Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel personally knew about the plan to charge a group of police protesters as a criminal street gang and falsely blamed the case’s prosecutor for going rogue after public backlash, according to a recently-filed notice of claim.
The claim was filed last week by April Sponsel, a 17-year prosecutor with the office who was specifically assigned to handle protest cases.
[Notice of claims are settlement demands that must be sent before lawsuits against government agencies can be filed. A copy is embedded at the end of this report.]
“In an article titled 'Politically Charged: ABC15 Investigates Protest Prosecutions,' Ms. Adel began defending herself at Ms. Sponsel’s expense, rather than telling the truth about what had occurred before the October 27, 2020 charges had been filed,” the claim states. “In fact, [Adel] purposely lied about it and made [“prepared statements”] to publicly and falsely blame Ms. Sponsel as the rogue prosecutor who was solely responsible for filing the charges without her (Ms. Adel’s) knowledge or approval in violation of MCAO policies and procedures.”
On October 17, Phoenix officers arrested 18 protesters in the downtown area. Ten days later, Sponsel and Sgt. Doug McBride presented a grand jury with testimony that falsely alleged the group was a criminal street gang and like the Bloods, Crips, and Hells Angels.
In her notice of claim, Sponsel also said that eight other high-level MCAO officials met to discuss the gang charges days after indictments were handed down.
“The following people attended (virtually) the October 30, 2020, Meeting: Division Chief Vince Goddard, Bureau Chief Sherry Leckrone, Division Chief of Training and Appeals Ryan Green, Bureau Chief of Gangs Heather Livingston, Chief Deputy Ken Vick, MCAO Det. Karl Martin, Information Officer Jennifer Liewer, Chief of Investigations William Long, Director of Investigations Tom Van Dorn, and Ms. Sponsel,” the claims states. “Ryan Green was the only prosecutor who objected to the charges.”
The notice of claim also alleges the plan was discussed and approved during a multi-agency meeting on October 21, 2020. The meeting included Phoenix police assistant chiefs and the FBI.
“At the October 21, 2020, meeting, there were more than 30 law enforcement officers in the room, including a number of FBI and Phoenix Police Sergeants, Lieutenants, Commanders and Assistant Chiefs. No one in the meeting was opposed to the criminal street gang charges, and all agreed the charges were appropriate,” according to the claim.
ABC15 has previously reported and confirmed that meeting occurred. The station also discovered the FBI worked with local law enforcement to gather intelligence on protesters.
In response to ABC15’s reporting, the City of Phoenix ordered two outside investigations to be conducted by the law firm Ballard Spahr.
Those investigations were recently completed and are expected to be released in the coming days.
The Department of Justice has also opened a sweeping pattern-of-practice investigation into the Phoenix Police Department. Federal officials said the protest cases are a key issue in the probe.
In the wake of ABC15’s reports, 39 Phoenix protest cases have been dismissed.
Adel has declined ABC15's standing interview request to discuss the protest cases. MCAO ordered an outside investigation into the office's handling of the gang case.
In interviews with other media outlets, she has distanced herself from the charges by saying a head injury she suffered in late October prevented her from fully vetting the case.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.