High ranking Phoenix officials, police chief Jeri Williams, sued by 3 former assistant chiefs
PHOENIX — Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, her executive assistant Michael Kurtenbach, City Manager Edward Zuercher and the city are being sued by three former assistant chiefs for defamatory statements made against them relating to charges brought on to protestors who were arrested in October 2020.
The lawsuit — brought on by commanders John Collins, Lawrence Hein and Gabriel Lopez — alleges Williams wrongfully demoted them for not informing her and Kurtenbach of the decision the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office made by bringing on gang-related charges to the protestors, according to court documents.
On Oct. 17, 2020, masked protestors were arrested by police officers when authorities believed they were intending to obstruct an oncoming light rail train, court documents show. They were arrested for unlawful assembly, participating in a riot, obstructing a thoroughfare and aggravated assault.
Four days later, the deputy county attorney and a detective with MCAO talked about charging the protestors with an offense of assisting a criminal street gang, according to court documents.
The former assistant chiefs were made aware of MCAO’s decision to bring on the additional charge on Oct 23. 2020, which they claim in the lawsuit to have reported to Kurtenbach “as soon as the meeting concluded.”
Less than one week later, on Oct. 23, 2020, the protestors received indictments from the Maricopa County grand jury for gang-related charges, among others.
But former Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel moved to dismiss the charges on Feb. 12, 2021 “with prejudice”, based on several deficiencies in the criminal street gang-related charges, which court documents said, resulted in a political fallout within the city of Phoenix and its police department.
All three assistant chiefs were demoted without written notice or an evidentiary hearing on Aug. 12, 2021, based on the claims they failed to tell Williams and Kurtenbach of the MCAO’s decision to pursue gang-related charges, according to court documents.
Collins, Hein, and Lopez claim, according to the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, the city can’t lawfully discipline them without first providing them an evidentiary hearing, as well as without first proving that “just cause supports the disciplinary action,” according to court documents.
They further allege the claims made by Williams and Kurtenbach, and media campaigns launched by Zuercher against the three former assistant chiefs, placed them in a false light to their colleagues, members of the Phoenix City Council and the public.
Collins asked Williams what they had done wrong, with which she replied they were “collateral damage,” the court documents stated.