PHOENIX — A group of protesters in Arizona who were arrested during multiple demonstrations in Phoenix have filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel and the City of Phoenix alleging that they were wrongfully arrested and fraudulently indicted.
The plaintiffs in Keisha Acton v. Allister Adel collectively allege that they were wrongfully arrested at four different demonstrations in 2020 and later fraudulently charged with various crimes. Charges in all 39 of those cases have since been dropped.
"I, myself, was arrested on October 3 and, you know, called a gang member for being in the streets and standing up for my rights," Acton said. "I was facing eight years in prison simply for the lies Phoenix police fabricated."
"I am pretty sure we all feel violated by a place that we call home," said William Reed, another plaintiff arrested during protests.
The 120-page lawsuit includes claims of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, false arrests and malicious prosecution, First Amendment retaliation, defamation, and excessive force.
"The most shocking allegation, the one where you say that is outrageous, is the conspiracy between Maricopa County and City of Phoenix to knowingly make up a street gang," said Mart Harris, an attorney for the protesters.
"The day we are not shocked by this level of outrageous police conduct will mean that it’s okay," said attorney Billy Murphy, Jr. He is a well-known civil rights advocate from Baltimore who is also assisting the plaintiffs.
Ultimately, the plaintiffs say they want accountability and systematic change at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the Phoenix Police Department.
As part of the “Politically Charged” investigation, ABC15 has spent months investigating protest cases brought by Phoenix police and county prosecutors. The series exposed how police and prosecutors worked together to grossly exaggerate evidence and present clearly false testimony to grand juries to indict protesters.
ABC15 also uncovered that the members of the Phoenix police protest response team owned, shared, and sold challenge coins to celebrate violence against protesters. The coin’s language is tied to hate speech.
A notice of claim was filed by the protesters in March warned the MCAO. The settlement amount listed in the claim to avoid a lawsuit: $119 million.
As a result of ABC15’s reports, the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office have each ordered separate outside investigations. There is no estimate for completion for any of the probes.
Sgt. Doug McBride, a key sergeant involved in the protest cases, is now on Brady list. Initial prosecutor April Sponsel is now on leave.
A spokeswoman for Adel told ABC15 they have not yet been served with a lawsuit and, and they can’t comment on pending litigation. The Phoenix Police Department declined to comment for the same reason.
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 or Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa@ABC15.com.