depicted on Phoenix officers’ coin

In its “Politically Charged” series of reports last year, ABC15 publicly exposed the existence of challenge coins that celebrated when a protester was shot in the groin on August 22, 2017. After the station revealed the coin’s language was tied to hate speech, Phoenix launched multiple internal investigations and also hired an law firm, Ballard Spahr, to conduct an outside probe.

At the time of ABC15’s initial report in February 2021, the city released the following statement:

“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.”

The law firm’s investigation discovered additional memorabilia was created with the same image, including shirts and hats, which were available in a box in Phoenix’s downtown station.

But Ballard Spahr’s final report did not include any details about the image being shown to an academy class. However, internal and outside investigators did not have access to certain records or data due to challenges from officers and police union, records show.

“To me, it almost comes across as dishonest or lying,” the source said. “We didn’t have anything to do with that. We don’t condone that. I disagree. It was being shown to recruits and taught.”

ABC15 tried to speak with Turiano outside federal court after a hearing in December.

He did not respond to multiple questions, and his attorneys declined to comment.

Coincidently, after Turiano and his lawyers walked away, two high-level Phoenix assistant chiefs passed by.

The chiefs, Mike Kurtenbach and Steve Martos, who oversee internal investigations, also declined to answer questions about the allegations.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to answer something I don’t know anything about,” Martos said.

Following ABC15’s questions to Turiano and the two assistant chiefs, Phoenix sent ABC15 this statement: “This information had not been previously reported to Phoenix police leadership, internal investigators or to [outside] investigators.”

When reached for comment this week, a city spokesperson declined to comment but confirmed the issue was now under investigation.

The challenge coin is part of a major scandal for the city.

In 2019, Chief Jeri Williams was privately questioned about the coin and shown images during a deposition, but she did not act on the information.

The chief’s inaction was reported as part of broader reporting about Phoenix’s abuse of protesters in recent years. ABC15’s investigation discovered that city officers colluded with county prosecutors to invent a fictional gang and falsely charge protesters as members.

Secret recordings obtained by ABC15 also revealed that multiple assistant chiefs said that after Williams was informed about the protest gang case she also failed to act until the matter was publicly exposed.

Some of the same officers who possessed the coin and bragged about the image were involved in the case of the protesters falsely charges as gang members.

Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at