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Maricopa County prosecutors forced to drop 180 cases due to internal failures

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said they "failed to review roughly 180 misdemeanor cases from 2020" before the statute of limitations expired.

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is confirming about 180 misdemeanor cases will not be prosecuted because the office did not file charges before the statute of limitations expired on the cases. 

However, this isn't the first time the office has missed the deadline to file charges. 

Charges not filed in 2019

It was in October 2018, when Shannon Dillard's daughter Audri and friend Jesel were killed by a man police said was driving drunk. The man hit and killed the pair. 

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not file manslaughter charges. At the time, the office said it wasn't likely they'd get a conviction at trial. 

"I'm disgusted. I'm humiliated - embarrassed to even be part of this county," Shannon Dillard said in 2019. 

Dillard's attorney, Scott Palumbo recalls the meeting with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. 

"So I asked, 'Well, what about the DUI charges?' and they said, 'We forgot to file those in time'," Palumbo said. 

In 2019, now former spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Jennifer Liewer, addressed the issue. 

"It was a gross oversight on the part of this office that the misdemeanor DUI was not filed in one year," Liewer said. "Our prosecutor was focused on investigating and looking at ways they could prosecute the felony and in that process did not get that misdemeanor charge filed." 

The office also said at the time, changes would be made to make sure it didn't happen again including reviewing protocols and getting alerts before the statute of limitations expires on a case. 

"This was a month after County Attorney Adel took office. This wasn't something she was unfamiliar with. This was probably one of the first protocols she had to put in place to assure something like this didn't happen. So how can it possibly happen? And 180 times?" Palumbo said.

2020 cases go unreviewed

Now, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said in a statement they did not file charges on 180 cases from 2020:

"The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office failed to review roughly 180 misdemeanor cases from 2020 prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Office took steps to notify law enforcement agencies and victims of this error. The Office has also redirected resources to ensure this error does not occur in the future."

"Now, those victims are going to go without justice," Palumbo said. 

The Arizona Republic's Robert Anglen reports the misdemeanor cases include DUI, domestic violence, assault and criminal damage. 

Anglen added most of the cases that were forgotten were referred to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. 

"Police got a letter that said, 'We made an error, we didn't file these charges the right way and we're really sorry for it." Anglen said. "People who were identified as victims in these cases were told the case can't go forward, we've made a decision not to prosecute.'"

In a statement to 12 News, Sheriff Paul Penzone said he and DPS Col. Heston Silbert met with Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel regarding the dropped cases and asked for changes so it doesn't happen again. 

"The Colonel and I recognize the difficulties in managing complex organizations and the corresponding challenges, but we found nothing to mitigate or exonerate the breadth of this deficiency," Penzone said in the statement. 

Penzone said Adel assured the law enforcement agency leaders changes would be made so the failure doesn't happen again. 

A tumultuous time

This is the latest in a tumultuous few months at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. 

Just last month, Adel's top prosecutors called on her to resign after concerns over her sobriety and command of her job. This was days after Adel's communications director resigned. 

In response to her deputy chief's letter, Adel said she had no plans to resign. 

The County Board also said it's seeking advice from an outside attorney to see what options it has in the matter. 

The State Bar of Arizona also told 12 News it is also investigating allegations in the letter from Adel's top prosecutors. 

"This isn't a one-time thing. This is the latest in a calamity of errors. I think there needs to be a change at the top. And that's either going to come through resignation - It definitely needs to come out in the next vote," Palumbo said. 

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