Phoenix Council Members Call for Transparency in Police Misconduct Probe

Phoenix police move in to arrest demonstrators at the October 17 protest.
Phoenix police move in to arrest demonstrators at the October 17 protest. Screenshot via Youtube
Members of the Phoenix City Council are demanding that city officials give them detailed information about an upcoming outside investigation into a string of high-profile controversies involving Phoenix police officers.

The Phoenix Police Department has been fiercely criticized in recent weeks for several incidents of misconduct.
Reporting this month from ABC15 revealed that Phoenix cops had passed around "challenge coins" that celebrate shooting a protester in the groin back in 2017. And the Maricopa County Attorney's Office dismissed a case earlier this month against anti-police brutality protesters who were falsely accused of being part of criminal street gang after it was revealed that police and prosecutors misled a grand jury with false and misleading statements and testimony. County Attorney Allister Adel has since announced that a retired judge would review the case for "possible ethical violations."

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego have voiced support for an outside probe into the the "challenge coins" scandal, and City Manager Ed Zuercher reportedly told ABC15 this week that an outside investigation into both the officers' misleading testimony and the coins would be conducted by Ballard Spahr LLP, a national law firm.

In a letter that was sent to Zuercher today, Councilmembers Carlos Garcia, Laura Pastor, and Betty Guardado  demanded that information regarding the investigation be made public, and that the city conduct an audit of the Phoenix police response to the protest. The moves would help build "public trust and confidence," the letter argues.

"Increasingly, the City of Phoenix Police Department has been the focus of allegations of wrongdoing with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) to prosecute individuals for exercising their First Amendment right. We’ve heard from the community and echo their concerns," the letter states. "It is of upmost concern that several Phoenix officers have provided false testimony under oath in aiding MCAO with prosecutions."

"To this effect we request that a full disclosure of information that is acquired and maintained on individuals who exercise their First Amendment right be released," the letter continues. "As Councilmembers and representatives of the Phoenix community, we cannot allow city employees to engage in this manner. Furthermore, we do not condone the behavior of knowingly providing inaccurate testimony without accountability."

The councilmembers asked that detailed information regarding the Ballard Spahr investigation be made public, such as its "scope" and "areas of investigation."

"What we’re asking for in the letter is the specifics of the investigation, the timelines, the scope, what access are the investigators going to have, are they going to be able to interview the officers or not — those sorts of things," Councilmember Garcia told New Times. "We want to understand exactly what is happening. We want an investigation."

During a recent interview with ABC15, Zuercher appeared to imply that the city's inquiry might not begin until after the county attorney's office has finished the probe into the prosecution of the protesters, saying, "The County Attorney is doing a review and an investigation, and we’re going to follow up on that when we get that information with investigating our side as well," he said.

Garcia said that the city shouldn't wait.

"The biggest concern from my part is that we’re going to wait... for MCAO to do their investigation," he said. "These folks are still on the force. They’re still here... We could have a protest tomorrow. The last thing we want is for this behavior that happened over the last year to happen again. Obviously, this has chilled, essentially made it harder for people to protest or think about protesting. I think that’s the wrong message."

Dan Wilson, a spokesperson for the Zuercher, confirmed in a statement that the city attorney's office has retained Ballard Spahr to investigate the challenge coin's use and the recent prosecution of protesters. The inquiry is also "already underway."

“It is important we get the facts of what happened, the timeline, and where shortfalls existed. This is why I have asked Ballard Spahr to conduct a full review,” Zuercher said. “We expect all officers to act with respect, fairness and empathy. We know that the vast majority do so when answering the more than 2 million calls for service each year. However, when that doesn’t happen, I will address it.”

Wilson added that the city manager is reviewing the councilmembers' request and will "ensure a transparent and comprehensive investigation."
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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety