Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has injected himself into a plea negotiation for two bigots who vandalized a Tempe mosque with their children, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Tahnee Gonzales, 32, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, were arrested in March and charged with burglary and aggravated criminal damage after they filmed themselves trespassing with three kids at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe — stealing written materials, tearing down flyers, and spewing hateful remarks about Muslims.
But now according to the SPLC, Montgomery is directly involved in the negotiations to find an alternative resolution in order to prevent the case from going to trial.
In an emailed statement to Phoenix New Times, Montgomery said, "It is office policy that I am apprised of potential offers in most high profile matters."
In his statement, rather than substantively addressing his involvement in any plea deal for the mosque vandals, Montgomery criticized the SPLC.
"The SPLC has been radicalized, paid out millions for mischaracterization, and has millions hidden in offshore accounts," he said. "They should not be cited by any self-respecting media outlet.”
Andrew Marcantel, an attorney for Gonzales, informed a judge in a July 12 hearing of their direct negotiations with Montgomery, the SPLC's Nick Martin reported. Another attorney for Gonzales told the SPLC that he is confident his client will not serve jail time because of the resolution.
Despite the eyebrow-raising circumstances, Montgomery said that his involvement in a potential plea deal is nothing out of the ordinary.
“To assert that this case is being handled in an unusual or unprofessional manner is irresponsible, at best," Montgomery said in an email.
He referred to his involvement in negotiations during previous high-profile Maricopa County cases.
Montgomery cited the case of four teenagers (three of whom were underage) in Chandler who twisted a large decorative menorah into a swastika. In that case last year, Montgomery accepted a plea deal for the three juveniles — they entered a guilty plea and committed to 30 hours of community service, an essay-writing exercise about the Holocaust, and an apology to the family that owned the menorah.
Hate crimes in Arizona carry the possibility of a enhanced sentence. But Montgomery did not address whether any plea negotiation will include a more punishing sentence because the women targeted a house of worship.
"The victims in this case have been involved from the beginning and any resolution will involve their full input and participation," Montgomery said. "Plea agreements reached by this office involve the input of victims."
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Gonzales and Dauenhauer had ties to Patriot Movement AZ, a local band of racists who routinely harass people — from dark-skinned state legislators to high schoolers protesting gun violence — with hateful language at public events.
But after the mosque vandalism incident, Patriot Movement removed Dauenhauer as a group member and claimed Gonzales had never been involved.
The women both pleaded not guilty to their two felony charges.
Gonzales was also charged with disorderly conduct and three counts of endangering a minor, a misdemeanor, because she brought the three children to help vandalize the mosque. In video footage from the incident, the women encourage the kids to say vitriolic things about Muslims and act delighted when they echo their offensive remarks.