MCAO intends to terminate veteran prosecutor accused of overcharging suspects
PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office plans to terminate a veteran prosecutor accused of overcharging suspects, including protestors in Phoenix during a notorious case from 2020.
MCAO laid out several cases in which April Sponsel submitted charges that were not appropriate, according to a dismissal letter sent June 6 by Chief Deputy Paul Ahler.
The county attorney’s office cited five cases since 2020, calling Sponsel’s actions a “disturbing pattern of excessive charging.”
The protest case referenced is from Oct. 17, 2020, in which 15 people were indicted on bogus gang charges.
One suspect in the cases, which were eventually dropped, was “unquestionably innocent of any wrongdoing,” according to the letter.
MCAO said Sponsel erred in not reviewing all available evidence.
“Based on your extreme overcharging and lack of appropriate follow-up and review in the cases discussed above, I cannot trust that you are able to do the work of a Prosecutor IV,” Ahler said.
“The fact that your administrative interview demonstrated no self-reflection or any recognition that you made mistakes, even knowing that you indicted an innocent person, reaffirms my decision that termination is the only appropriate option.”
The investigation into Sponsel’s conduct began in March 2021 when she was placed on administrative leave.
Sponsel told ABC15 she believed she was being painted as a “scapegoat in order to blunt the criticism” from other top MCAO officials, including then-County Attorney Allister Adel, over the protest cases.
“I agree. They scapegoated her,” said Marci Kratter, a defense attorney who’s spent years and many cases opposite of Sponsel, told ABC15.
“They bred this monster. They taught her how to do it. They nourished her on it. They encouraged it. They allowed it. And then, they threw her under the bus when they get caught.”
MCAO said Sponsel’s pattern of overcharging didn’t end with the protest cases.
Sponsel was alleged to have not brought forth proper charges in the other cases referenced in the letter.
One was a February 2021 case in which a man who yelled and threatened officers at a shooting scene was charged with felonies MCAO said would not end in a guilty verdict.
Another was a June 2020 case where a suspect who got into a physical struggle with a police officer was charged with “intentionally, knowing or recklessly” injuring the officer with a pen.
The suspect, who had no prior convictions, was charged with a Class 2 felony — one that’s handed down when a suspect shoots or stabs an officer with a knife — despite the officer receiving no medical attention.
Sponsel has a meeting to respond to the allegations set for next week.
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