Maricopa County District Attorney Allister Adel “Knows” About Gang Charging Protesters
PHOENIX – Maricopa County District Attorney Allister Adel was aware of plans to indict a group of police protesters as a criminal street gang, according to the original prosecutor assigned to the case.
ABC15 obtained text messages for prosecutor April Sponsel which were sent on November 3, 2020 – a week after the case was presented to a grand jury.
When asked by a coworker if Adel knew about the plan before the indictments, Sponsel texted: “Yes, she did.”
In February, ABC15 launched an investigation that debunked the evidence used to indict more than a dozen protesters as a gang. The group was arrested on October 17. Prosecutors and police presented savage exaggerations and outright lies to the grand jury 10 days later to secure the gang charges.
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Adel declined several interview requests to discuss the gang affair.
In an emailed statement for this report, the county attorney wrote: “As I stated in response to similar inquiries, I was not properly informed of the plan to bring this case to the grand jury. I cannot speculate on what an employee meant in a text message conversation with others that I was not a part of.
Adel’s response does not specifically deny that she was aware of plans to indict the group as a gang.
The county attorney has distanced himself from the gang charges in several statements in recent months. She said a severe fall and brain injury she suffered in late October 2020 affected her ability to properly review the case.
The text messages were obtained through requests for public recording made by defense attorneys representing some of the protesters. ABC15 independently verified the authenticity of the posts before contacting MCAO for comment.
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The messages also raise concerns about public records, experts said.
Sponsel asks his colleague if he uses Signal, a text encryption app that can reduce the digital trace of messages.
When asked why Sponsel and others in the office use the app, she replied, “Because if [sic] text options that disappear.
“The fact that they are using the signal here is a pretty good indication of their intention here,” said Dan Barr, a Valley lawyer specializing in First Amendment issues. “They want to have conversations that are outside the public recording law.”
Regarding concerns about the use of Signal, a spokesperson for the MCAO sent the following written statement.
“In response to a request for public records, a review of cell phones issued by employees was conducted by the MCAO. It was determined that Signal was not downloaded to any of the devices issued by the county. Additionally, as part of the office’s continued efforts to comply with the Public Records Act, several employees, including April Sponsel, were asked to report whether “Signal” was being used to conduct county business on cell phones. staff and employees reported that this had not happened, ”the statement said. “How and what people use to communicate on their private devices on personal matters is not something this office has the capacity to regulate or monitor. However, the county attorney’s office fully recognizes that if an employee chooses to conduct official business on a personal device, it is a public record.
The protest gang case has been closed and Sponsel is currently on administrative leave.
Under increasing public pressure, Adel hired a retired judge in March to investigate how his office handled the protest case and related ethical issues.
The completion date of the judge’s investigation has not been announced.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at [email protected]