PHOENIX - A Maricopa County prosecutor and three Phoenix Police officials are suing the county and city, seeking a combined $25 million in damages in connection to false gang charges that have now been dismissed against several protestors.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel is named in a defamation lawsuit filed by one of her prosecutors. County prosecutor April Sponsel is currently on paid administrative leave – she was the lead prosecutor in the now-dismissed case.
Sponsel claims Adel used her as a scapegoat and told lies about her to the media, so she filed the multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
An independent review found the controversial decision to file criminal street gang charges against more than a dozen protestors who were arrested during an October 2020 rally that did not meet the definition of a criminal street gang.
There was a public outcry, and Adel announced the charges were dismissed, then placed Sponsel on leave.
"Being placed on administrative leave is itself a damage," said Tom Moring, Sponsel's attorney. He says they have information proving Adel knew about the gang charges and lied to the media about Sponsel not meeting the office’s standards.
"Later, Ms. Adel seemed to suggest that Ms. Sponsel acted alone, gone rogue, if you will," Moring said.
Three Phoenix Police assistant chiefs who were demoted to commanders also filed a similar lawsuit against the city of Phoenix and police chief Jeri Williams seeking $15 million in damages.
The prosecutor and police officials all claiming their names, decades-long careers, and reputations are now ruined.
"Clear her name is one thing. Clear her reputation as a lawyer is another. Every time a lawyer walks into a courtroom, the judges know who that person is," Moring said. "And so I’m not so sure you can clear that reputation. Sometimes you can, and sometimes when that damage is done, that damage is done."
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office says it hasn't received the lawsuit yet and did not comment.
FOX 10 also reached out to the Phoenix City Manager for their side of the story, but was told they would not comment because of pending litigation.
The case from last year began on Oct. 17, after 15 protesters were arrested during a march against police brutality in Downtown Phoenix. They were indicted by a grand jury on charges of assisting with a criminal street gang.
According to a letter from Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher to Arizona Attorney General's Office Chief Deputy Joe Kanefield, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office alleged, in front of a grand jury, that the protesters were part of a gang called ACAB - "All Cops Are B******s." Prosecutors said the gang was made to create violence against police.
The investigation noted that both Phoenix Police and the MCAO made the decision to press gang-related charges.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel filed a motion in June to dismiss all of the charges related to the protests, citing a lack of time and resources needed to pursue the case.
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