MCAO fires prosecutor who falsely charged protest suspects

Jun 30, 2022, 11:00 AM

(File Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)...

(File Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(File Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The longtime Maricopa County Attorney’s Office prosecutor whose charges against people arrested at a 2020 protest came under intense scrutiny was officially fired this week.

April Sponsel’s firing went into effect Tuesday, according to the notice of dismissal, which cited incompetency, inefficiency and neglect of duty.

“I find a disturbing pattern of excessive charging and a failure to review available evidence. I have concluded that dismissal is appropriate,” Interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said in the letter.

Sponsel has the right to appeal but must file within 10 calendar days of the firing, the office said.

She was the lead prosecutor in cases against 15 people who were arrested during an Oct. 17, 2020, protest in Phoenix against racism and police brutality.

MCAO filed gang-related charges against those arrested, which eventually triggered an independent investigation.

Some evidence used to justify the charges was “unquestionably false,” the letter said.

“You wrongfully indicted an innocent person because you presented inaccurate evidence to a grand jury … and when you were made aware that you may have an innocent person under indictment you did little to ensure that your prosecution was just,” the letter said.

Sponsel was placed on administrative leave March 2 and received a notice of intent to dismiss June 6.

The independent inquiry into the cases concluded members of the Phoenix Police Department and MCAO collaborated on the charges, some of which were for rioting, a class 5 felony; assisting a criminal street gang, a class 2 felony; and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, also a class 2 felony.

MCAO withdrew all charges in June 2020 after a judge dismissed the cases and said police and prosecutors had engaged in “egregious misconduct.”

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MCAO fires prosecutor who falsely charged protest suspects