Recordings, Transcripts Show Police, Prosecutors Lied To A Grand Jury To Bring Gang Charges Against BLM Protesters
from the ends-aren't-even-justifiable,-never-mind-the-means dept
More information has come out about the disastrous attempt by Arizona prosecutors to turn anti-police-violence protesters into a street gang. Phoenix police officers waded into the protest comprised of (checks official documents) 17 protesters, showering them with pepper balls and arresting them all. Charges were brought, including one very damaging one: assisting a criminal street gang. Gang charges are automatic felonies with hefty sentence enhancements.
According to the prosecutors handling the case, the use of the acronym ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) by the protesters was indicative of their gang status. That and their use of umbrellas and black clothing. According to grand jury transcripts obtained by ABC15, a county prosecutor and Phoenix police Sgt. Doug McBride led jury members to believe “ACAB” was a street gang. Here’s the prosecutor questioning McBride during a grand jury presentation:
Q: And are you finding that ACAB is following the exact same type of philosophy of let’s say the Bloods and the Crips?
Q: And what about even maybe the same philosophy as the Hells Angels?
A: Very similar, yes.
Q: And why would that be similar?
A: I think because the tattoos, the intimidation factor, how they are directing their violent behavior very similar to the Hells Angel organization where they actually organize their violent behavior, and then they carry that out in a very organized fashion. It’s not random with the Hells Angels.
Q: And are you finding that’s exactly what this ACAB group is doing is they are organizing for the intent to create violence?
That’s how you end up securing gang felony charges against protesters who, at their worst, ignited a smoke bomb and dragged some traffic barriers around during their 30 minutes of 17-person mayhem. The claims that “ACAB” is a street gang were reiterated during bond hearings. The equivalence was made between these protesters who were otherwise unaffiliated and dangerous criminal organizations that are responsible for thousands of homicides over the past few decades.
These charges didn’t stick. And now one of the prosecutors, April Sponsel (who is married to a state trooper), is being investigated for assertions she made during grand jury hearings.
April Sponsel is a Maricopa County prosecutor currently on administrative leave and under an outside investigation ordered by Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. Adel took the action following a series of ABC15 reports that showed Sponsel and Phoenix officers presented clearly false information to a grand jury in order to charge protesters as gang members.
It gets uglier still. A retired police officer engaged in an unauthorized investigation into the protest arrests with seemingly the sole purpose of protecting this prosecutor:
After a one-week contract to review a controversial protest case, a retired Phoenix gang detective continued a shadow investigation with the goal to protect officers and a prosecutor entangled in the scandal.
According to audio recordings obtained by ABC15, retired Phoenix Police Detective Clint Davis has interviewed at least one witness in the protest cases.
“My only skin in the game is protection of the public and protection of officers,” Davis said to the case witness in a March 4 meeting. “That’s what I care about. And, I care about April Sponsel.”
The conversation involved Clint Davis, Gilbert PD Detective Terry Burchett, and Riley Behrens, an arrested protester who agreed to act as an informant. Davis reiterated his support of April Sponsel after Behrens called her a “jerk” for continuing to press charges after Behrens agreed to supply evidence and testify.
Behrens provides another link to more questionable law enforcement activity surrounding Black Lives Matter protests in the Phoenix area. The FBI was brought in by the Phoenix PD to interview Behrens and make them an official informant. Information supplied by Behrens appears to have been put to use later during other protests.
Protesters and their attorneys have long suspected that police and prosecutors have been surveilling certain demonstrators and targeting leading activists for arrests.
In some cases, body camera footage shows officers clearly identifying certain protesters in the crowds before moving in to specifically arrest them.
Police reports from various criminal cases also mention intelligence briefings about protests but don’t elaborate on where the information came from.
This meeting — also secretly recorded and handed to ABC15 — occurred just two days before officers arrested the 17 protesters and hit them with gang charges.
This is all a hell of lot of coordination for law enforcement activity that targets something that is — for the most part — protected First Amendment expression. That it continued from there to a prosecutorial farce involving providing false information to a grand jury solely to hit arrested protesters with gang-related sentence enhancements is incredibly disturbing. If law enforcement officers and officials thought they were dealing with too much blowback previous to the George Floyd flashpoint, they’ve done nothing more than add fuel to the fire currently consuming them.