An independent incident report spearheaded by the Ballard Spahr law firm and commissioned by Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher found that Phoenix police had “no credible evidence” to charge protesters who were demonstrating against police in October 2020 as gang members.
“Law enforcement ignored the obvious problems with the information it received,” the 52-page report released on Aug. 12 says.
Although police commanders were aware that the criminal charges brought against the 15 demonstrators possessed “a lack of merit,” according to the report, officers and prosecutors alleged the protesters were a part of the a group called ACAB, short for “all cops are bastards.”
At the time, Phoenix Police Sgt. Doug McBride claimed that the group of protesters meets the criteria for a street gang because they chanted “A, C, A, B,” which counts as self-proclamation, wore all-black, and carried umbrellas, which count as a uniform. The umbrellas were allegedly used to “gain an advance over law enforcement to commit criminal acts.”
The Department of Public Safety said in February that ACAB would not be added to the state’s gang intelligence system.
“I consulted with our Legal Counsel at DPS. Based on the information we have right now, this group does not meet the criteria for entry into the gang intelligence system,” a DPS administrator told ABC15.
The charges against the protesters were dropped and the investigation was ordered by Zuercher.
According to the report, police claimed the group formed with “the intent to create violence” against the police, as officers tried to “keep things quiet” as they attempted to classify a new street gang. Police Chief Jeri Williams was kept in the dark about the investigation and didn’t know the group would be charged as a criminal street gang until the charges were presented before a grand jury.
As a result of the findings, Williams was suspended for one day, three assistant chiefs were reassigned and a police sergeant has been placed on administrative leave pending and criminal and administrative investigation.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has been asked to conduct a criminal investigation of the employees involved in the case. Another follow-up investigation will be conducted by an outside entity.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement in response to the report, “I’m disheartened and deeply disappointed by the findings of this investigation. The behavior described falls far below my expectations. More importantly, it fails to meet the expectations of our community.”
The statement continued, “The recommendations, policy changes, and disciplinary actions the city is taking are necessary first steps in addressing these issues. The safety of our community is of the utmost importance. More needs to be done to restore confidence and have a successful Phoenix Police Department.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced earlier this month that the U.S. Justice Department has opened a “pattern or practice” investigation into the city of Phoenix and its police department.
Specifically, the Civil Rights Division investigation will look into the department’s use of force policies, whether it engages in discriminatory policing, and whether officers engage in retaliatory activity against protesters.