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Retired FBI agent hired to criminally investigate Phoenix cops for protest cases

Posted at 3:48 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 21:39:03-04

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are set to hire a retired FBI special agent to criminally investigate city officers who played a role in falsely charging protesters as gang members in 2020.

Despite the false charges coming almost two years ago, the hiring of the outside investigator signals the criminal investigation is far from over and may still be in the early stages.

James Egelston, who runs a private investigation company called Baseline Investigations, will assume the criminal probe when county supervisors approve a contract at a public meeting later this week.

The case was assigned to MCSO detectives in November 2021.

POLITICALLY CHARGED: ABC15 INVESTIGATES CORRUPT PROTEST CASES

However, this summer, the sheriff’s office told Phoenix it needed to hire an outside investigator to handle the case because of staffing shortages, officials said.

Phoenix will pay MCSO up to $250,000 over the next year to hire Egelston and supervise his investigation, according to contracts and agreements obtained by ABC15.

“It’s baffling to me that this is where we’re at this far along,” said Katie Gipson-McLean, a defense attorney who represented a man who was falsely arrested and charged by Phoenix police and county prosecutors.

Gipson-Mclean said officers clearly lied to a grand jury in October 2020 in order to obtain the charges.

“They acted criminally and still have yet to face any real consequences within the system,” she said.

Phoenix struggled to find an outside agency to investigate its officers for testimony and written reports that were flagged by prosecutors following an ABC15 series of reports that exposed widespread exaggerations and lies in protest cases.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Tucson Police Department both turned down the city’s request to look at the matter, citing either a lack of jurisdiction or resources.

Given the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s role in bringing false charges against protesters, any prosecutorial decisions in the case will be handled by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, officials said.

ABC15 launched its “Politically Charged” investigation in February 2021. As a result, nearly 40 felony protest cases were dismissed. In the most egregious case, police and prosecutors colluded to create a fictional gang and then charge protesters as members.

Phoenix ordered an outside investigation to be conducted by the Ballard Spahr Law Firm. The firm’s final report confirmed ABC15’s reporting and recommended that the city have an outside police agency conduct a criminal probe of five officers' involvement in the cases.

The officers: Sgt. Doug McBride, Sgt. James Groat, Officer Jeffrey Raymond, Officer Alexander Volk, and Officer Joseph Crowley.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office recently fired the main prosecutor, April Sponsel, who brought the initial cases against protesters.

Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.