PHOENIX — Bruce Franks Jr. believes he was targeted by Phoenix Police.
He believes officers planned to arrest him. He believes the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office planned to politically prosecute him.
“Absolutely,” he said. “None of this is by chance. None of this is coincidence. This is a strategic plan to silence us.”
Franks, a prominent and nationally-known icon in the world of police-reform protests, was arrested on August 9, 2020 following a downtown Phoenix protest and demonstration. He marched with a few dozen protesters through city streets to the front of the Phoenix police headquarters.
That's where eight people, including Franks, were arrested.
Franks was indicted by grand jury - a confidential, one-sided process in which prosecutors select only the evidence and testimony they wish to present.
The criminal charges against him are heavy: Aggravated assault on police, resisting arrest, rioting, criminal trespassing, and unlawful assembly.
“They literally made up everything,” Franks said. “Every single aspect of what they said is not true.”
The Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office have yet not responded to a request for comment.
ABC15 reviewed dozens of hours of police body camera video and surveillance footage from the incident. In addition, the station obtained nearly 200 pages of Phoenix Police reports and the entire grand jury transcript.
The evidence shows the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office didn’t show the grand jury a single second of video and only presented jurors with officers’ testimony.
Under oath, police testified Franks did many things that video proves he clearly did not do.
His defense attorneys state it plainly: Phoenix PD surveilled Franks and had a preconceived plan to arrest him, court records show.
An arrest that would make local and national news.
“Which, of course, is exactly the purpose of a political prosecution,” wrote Stephen Benedetto, one of Franks’s attorneys.
WHO IS BRUCE FRANKS JR.?
Bruce Franks Jr. is a former Missouri state lawmaker, who moved to Arizona a few years ago.
His rise from battle rapper, to street protester, to state representative is well-known around Missouri and the subject of a major award-winning documentary, “St. Louis Superman.”
So why did he attend and lead a march on August 9, 2020?
“Well, August 9th, 2014 was the day Michael Brown was killed. I’m from St. Louis. I was in the streets of Ferguson from day one. Pepper sprayed. Tear gassed. 400 days straight,” Franks said in an interview with ABC15. “So every August 9th is a remembrance of the tragedy and the murder of Michael Brown. It’s also my son’s birthday. So for me it’s always a day that’s filled with joy and sorrow. So what we do every August 9th, I don’t care where we are, is do solidarity actions, march whatever we have to do.”
THE PROTEST AND RESPONSE
On August 9, 2020, Franks and the group walked west down Washington Avenue until they turned up Seventh Avenue and then marched to the front of the Phoenix police headquarters.
Due to the number of protests throughout 2020, the city placed temporary waist-high metal fences to prevent people from being on the public sidewalk in front of the public building.
The group stood in the street rocking the fences to the rhythm of various chants until it toppled. People then stepped on the sidewalk and continued to demonstrate.
No one attempted to enter the building.
Inside the lobby, officers were already staged in full riot gear. Additional officers also waited on the side of the building.
Phoenix police and other Valley law enforcement agencies had been conducting surveillance and gathering intelligence on organizers, protesters, and upcoming protests throughout the year, records show.
About 90 seconds after stepping onto the sidewalk, dozens of officers left the building and formed a skirmish line in front of the group.
Most protesters on the front line raised their hands.
For the next minute, neither side moves.
Franks can be heard telling people on his side of the line to remain calm, “Hey, hey, we good. Relax.”
He then tells police to make sure their body cameras are on, and many officers do begin recording at the moment, videos show.
Officers then get the order over their radios and march forward, pushing their shields into the line of protesters.
Franks and others are pulled from the front of the line and arrested.
The Phoenix police media relations unit produced a 2-minute “critical incident briefing” and press release the day after the demonstration.
The video and information publicly laid out the department’s justification for the arrests.
It provides general information about the incident but does not lay out specific evidence against any of the defendants.
But confidential grand jury testimony and internal police records show that officers made multiple statements that are “demonstrably false,” according to court motions filed by Franks attorneys.
An ABC15 review of grand jury testimony and police reports also found the officers’ words do not match the department’s video evidence.
But the grand jury would never get the chance to see it for themselves because prosecutors never showed jurors a single second of video.
In an interview, Franks first addressed the rioting charges.
“Rioting?” he said. “I don’t know who would tell officers to turn their body camera footage on in order to riot.”
To obtain the aggravated assault charges, officials told the grand jury that Franks and another man “turned towards the skirmish line and charged it… in kind of a football type or lineman type of bull rush… to break through the line.”
Video from multiple angles — on the ground and above — show that never happened.
When police move forward, the line of protesters stand and get pushed back into a large circular concrete barrier, which prevents some of the group from moving back any further. At no point did Franks turn toward the line, charge or try to break through it, videos show. He was always facing the line.
ABC15 produced the following video that shows multiple synchronized angles when Phoenix police march forward.
For the resisting arrest charges, prosecutors and officers said that Franks resisted by “actively pulling away from the grasp of officers” and “trying to embrace or become enveloped by people swarming him.”
As officers marched froward, multiple protesters stood arms linked.
Video shows when police pull to arrest Franks, the man next to him refused to let go of Franks and pulled on his arm.
But the footage shows Franks repeatedly responded to officers’ commands and is caught in a type of tug-of-war between the two sides.
Police and prosecutors still have not produced any body camera footage to Franks and his legal team from the officers directly involved in his arrest.
WAS FRANKS TARGETED?
According to Franks and his attorneys, the most troubling part of his case happened before the arrest.
When asked if he had evidence that they singled him out and targeted him, he answered, “ Absolutely, it’s all on camera.”
Officers’ body cameras captured audio of radio calls telling officers specifically who to arrest by name as they marched forward to push back protesters.
“I need everybody to listen, ready to march? March! Hold the line integrity, push them back,” the radio call said. “And keep those two in front, Bruce Franks, take him into custody, red shirt, these two right here, two in custody, Bruce Franks.”
Other officers not outside or involved in the arrests — instead watching from the lobby as they happened — also specifically mentioned Franks.
One woman said, “They have Bruce.” A man responded, "Nice. They got the ones that were the agitators.” The same man laughs to himself when a handcuffed Franks is walked through the lobby on his way to a holding cell, body camera video shows.
Police had been monitoring Franks’ social media and held intelligence briefings before the protest, records show.
His attorneys allege his arrest was planned regardless of what happened.
“All of this, all these charges, all of this targeting is a result of 30 people that put out a flyer that said we’re going to march, Bruce Franks is going to speak, and there’s going to be a rally,” Franks said. “So the response to that is a problem in itself.”
At least three of the officers involved in Franks’ arrest are on the “Brady list,” which tracks officers with integrity and credibility problems. ABC15 also exposed multiple members of Phoenix’s specialized protest response team, who handled the response during Franks’ arrest, possessed a hate-speech inspired challenge coin to celebrate shooting a protester in the groin.
Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office have worked together to bring a number of highly controversial protest cases in recent years.
In another troubling case, the same officers and prosecutor have charged a small group of protesters as a criminal street gang. The officials compared the group to notorious street gangs like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.
The protest cases against people decrying police violence are starkly different from how Valley law enforcement agencies handled those who protested the election results.
Election protesters smashed windows at Arizona’s capitol, entered restricted areas at the vote county location, obstructed roads, threatened media and counter protesters, and brought a guillotine to the lawn in front of the state legislature.
But officers, deputies, and state troopers largely watched and took little or no action.
And as Franks watched it all, he couldn’t help but compare how differently Phoenix Police handled things on August 9th.
“There was a standstill, and that was an opportunity the police failed at when you talk about de-escalation,” Franks said. “Instead of de-escalating and saying, ‘Ok, let’s meet halfway.' It went to, 'let’s enforce. Let’s be over-enforcers. Let’s show our strength.' Rather than de-escalate the situation. But it absolutely didn’t have to go the way it went.”