MCAO releases results of 2nd investigation into bogus gang charges

Aug 13, 2021, 1:30 PM | Updated: 6:59 pm

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Thursday evening released the findings of an independent investigation into bogus gang charges pursued against people arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest last year.

MCAO issued its report several hours after the city of Phoenix released the findings of a separate independent review into the police department’s role in the cases.

Prosecutors brought gang-related charges against 15 people arrested at a downtown Phoenix protest last October. MCAO withdrew all charges in June after a judge dismissed the cases and said police and prosecutors had engaged in “egregious misconduct.”

MCAO, the agency responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in metro Phoenix, hired retired Judge Roland Steinle to investigate the matter.

County Attorney Allister Adel said in a statement that Steinle focused on documents – “thousands of emails, case information, policies and procedures, correspondence” – and interviewed three employees.

Steinle determined that prosecutors acted “in bad faith.”

“In this case, what happened at the protest march of Oct. 17, 2020. was reduced to a ‘narrative’ crafted upon police reports. This narrative has been found by the judge in the criminal case to contain material misrepresentations of evidence and where in the prosecutor assisted in misdirecting the grand jury,” he wrote.

“Further, the judge found that state failed to provide relevant exculpatory evidence or correct misleading information and the state acted in bad faith in presenting evidence.”

He also provided numerous recommendations for improving MCAO procedures, some of which Adel said have already been implemented.

“In these cases, we made mistakes,” Adel said. “As an agency charged with doing justice, we must be willing to admit this. And, moreover, we must be willing to correct them.

“Much of our work in this office is holding people accountable for their actions when they do not meet society’s expectations. We must be willing to hold ourselves accountable as well.”

Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher suspended Chief Jeri Williams over the police department’s role in the gang charges based on findings from an investigation conducted by law firm Ballard Spahr LLP.

Other high-ranking police officials were also disciplined, and Zuercher asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to conduct a criminal investigation into the trumped-up gang charges.

Both the MCAO and Phoenix police reports were released one week from the day 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.

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.

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MCAO releases results of 2nd investigation into bogus gang charges