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?

A: Yes.

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?

A: Yes.

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.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, arizona, black lives matter, blm, free speech, gang, police, police violence, protests


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:31pm

    Gee, cops seem to really really not like BLM and their supporters for some reason. What could it be? What could it possibly be? Hmmmmmm.

    *hard /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:55pm

    That'll show em

    Yup, lying during court to bring bogus charges, private investigations to 'protect' the liars from consequences for those lies and trying to disrupt protests against police brutality and abuses of power with excessive and violent means will definitely show people why those BLM people are overreacting and calm things down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:26pm

    Organized conspiracy

    If they were looking for gang members they could have just looked in the mirror.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:45pm

    Gang Charges

    Charges were brought, including one very damaging one: assisting a criminal street gang. Gang charges are automatic felonies with hefty sentence enhancements.

    The whole concept of sentencing "enhancements" as a result of being part of a disfavored group, or as a result of committing crimes against a favored group (hate crimes, etc) is an affront to the principles of freedom of association and equal protection under the law.

    It is also clearly unconstitutional.

    While freedom of association, whether it be with "bad people" or a book club, is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, it has long been recognized by the courts as a basic right. Equal protection under the law is, of course, guaranteed in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.

    Of course, unconstitutional affronts to basic rights and decency are stock-in-trade for cops, prosecutors, legislators, courts, Governors, Presidents...authoritarian government types in general.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:01am

      Re: Gang Charges

      Well, on the one hand I see your point. On the other hand, conspiracy charges are common for people who helped commit a crime even if they didn't personally take part in the execution of it. Do conspirators get away scot free if they didn't personally commit the end activity, then if not where do you draw the line if not association with known bad actors?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Upstream (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 5:31am

        Re: Re: Gang Charges

        There is a significant distinction to be made between association and conspiracy.

        I'll give two examples to illustrate the point:

        The FBI conspires with individuals to induce them to commit acts for which those individuals can then be arrested and prosecuted as terrorists. In this case it would be completely appropriate for the FBI agents to face the same terrorism charges as the individuals with whom they conspired. Of course, it would be infinitely better if the FBI did not participate in the creation of crimes (or participate in politically motivated investigations, surveillance, etc) to begin with, but that is another topic.

        On the other hand, you could be said to associate with the occasional anonymous troll, by virtue of being a fellow Techdirt commenter and sometimes posting replies to their ignorant, boorish, small-minded, idiotic, (list continued here, scroll about halfway down) remarks. In this case it would not be appropriate at all for your comments to be flagged as abusive/trolling/spam, as the troll's comments often are.

        Big difference. While I have not actually answered the question "Where do you draw the line?" I think I have made it clear that "guilt by association" is a bad idea.

        Drawing definitive lines in what is actually a very large gradient between what is definitely "OK" and what is definitely "NOT OK" is something people have been trying to do since there have been people, using various legal, moral, ethical, religious etc systems, with what I would argue has been a rather disappointing lack of success.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 7:15am

          Re: Re: Re: Gang Charges

          "While I have not actually answered the question "Where do you draw the line?" I think I have made it clear that "guilt by association" is a bad idea."

          I agree generally, but I also think that "erm, I'm not associated with those guys I swear" is not something that should be a defence if evidence is available that you knowingly contributed to their actions.

          If you just help a random normal looking guy out and he turns out to be a white supremacist, that's bad luck and shouldn't be subject to any enhanced sentences. On the other hand, if you hang around a lot with guys with swastika tattoos and they ask you to help out with access to the local synagogue, there's probably something else at play.

          There will be grey areas, but there are definitely situations where the knowledge on the part of the conspirer is clear.

          "it would be infinitely better if the FBI did not participate in the creation of crimes"

          It would, but that's a different subject.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 7:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gang Charges

            On the other hand, if you hang around a lot with guys with swastika tattoos and they ask you to help out with access to the local synagogue, there's probably something else at play.

            The question should be not do you hang around with them, as that can be due to them using the pub with the best beer in the area, but rather are you actively aiding them in illegal activities.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 8:08am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gang Charges

              Well, that why I mentioned "synagogue". Help some guys out with a random problem, even though they're Nazis? You need better friends, but that's not a problem on its own. But, you know they're Nazis and it's something directly related with their objective aim of violent hatred? You've got some explaining to do to avoid being treated as a collaborator.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 2:10pm

    Pity, one doesn't even need a program to tell them apart...
    They're all bad cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 2:45pm

    The police lying in order to create trumped up charges in order to criminalise and silence their critics to create a chilling effect? Unheard of! Oh wait, they do it every time there's any sort of pushback to their violence and criminal activities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 3:48pm

    I don't understand how the concept of granting deference to the cops words can exist when they keep being caught in lies like this over and over again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 1:57am

    when government goes bad and decides to double down.

    hopefully conspiracy gets thrown around a lot in court about the DA and the blue lies mafia! with the appropriate prison time handed out in the end......

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 3:22am

    When this story sites Hells Angels as Gangsters and not BLM it would appear to be reverse discrimination, if they got a job then they wouldn't have time to "protest" (read here block roads, commit burglary and arson).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 3:34am

      Re:

      You might want to try easing up on stereotypes and half-baked narratives and learn some reading comprehension, ability to understand factual data and spelling skills, as all of those are rather lacking in your post.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 3:48am

      Re:

      Ah yes, because as history shows the real cause of protests is the people in them not having jobs, because as everyone knows if you've got a job you've got no reason to protest anything, and conversely if you're engaging in a protest that must mean you don't have a job. /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 7:00am

        Re: Re:

        Even if he was right about that (which he's not) - isn't there some kind of issue there? Maybe some kind of global pandemic that's led to a financial collapse and millions of unexpected new unemployed people? Who might have some kind of incentive to fight against institutional racism that might lead them to find it more difficult to find a new job?

        Even if we accept his own fictional parameters, he's still wrong about the thrust of his argument.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 6:28am

      Re:

      Perhaps if the Trump administration handled the pandemic competently, there wouldn't have been such a massive loss in jobs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      wereisjessicahyde (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:43pm

      Re:

      It happened on Oct 17th, a Saturday.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, 26 Mar 2021 @ 7:05am

    In todays life lesson

    This is turning into if not a Police State. The police are not just not your friends, they are an active threat to your liberty and safety on a daily basis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    GlobalTrustopedia (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 7:16am

    What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for an ADHD Child?

    If you are one of those who are worried about your child’s impulsiveness and distracting behavior, then stick to this article till the end. Because you are not the only one, there are numerous cases of children with poor school performances due to ADHD “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

    https://globaltrustopedia.com/health-and-wellbeing/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-child-w ith-adhd/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 8:30am

    The most dangerous gang in America is the police forces all across the country. They are a coordinated terrorist mob, with their powerful unions pulling the strings. Never, ever trust a cop (or a DA).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2021 @ 7:30pm

    This has the same energy as Aurora trying to charge protesters with attempted kidnapping.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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