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Maricopa County attorney moves to drop protest cases with gang charges

(Facebook Photo/Allister Adel)

PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors are moving to dismiss charges against 16 people accused of crimes that included assisting or participating in a criminal street gang after being arrested at a protest against police brutality in downtown Phoenix.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said in a brief statement released Friday night that her office filed motions to dismiss the charges stemming from the Oct. 17 protest while it reevaluates evidence “that has been and continues to be submitted for review.”

The motions said the dismissals were requested “in the interest of justice.”

Adel’s statement did not elaborate, but she said her office “remains committed to holding those who committed criminal events in this event responsible.”

The motions requested dismissal without prejudice, which would allow charges to be refiled.

The motions followed investigative reports by ABC 15 on the gang charges and circumstances related to handling of other protests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and others had called the gang charges against the protesters an abusive political prosecution intended to silence dissent and scare protesters.

“These political prosecutions should have never happened in the first place. We demand accountability for all prosecutors and police officers involved,” the ACLU of Arizona said Friday night on Twitter.

The Arizona gang law allegedly violated by the protesters includes indicators such as wearing of uniforms and proclaiming gang membership, and police contended the protesters met those criteria by wearing black clothes, carrying umbrellas and chanting a slogan critical of police, ABC 15 reported.

A police sergeant and a prosecutor called the protesters dangerous and compared them to such notorious gangs such as the Crips, Bloods and Hell’s Angels, according to ABC 15.

Defense lawyers and others welcomed the dismissal motions, ABC 15 reported, but said the charges should be be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they couldn’t be refiled.

Along with the felony gang allegation, the motions would dismiss felony charges of rioting and obstructing a public thoroughfare and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful assembly.

Before Adel announced the motions, Phoenix City Councilwoman Debra Stark earlier Friday had called the gang charges troubling and said she hoped they’d be dropped.

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