A retired judge will conduct an outside review of a case in which 15 demonstrators were charged as members of a street criminal gang, Maricopa County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Retired Maricopa County Supreme Court Justice Roland Steinle has been asked to review the office’s procedures “when making fee decisions in cases of community interest or those that may have policy implications,” the office said Monday in a press release with.
District Attorney Allister Adel also asked Steinle to recommend ways to improve the office’s processes and to check for ethical violations related to the prosecution of the case.
“As a district attorney, I am committed to ensuring that this office meets the highest standards,” Adel said in a statement, later adding, “On this particular matter, I believe we could have done better to meet those standards.”
Adel and the office have been criticized for months over the case, which was due to arrests during a protest on October 17th in downtown Phoenix.
Many of the 15 accused were charged with riot, obstruction of a public thoroughfare, unlawful gathering, aggravated assault and street gang activity.
The gang allegations, which come with a much harsher sentence if convicted, immediately caught attention.
The district attorney said in a statement to the republic on Saturday that she was unaware of the presentation made by a prosecutor in her office to a grand jury on October 27 and that she did not “authorize” charges of gang crime.
The charges came days after her serious fall.
The office dismissed the case on February 12. Adel said the office’s practice of having management review high-profile and complex cases before making fee decisions has not occurred.
The protesters were wearing blacks and umbrellas at the time of their arrest. One officer said they used the phrases “All cops are bastards” and “ACAB” and worked together to avoid arrest. One defendant alleged officials did not arrest any pro-Trump supporters nearby.
Protesters’ lawyers have been petitioning for the case to be dismissed for months. They have also raised concerns about a possible conflict: the lead prosecutor is married to a Department of Public Security soldier, and the protest centered on the death of Dion Johnson, who was killed by a DPS soldier.
April Sponsel is married to trooper Alfonso Galindo, who was shot by a 17-year-old boy in September.
On November 2, the republic asked the public prosecutor whether there was a conflict of interest for Sponsel.
“As stated in our office’s ethics policy, prosecutors are prohibited from having a personal relationship with a victim or witness in a case,” Adel replied. “I take this policy seriously and this bureau strictly adheres to it.”
Sponsel is now removed from the case. Although the case was dismissed, MCAO replaced Sponsel with Ryan Green, the Office’s director of education and conviction, as the new prosecutor.
In an email to staff in June, Adel told prosecutors who had concerns about the use of force by police in their cases that they should send them to Green. She said Green would look into the cases with Tom Van Dorn, the bureau’s investigative director, who would contact the relevant law enforcement agency “to discuss the concerns.” Van Dorn used to work for the Phoenix Police Department.
Who is the retired judge Roland Steinle?
Steinle served on the bank in Maricopa County Superior Court from 2001 to 2016. Nine of those years were in the criminal division.
The retired judge spoke to the republic during his 2020 investigation into former prosecutor Juan Martinez. Adel fired Martinez last year after bringing charges against women who alleged he molested them.
The Republic documented reports by 17 women that Martinez had molested or ill-treated them in various ways.
The republic also reported how former State Bar of Arizona district attorneys, judges and regulators wrote off allegations of wrongdoing and sexual harassment reports against Martinez.
Martinez’s career was unraveled after Jodi Arias was tried on charges of ethical misconduct, including divulging confidential information about a juror to his blogger girlfriend, sexting with an ex-juror, harassing a court reporter, and lying while on trial an investigation by the prosecutor.
Martinez agreed to the lockdown on July 17, ending a prosecutor’s investigation into allegations related to the Arias trial. He alleged that he sexually molested prosecutors.
In his interview with the Republic, Steinle said Martinez knew which judges he could push and “exactly where he could compromise and get away with it”. He claimed Martinez tried not to be in his courtroom.
“If you play it quick and easy, do you really want a judge to hold you accountable?”
The retired judge said his hands were bandaged on Martinez because he didn’t think he had jurisdiction if the conduct didn’t occur in his courtroom.
Steinle said he was aware of Martinez’s pursuit of women. He said he did not act because he never saw a direct complaint.
On February 12, 2018, Steinle spoke at a Senate hearing in the US state of Arizona about a criminal restitution bill. He told lawmakers why it was important for judges to play a role in helping the court obtain criminal reimbursement payments for victims.
Steinle said it was easy for him to see who couldn’t pay compared to those who could because it was “really, really obvious”.
When the judge set an example for people who were not gainfully employed and were in arrears with reimbursement payments, he spoke about women.
“We had a number of women who came before me and hadn’t paid in a year,” he said. “They come and I say, ‘How do you support yourself?’ ‘Oh, I live with my friend.’ ”
Steinle said he was a “tough guy” and wouldn’t stop “that person” from paying compensation.
Republican reporters Uriel J. Garcia, Robert Anglen, and Anne Ryman contributed to this report.
Do you have any thoughts about the Arizona legal system? Reach criminal justice reporter Lauren Castle at Lauren.Castle@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Lauren_Castle.