Prosecutors

Tributes Pour In for Former Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, Who Died Age 45.

Allister Adel speaks after she was unanimously approved as Maricopa County Attorney by the Board of Supervisors in 2019.
Allister Adel speaks after she was unanimously approved as Maricopa County Attorney by the Board of Supervisors in 2019. Via YouTube
Allister Adel, former Maricopa County Attorney, died over the weekend from unspecified health complications, according to her family.

Adel was 45 years old, and leaves behind a husband and two young boys. Her sudden death Saturday morning was a shock to many. Condolences have poured in since then.

"This May we would have celebrated 20 years of marriage," Adel's husband, David DeNitto, wrote in a statement on Saturday. "My family and I are utterly heartbroken by this unimaginable loss. We are so very proud to call Allister wife and mom."

Before rising to become Maricopa County's top prosecutor, Adel, originally from Dallas, worked for years as an attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, largely tackling vehicular crimes. She served as general counsel for the state's Department of Child Services and the director of the Maricopa County Bar Association.

But it was Adel's role with the county attorney's office that would bring her into the limelight.

In 2019, the county appointed Adel to fill the vacancy left by Bill Montgomery, who had stepped down to fill a seat on the Arizona Supreme Court. She beat out several other finalists who occupied top jobs at the office, becoming the first woman to serve in the role. Adel put her name on the ticket for the November 2020 election, when voters chose Montgomery's successor.

During her campaign, Adel promised to bring reforms to a long-embattled office. She won on this platform, narrowly defeating her opponent, Democrat Julie Gunnigle. While in office, Adel did fulfill some of those promises, revamping prosecution diversion programs and creating a new unit to review prosecutorial misconduct.

But her time at the county attorney's office was also marked by scandal. Her office came under fire in the weeks after Adel was elected for levying gang charges against Black Lives Matter protesters. After months of outcry, the charges were ultimately dropped.

Over the next year, Adel faced growing calls to resign over absences from the office and mishandled cases, including from within the ranks of the office. She ultimately did so, submitting her resignation on March 25.

Adel had faced health issues in recent months. On election day in November 2020, she was hospitalized for a brain injury after a fall in her home. In fall 2021, Adel announced she had checked into a rehabilitation facility for an eating disorder and for alcohol abuse.

Adel's family said she passed away from "health complications" without further details, requesting privacy from the public and media.

"I know it has not been a simple path for her," said one county supervisor, Steve Gallardo, as the county leadership reflected on Adel's death at a Monday meeting. "There were personal issues she had to deal with, and I understand that. But you cannot ever anticipate something like this happening. She was a friend, a colleague."

"In light of the recent events, all I wanted more than anything was for her to have good health," said Thomas Galvin, another county supervisor. "But I want Allister Adel to be remembered as a trailblazer. She was the first female appointed county attorney, and the first female elected county attorney."

"I'm heartbroken to learn of Allister's passing," said Rachel Mitchell, the current Maricopa County Attorney who was appointed on April 20 to succeed Adel. "Her many years of service to our community leaves a legacy that impacted crime victims, first responders and animals, just to name a few."

Mass Liberation Arizona, which had spearheaded a "resign or recall" campaign against Adel over the last nine months, wrote in a statement that Adel had "lost her life to the political machine that didn’t allow her to tend to her own humanity," and offered condolences to her family.

Clint Hickman, another member of the county board, said he had spoken to Adel's father, who "wanted everyone to know how much he appreciates the outpouring of support for his daughter." Her death had been a "shock," Hickman said.

Though a date for funeral services has not yet been announced, Hickman said the family hopes to provide details as quickly as possible.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk