ARIZONA NEWS

Phoenix police chief reprimanded over bogus gang charges, challenge coin

Aug 12, 2021, 12:53 PM | Updated: 9:25 pm
(AP File Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
(AP File Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP File Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX – Police Chief Jeri Williams was suspended briefly and reprimanded in connection with bogus gang charges filed against people arrested last year at a Black Lives Matter protest and a controversial challenge coin, the city of Phoenix announced Thursday.

Other high-ranking police officials were also disciplined, and City Manager Ed Zuercher, who suspended Williams for one day, has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to conduct a criminal investigation into the trumped-up gang charges, according to a press release.

The city released the findings of an independent investigation into the incidents and revealed the fallout exactly one week after the U.S. Department of Justice said it was launching a probe into the Phoenix Police Department over potential civil rights violations and abuses of power.

“I was disappointed, but even beyond disappointed, angry,” Zuercher told reporters of his thoughts after the findings came out. “You never want to see a report like that about your police department or your city.

“We have to face it head-on and make the changes that are necessary as a result of their findings.”

According to national law firm Ballard Spahr LLP’s report to the city, Williams wasn’t told about the decision made by police and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office officials to bring gang-related charges against 15 people arrested at a downtown Phoenix protest on Oct. 17, 2020.

Zuercher called that one of the most disappointing findings of the report.

“One of the most disappointing findings was that breakdown in getting information to Chief Williams and the breakdown between assistant chiefs and command staff hearing what was going on and not intervening and asking questions about are we following policy,” Zuercher said.

MCAO withdrew all charges in June after a judge dismissed the cases and said police and prosecutors had engaged in “egregious misconduct.”

The independent investigation “found no credible evidence” that the protesters were part of a gang and was highly critical of how officials went about determining the charges.

“Police and prosecutors orchestrated the criminal street gang case against the protestors with inconsistent and inaccurate police reports, dubious grand jury testimony and deeply flawed (according to the Superior Court of Maricopa County, unconstitutional) legal conclusions,” the report says.

Three assistant police chiefs who were aware of the gang charges — John Collins, Lawrence Hein and Gabriel Lopez — were reassigned to commander roles. A sergeant at the center of the report, Douglas McBride, was referred to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for criminal investigation and placed on administrative leave.

Zuercher said the determination to suspend Williams for only one day had to do with the nature of the issue which was she was not informed.

“So it wasn’t that she made a decision, it was that her department was not set up to get her information,” Zuercher said. “That’s an issue that she has to have accountability for.”

He added Williams has taken that accountability “and she’s accepted the task of fixing this and holding others accountable for where they failed her and the community.”

Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia said the city’s response does not go far enough and called for “McBride and all other officers involved” to be fired.

“The injustices outlined in these reports have and will continue to destroy people’s lives if we don’t take serious and swift action to rectify these egregious harms,” he said in a statement.

Zuercher also issued a written reprimand to Williams for “lapses in executive leadership” related to the challenge coin incident.

The coins shared by officers mocked a man who police shot in the groin with a non-lethal weapon during a protest outside a 2017 Phoenix appearance by President Donald Trump.

The coins had the phrases “Good Night Left Nut” and “Making America Great One Nut At A Time” as well as the Aug. 22 date of the incident.

Concerns have been raised that the first phrase was similar to the neo-Nazi slogan “Good Night Left Side,” but the investigation didn’t find any evidence that the officers circulating the coins intended to make that association.

Williams was directed to write new policies related to the gang charges and the challenge coins.

The Department of Justice’s investigation into Phoenix police behavior will likely look into both controversies.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said it will review the department’s use-of-force practices and also look for patterns of retaliation over activity protected under the First Amendment.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report. 

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Twitter Photo/@ArizonaDOT)...
KTAR.com

Dust storm moves into Valley ahead of expected overnight thunderstorms

A dust storm was spotted Wednesday afternoon in the southeast Valley ahead of anticipated thunderstorms overnight.
18 hours ago
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)...
Danny Shapiro

AG Mark Brnovich says pre-statehood abortion ban is law of the land in Arizona

Attorney General Mark Brnovich released a conclusion Wednesday stating a pre-statehood abortion ban that only allows the procedure when it saves the mother's life is the law of the land in Arizona.
18 hours ago
Rob Duggan (Town of Gilbert Photo)...
KTAR.com

Town of Gilbert promotes assistant Rob Duggan to fire chief

The town of Gilbert announced Wednesday that Assistant Chief Rob Duggan has been promoted to serve as the next fire chief.
18 hours ago
After multiple nights of abortion-rights protests, security fences and barbed wire surround the Ari...
Kevin Stone

Electronic surveillance used in 8 Phoenix abortion protest arrests; court doesn’t find probable cause

Electronic surveillance was involved in eight of the nine arrests state troopers made over the weekend at or near abortion rights protests at the Arizona Capitol, according to court documents.
18 hours ago
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)...
Danny Shapiro

US Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona denies asking for pardon following Jan. 6 attack

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona on Wednesday denied asking for a pardon following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in 2021.
18 hours ago
Follow @KTAR923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
Phoenix police chief reprimanded over bogus gang charges, challenge coin