Multiple Phoenix police officers have been disciplined after an independent report found more than a dozen Black Lives Matter protesters were charged with gang-related activity despite a lack of "credible" evidence.
In October 2020, 15 protesters were jailed for "assisting a criminal street gang" following a demonstration in the Arizona capital. Prosecutors and police argued they were part of a group called ACAB, short for "all cops are bastards," a common phrase used in protests after George Floyd's death.
Months later, their felony charges were dropped. Attorneys for Maricopa County were accused of misleading a grand jury, and an investigation was commissioned by Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher.
The inquiry, which was spearheaded by the Ballard Spahr law firm, concluded on Thursday that "no credible evidence" backed the claim the suspects were gang members and the charges were devoid of "merit." The investigation also found that police, who claimed the group was organized “for the intent to create violence” against the police, sought to “keep things quiet” as they sought to classify a new street gang.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has been saddled with a one-day suspension, three assistant chiefs were demoted, and any officer in a supervisory role has been forbidden from being promoted to the rank of assistant chief if they're named in the report. Williams was said to be kept in the dark regarding the controversial charges, investigators determined.
“I’m disheartened and deeply disappointed by the findings of this investigation," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement. "The behavior described falls far below my expectations. More importantly, it fails to meet the expectations of our community."
A separate report that was also released on Thursday determined that the department failed for years to investigate a challenge coin that read, "Making America Great Again. One Nut At A Time," a phrase in reference to an officer who had shot a protester in the groin with a pepper ball during a demonstration in 2017. Ballard Spahr found that the coins were traded among police personnel and that T-shirts and other memorabilia were distributed.
“As discussed above, no official investigation was completed until Ballard Spahr was retained, nearly four years after the coin’s creation,” the law firm wrote.
In one section of the report, Ballard Spahr criticized law enforcement for failing to provide information pertaining to its investigation in a timely manner.
“It bears noting, however, that we reach these findings without the benefit of all possible information,” the group said. “PPD did not provide certain information we requested and, on multiple occasions, certain relevant information was provided to the Investigation Team several weeks after information was known to PPD.”
Zuercher said the Arizona Attorney General's Office has been asked to investigate "potentially criminal matters arising from this report."
The Phoenix Police Department has also grabbed the attention of federal authorities as the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the law enforcement body this month.
"The investigation will determine whether the Phoenix Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news conference, adding that its aim is to "promote transparency and accountability."
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Original Author: Jake Dima