An Arizona prosecutor filed a motion on Friday (Feb. 12) to dismiss charges against 18 people charged for participating in a criminal street gang but were just protesting against police violence, according to KTAR.com.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said she filed the motions “in the interest of justice.”
This reversal comes after an investigative report by ABC15 raised questions about the prosecutor creating a fictional gang narrative to unjustly prosecute a group of Black Lives Matter protester at a rally in Phoenix last October.
“These political prosecutions should have never happened in the first place. We demand accountability for all prosecutors and police officers involved,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona tweeted in response to the announcement, adding its voice to a chorus of others who said it was a political prosecution.
Phoenix police officers have a reputation of using excessive force. In recent years, Phoenix police have shot and killed people at a higher rate than most other American police departments, according to ABC15.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix police are accused of targeting activist and former Missouri lawmaker Bruce Franks Jr., who led a non-violent protest on August 9, 2020, the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown. ABC15 said a grand jury indicted him based on selective evidence and testimony from the prosecutor’s office. While others have had their records cleared, the charges against Franks still stand.
Celebrities and politicians jumped to Franks’ defense after the story broke to national news:
"Prosecutor Allister Adele is doubling down on politics prosecutions," said Franks, a former Missouri state representative and current Maricopa county resident. "We have received trumped up charges, been indicted with felonies even though police body cam footage contradicts their own accounts. Now we are seeing the most outlandish show if force as she tries to pin protestors and activist with street gang charges."
He added: "This won't slow us down or shut us up! Our 1st and 4th Amendment rights are being stripped by a person who represents a party that says they want to protect the constitution, I guess it wasn't written for me!"
The protestors are being charged under a section of Arizona Revised Statute 13-2321, which reads: “A person commits assisting a criminal street gang by committing any felony offense, whether completed or preparatory for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with any criminal street gang.”
Franks is demanding the charges against him be dropped but is also seeking accountability for law enforcement officials involved with the arrests and charges. In an exclusive statement to BET.com, he said, “Drop all the charges! It's time to hold those responsible accountable! Fire Chief Jerri Williams, City Manager Ed Zuerker and Prosecutor April Sponsel.”
(Photos via Maricopa County Attorney's Office & by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)