PHOENIX — For the first 15 minutes on the stand, a Phoenix police officer laid out a damning account against Jamaar Williams.
He “hammerstruck” officers in the chest, resisted arrest twice, and broke free from their grip before he fled into the crowd during a protest and demonstration on July 12, 2019.
The officer, who testified during a probable cause hearing weeks later, also said multiple officers positively identified Williams at the scene.
Except, there’s a problem: It wasn’t true.
The officer knew it wasn’t true. The prosecutor did not follow up on information from the defense that it wasn't true. And police surveillance video — not disclosed to the defense — proved it wasn’t true.
Yet, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and Phoenix Police Department went into superior court and presented the false testimony anyway.
“They’ve lost sight of justice and they’ve lost sight of the truth and what’s fair,” Williams said in an interview with ABC15. “And that’s what happened to me, and that’s what’s happening to others as well.”
Williams, who has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Phoenix, is a Maricopa County public defender and Black Lives Matter organizer. Before the arrest, he was also a member of a special City of Phoenix committee on police reform.
Williams’ case is another troubling prosecution against people in protest-related arrests, proving the many problems exposed in 2020 prosecutions by ABC15 weren’t an anomaly.
They’re a continuation and further proof of police and prosecutors working without fear of accountability.
WHAT HAPPENED ON JULY 12, 2019?
On July 12, 2019, Williams and his wife, Heather Hamel, attended a demonstration in Phoenix that was part of the “Lights for Liberty” event and vigil.
Hundreds of people gathered to protest the conditions inside federal immigration detention centers and the separation of minors.
After a group sat on the light rail tracks while holding candles, a team of Phoenix police officers ordered protesters onto the public sidewalk.
The large group complied.
However, Phoenix police formed a skirmish line and then, without notice, pushed forward to move the crowd from the grass above the street curb to the sidewalk, video shows.
One of the officers aggressively pushed Hamel, causing her to fly back and fall, videos show. That’s when Williams approached an officer, demanding to know why he pushed his wife.
The officer, and others standing next to him, stood silent. Williams and Hamel then walk away. No one is struck. No arrests are attempted.
Williams would be taken into custody 12 minutes later.
Video shows the police line split suddenly and a handful of officers rush into the crowd and grab Williams. He’s sent to the ground and handcuffed before officers walk him out of the frame of the police surveillance camera.
He would be charged with multiple crimes, including two counts of aggravated assault on police.
“What that said to us: They are very serious about wanting to go after you,” Hamel said. “They are trying to destroy you. That’s what those lies said to us.”
Shortly after Williams’ arrest, prosecutors dropped the aggravated assault charges against him.
However, Maricopa County prosecutor Jeremy Miller and Phoenix police added a new charge of felony resisting arrest.
Williams challenged the basis for the charge, prompting a hearing before a judge to determine if there’s enough probable cause.
Miller called one Phoenix officer to the stand, Francisco Barrios.
When first questioned by the prosecution, Barrios gave specific and certain testimony about what happened. He even demonstrated the type of hammerfist strike Williams was accused of dropping on an officer.
But the prosecution’s account of what happened would quickly unravel under cross-examination.
The first question by Williams’ defense attorney proved Barrios wasn’t even a witness.
“I got third-hand or second-hand information about all this,” he testified on cross-examination. “I wasn’t a witness to any of these. I was told to arrest Mr. Williams and that’s what I did.”
The next question and answer would effectively prove the entire case against Williams was made up and police and prosecutors knew it.
Defense attorney: You have to trust that the officers who are talking to you are giving you the correct information, correct?
Officer Barrios: Yes, sir.
Defense attorney: So everybody’s human, so there’s always the possibility that there could have been an accident that night?
Officer Barrios: Right.
Defense attorney: A misidentification, correct?
Officer Barrios: Yes.
Defense: It would be fair to say that at some point that either that night or the next morning that there was a misidentification, that Jamaar did not strike an officer with his hand?
Officer Barrios: Correct.
Defense attorney: And who was it who did strike an officer with his hand?
Officer Barrios: I’m not sure.
Shortly later, the court would learn that Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office had misled Williams’ attorneys about the existence of police surveillance footage from that night.
Officer Barrios: I want to say there was video they pulled up for me or some call for me, who made those calls, I’m not sure, but it came down to Mr. Williams being the wrong person who was arrested.
Defense attorney: Are you aware, I requested video from the police, and I’ve been told there wasn’t any video?
Officer Barrios: I’m not.
Williams and his defense attorney presented the court with a witness cell phone video that showed a white man scuffling with officers and slipping into the crowd — not Williams.
It’s video the defense provided to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office before the hearing but the prosecutor refused to consider it as proof of innocence, Williams said.
On the stand, Officer Barrios was confronted with the cell phone video.
Defense attorney: [Showing video to officer] Is it fair to say that’s a Caucasian in a white shirt come back?
Officer Barrios: Yes sir.
Defense attorney: Now you might have a pretty good eye for this. Is Mr. Williams white or not?
Officer Barrios: He’s not.
The judge would dismiss the charges against Williams.
ABC15 obtained Phoenix police surveillance footage from the night not originally disclosed to the defense. It matches what is described in the cell phone video that was shown at the hearing: A white man scuffles with officers and flees into the crowd.
The surveillance camera even zooms in and follows the man as he moves throughout the crowd after he broke free of the officers’ grip.
He was not charged or arrested.
So why does Williams think he was targeted for arrest and charged with more crimes after they realized they got the wrong guy?
He thinks it was likely to make up for their mistake and dirty him up.
“This is how they start justifying their use of force later on and lay the foundation for the lies later that justify this type of behavior,” Williams said. “When no one holds them accountable and they do it to one of us, then they know they can get away with it. So they keep doing it to other people.”
After Jamaar Williams was arrested, a large collection of city officials were warned by community leaders about the problematic nature of the arrest, according to his federal lawsuit.
The federal complaint states that the Phoenix City Council sought answers from Phoenix police and Chief Jeri Williams before receiving a briefing on the case.
“Upon information and belief, within days of the arrest, Chief of Police Williams caused one of her representatives to meet with the City Council and Mayor Kate Gallego and misrepresented the facts of the case and advised them that the “video evidence” supported the charges that Jamaar Williams had assaulted Sergeant Gage and Officer Magee and that the City would be moving forward with the prosecution,” the lawsuit said.
Attorneys for the city denied the allegations in an initial response to the lawsuit.
Neither officers nor the prosecutor have been investigated or disciplined for what happened.
In a written response, the Phoenix Police Department did not address why their officer testified that Williams “hammerstruck” a sergeant when he knew it wasn’t true.
But police officials still maintain Williams assaulted an officer. Now, in their statement, they’re claiming a new version of what happened and released a corresponding video to ABC15.
“Mr. Williams' arrest was based on probable cause, he refused to leave the roadway and pushed an officer when the line of officers attempted to move the group onto the sidewalk,” according to Phoenix police’s statement.
The video does not prove the new pushing allegation and further contradicts the testimony Officer Barrios gave on the stand and what officers wrote in their probable cause statement on the night Williams was arrested.
In separate video obtained by ABC15, it shows Williams standing by the street curb near a tree in the same spot for several minutes before police form a line and shove members of the crowd.
The video released by Phoenix police also doesn’t show Williams pushing any officers. Instead, it shows officers pushing Williams twice in addition to shoving his wife and another woman to the ground.
ABC15 produced an in-depth follow-up report breaking down the video and statement.
Watch the report in the player above.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also released a statement saying their prosecutor did not refuse to watch any exculpatory evidence and was never provided any video from Phoenix police before the hearing.
Prosecutors can ask to delay probable cause hearings. But MCAO did not in this case.
MCAO also blames Williams’ defense attorney for not providing the prosecutor with more evidence of the state’s own mistake. For the month between the arrest and the hearing, MCAO claims the prosecutor never checked with Officer Barrios about the misidentification before putting him on the stand.
After the charges were dismissed during the hearing, MCAO’s statement also said Phoenix police tried to bring new charges against Williams months later, but those charges were declined.
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/protests. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.