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

(Facebook Photo/Brophy College Preparatory)...
Associated Press

Brophy College Prep in Phoenix reports widespread cheating

The principal of Brophy College Preparatory says the prestigious private Phoenix high school has learned of “widespread even pervasive” cheating in its all-male student body.
21 hours ago
Clouds pass over drought-stricken Lake Mead on May 10, 2022 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Ar...
Associated Press

Tucson willing to take 20% less water to help Lake Mead shortage

The Tucson City Council included its potential willingness to take 20% less CAP water to keep more in the reservoir.
21 hours ago
(Facebook photo / State Farm Stadium)...
Associated Press

Glendale adopts new short-term rental regulations ahead of Super Bowl

Glendale has preemptively adopted rules regulating short-term rental properties before the city welcomes visitors for the 2023 Super Bowl.
21 hours ago
(Pexels photo)...

Arizona sees significant jobs increase in April, per employment report

The state of Arizona saw a 13,100 jobs increase in the month of April, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority's monthly report.
21 hours ago
(Pexels photo)...

Rio Salado’s Dental Clinic offering free dental work to Arizona’s veterans on Saturday

Arizona's veterans can receive free dental cleanings, dentures, fillings, oral surgery and crowns Saturday at Rio Salado’s Dental Clinic.
21 hours ago
A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed during ...

Felon from Arizona convicted of firearm, ammo possession, including ‘ghost gun’

An Arizona felon was found guilty of illegally possessing over 20 firearms, including a “ghost gun,” and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Have you gotten your booster shot?

Do you remember when you got your last COVID-19 vaccination? If it has been more than five months since you completed your primary vaccination series, it’s time for you to get your booster. You may be eligible even sooner depending which vaccine you received. If you are over the age of 50 and received your […]
Phoenix police chief reprimanded over bogus gang charges, challenge coin