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Posted on: August 12, 2021

Statement from County Attorney Regarding Review in Handling of Gang Charges

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August 12, 2021 (Phoenix, AZ) - As the Maricopa County Attorney, I lead an office of nearly 1,000 employees who handle more than 40,000 criminal cases a year. It is my expectation that the actions and decisions made by employees on behalf of this agency are based on facts and evidence and handled with the greatest of integrity.

What we do in this office matters. I recognize the profound effect that the actions of this office can have on defendants, victims, and our community. When we identify any injustice, especially involving a charged individual, we must act to correct it. This is why I ordered the dismissal of many protest cases. But those dismissals are not the end of this matter.

In February, I sought an outside individual, retired Judge Roland Steinle, to conduct an independent investigation into the processes that failed in this situation. In an effort to ensure that the review was truly independent, the scope of work outlined for Judge Steinle was very broad: examine the activities that took place in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. MCAO staff were instructed to not direct any aspect of Judge Steinle’s review. Today, I am releasing his final report.

My office offered Judge Steinle full access to information, which included thousands of emails, case information, policies and procedures, correspondence, and the ability to interview anyone employed by this office. It is my understanding that Judge Steinle interviewed three employees and his review focused primarily on documents.

In his report, Judge Steinle has provided numerous recommendations, and acknowledged that some of his recommendations have already been implemented by MCAO. To date, we have done the following:

  • Dismissed charges from protest cases throughout the summer where there was not a reasonable likelihood of conviction or where dismissal was otherwise in the interest of justice.
  • The First Responder Bureau no longer handles protest matters.
  • Working with the State Bar of Arizona to address attorney ethics issues related to these matters.
  • Placed the prosecutor involved on administrative leave.
  • Placed a Phoenix Police Officer on the MCAO Rule 15, “Brady List.”

As County Attorney, I expect everyone in my office to reassess cases whenever information is received from law enforcement, the defense, or any other source. We must ensure the integrity of cases. We must always look critically at evidence and make sure that prosecutors do not seek simply to confirm what they think they know, but rather focus on what the evidence actually supports.

Moving forward, this office will:

  • Develop better guidance for MCAO staff on the handling, reviewing, and disclosing body-worn camera footage and the importance of that footage in charging decisions.
  • Create training curriculum for MCAO staff related to First Amendment Rights, and other issues raised during the course of these cases.
  • Place new leadership in charge of the First Responder Bureau.
  • Create a policy that ensures the executive team is formally briefed when unprecedented approaches to the law are being considered, and full, formal case reviews occur prior to the filing of charges.
  • Continue to review the conduct in these matters as it relates to issues of honesty and integrity.

In these cases, we made mistakes. As an agency charged with doing justice, we must be willing to admit this. And, moreover, we must be willing to correct them. Much of our work in this office is holding people accountable for their actions when they do not meet society’s expectations. We must be willing to hold ourselves accountable as well.

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RELATED DOCUMENT: Final MCAO Report 8621

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