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Top prosecutor was kept in dark about controversial gang charges against Phoenix police protesters, office says

Allister Adel told 12 News that health problems prevented her from reviewing the charges last fall. But new information indicates health wasn't an issue.
Credit: AP
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel speaks at a news conference in Phoenix on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. The prosecutor announced that no charges would be filed against Trooper George Cervantes in the May 25,2020, fatal shooting of 28-year-old Dion Johnson. The shooting death inspired protests of police violence in Phoenix during June. (AP Photo/Jacques Billeaud)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel was kept in the dark on a controversial gang prosecution of Phoenix protesters last fall that she ultimately dropped two weeks ago, according to new information provided Saturday to 12 News by the county attorney's office.

The information was provided after questions were raised about Adel's statements in a 12 News interview Friday that health problems prevented her from signing off on the decision to charge the 15 protesters.

The information indicates health problems would not have impeded Adel as the charges were being drawn up.

The protesters' attorneys have accused Adel's office and the Phoenix Police Department of a "political prosecution" designed to intimidate protesters.

"This was all fabricated to create a case and a narrative they wanted," said Katie Gipson, an attorney for Ryder Collins, one of the 15 defendants.

Media reports revealed that Phoenix police compared the protesters to notorious street gangs such as the Crips and the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.

In her first interview since emergency brain surgery last November, Adel said that her health problems had prevented her from reviewing the charges before they were presented to a grand jury.

"One of it has to do with timing," she said. "As you know, it was late October early November that I was going through some of the physical ailments. I knew that these cases were coming and I had a snippet of information."

The 15 people were arrested Oct. 17 at a Black Lives Matter protest of police violence. The grand jury handed up its indictments Oct. 27.

A timeline provided to 12 News by Adel's office shows she was not incapacitated during that period or for several days afterward.

"She was never under sedation or unable to conduct the duties of her office" from Oct. 25 to Nov. 3, Adel's communications director, Jennifer Liewer, said via email.

Adel injured her head in a fall at home on Oct. 25 and had emergency surgery for a blood clot on the brain Nov. 3, according to the timeline.

In response to follow-up questions from 12 News, Liewer said:

-Adel was never briefed on the case: "The county attorney is not briefed on every case that goes to the grand jury. She was not briefed on a grand jury presentation on this case in the 10 days prior to the grand jury presentation."

-Adel never got a head's up that the case was going to a grand jury: "The county attorney did not know a grand jury presentation was taking place on Oct. 27 for arrests made on Oct. 17." 

-Adel learned of the indictments from a media inquiry, three days after they were handed up: "The county attorney was made aware on Oct. 30 about the Oct. 27 grand Jury Indictment - - after the media made an inquiry with the office's communication director on Thursday, Oct. 29." 

There was no explanation for why Adel said health problems impeded her participation in the case.

During the 12 News interview, she acknowledged the case's "magnitude" and "significance to the community." 

Adel said her prosecutors failed to follow protocols for reviewing cases with a significant community impact.

"I was not in the room for it, obviously, because of my personal health issues, and so the case proceeded," Adel said in the interview. 

"Ultimately, I called for a subsequent review of that, we had that review," she said.

"I made my decision that at this time we needed to take a closer look at those cases. Some of them we can't move forward with ethically or legally."

Adel's office filed to dismiss the 15 cases on Feb. 12. That request is pending before a judge. 

Adel said there was a possibility some could be refiled.

Adel, a Republican, is a former county prosecutor. She was elected in November to a full four-year term as county attorney after being appointed to the job in the fall of 2019.

"There's either one of two things going on," said Gipson, the defense attorney.

"Adel knew about the charges the entire time and is now terrified of owning up to that ... and her office's misconduct," "Or (Adel) was totally consumed with her campaign and other things going on in her life. Both situations are concerning."

The protest occurred and the charges were filed during the final three weeks of the 2020 election campaign.

Here is the health timeline provided by Adel's office:

Sunday, Oct. 25: Adel fell at her home 

Wednesday, Oct. 28: Her husband drove her to a hospital, where she was admitted as a precautionary measure. 

Saturday, Oct. 31: She was released from the hospital. While in the hospital, she was alert and continued working virtually, according to Liewer. 

Tuesday evening, Nov. 3: Adel was unresponsive and transported to a hospital for emergency surgery. She was later transferred for care at Phoenix's Barrow Neurological Institute. 

Thursday, Dec. 31: Adel was discharged from Barrow.

Monday, Jan. 4: Adel returned to Barrow for surgery to replace the portion of her skull that had been removed on Nov. 3. She was hospitalized for three days following that surgery.

Adel said Friday she is now back at work "110 percent."

RELATED: County's top prosecutor reveals doctors feared she might not survive after brain surgery

12 News' Brahm Resnik interviews Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel on Feb. 19 about her role in the felony gang charges her office brought against 15 people after a protest of police violence. 

Adel said her health got in the way of her reviewing the charges. New information from MCAO indicates her health didn't impede her work before the charges were filed.

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