MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. — The nation's third-largest prosecution agency now has a policy requiring all prosecutors to review any video law enforcement has before charging someone with a felony effective immediately according to the Maricopa County Attorney's office.
“If there is video evidence available to us, then we want to take a look at it,” Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel explained.
The new policy announcement stems from a review of existing policies within the county attorney's office followed prior to Adel taking office two years ago.
“Video evidence, which may include evidence like officer body-worn camera video, surveillance video, or cell phone videos, can be the single most important piece of evidence in a case when it captures the crime being committed or it is the basis for the identification of the person who committed the crime,” Adel said. “This new policy ensures that prosecutors review the most relevant portions of any video evidence as early in the case as possible.”
Maricopa County Attorney's Office under the microscope
Allister Adel is facing calls for her resignation after her office prosecuted Black Lives Matter protesters as gang members following the death of George Floyd last year. A total of 39 protest cases were later dropped after media reports exposed a lack of evidence.
The Department of Justice also announced an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department.
“We were on this road before the incident with protestors," said Adel. "But it certainly was a factor in a sense of why we need to look at the camera footage from any type of camera once it becomes available and it factors into our decisions of how we process cases in our office.”
A step to regaining public trust
Attorney Rick Romley served in the same position as Adel for nearly a decade and said the new policy is the right one.
“For a prosecutor to review all evidence, that just makes a lot of sense,” Romley explained. “For there to be public safety you must have public trust because we work so closely with the community. If you lose that public trust, it makes law enforcement that much difficult.”
Romley says all video evidence must be reviewed especially in cases involving the use of force or officer-involved shootings.
Irresponsible charges hurt the public
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Taylor applauds Adel's move for more transparency and policies that hold her office accountable.
"Right now having a prosecutor look and decide evidence before somebody is charged should be the normal process and hopefully prevent prosecutions that are frivolous going forward."
Taylor says those frivolous charges have a lasting impact on clients.
“That can affect the person for the rest of their life and you want to make sure the evidence is there before you file a charge,” said Taylor.
Exceptions to the new policy
Exceptions can be made by supervisors if:
- There is a reasonable likelihood of conviction based on other available evidence.
- A suspect poses an immediate threat to the victim or community.
- There is sufficient corroborating evidence of the crime.
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