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AZ Prosecutor Who Allegedly Targeted BLM Protestors Files $10m Defamation Suit Against Boss Who Dropped Charges Against Them

Saying her superiors made her a "scapegoat" in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO), a prosecutor who went after a group of Phoenix Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors with gang-related charges that were later dropped filed a $10 million lawsuit against MCAO and its chief, Allister Adel, on August 9, 2021.

The prosecutor, April Sponsel, still works for MCAO, though she has been on leave since June 2021. That’s when a county judge dismissed the gang enhancements Sponsel added to rioting charges filed against a group of six protestors arrested in October 2020. The judge said Sponsel and Phoenix Police Department (PhxPD) Sgt. Douglas McBride fabricated the gang.

The six protesters, along with 14 others arrested during BLM protests in Phoenix between July and October 2020, then filed a $119 million lawsuit of their own, accusing MCAO and PhxPD of conspiring to target them for arrest and prosecution in violation of their First Amendment right to protest. They had joined millions of others across the country to call for police reform after the May 2020 killings of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and Dion Johnson by an Arizona State Trooper.

Meanwhile, Adel announced that all other charges would also be dropped against the protestors, adding that prosecutors on his staff—Sponsel is one—had failed to vet the case properly. She claims Adel was entirely on board with the gang enhancements when she briefed him at meetings as late as February 2021.

During the October 2020 protest, PhxPD said a “small group of demonstrators” blocked traffic, toppled barricades, and threw incendiary objects that smoked out responding officers. Protestors countered that PhxPD overreacted by firing flash-bang grenades and pepper spray into the crowd, including children—tailing protestors to their cars afterward and surveilling their social media accounts.

In neighboring Utah, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill drew outrage when his office added gang enhancements to charges against a group of BLM protestors who splashed the street in front of Gill’s office with red-painted graffiti during a racial justice protest in 2020. The enhancement of the charges raises the possibility that those arrested will spend life in prison for committing vandalism.


Sources: Arizona Mirror, Arizona Republic, KPNX-TV, Daily Herald

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