PHOENIX — Maricopa County Superior Court judges repeatedly released protesters from custody this weekend after finding Phoenix Police arrested them without probable cause.
On Saturday, officers arrested 114 people in downtown protests. Multiple defense attorneys present at the initial appearances for those arrests said that judges determined nearly every case lacked sufficient probable cause and were submitted with the same copy-and-paste statement as evidence.
The statement didn't include any information about the specific defendants and didn't include their names or the specific allegations against them.
"Every single one that I saw yesterday was a copy and paste," said defense attorney Armando Nava, who's also a board member with the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. "Most of the individuals I was with didn't know what (charges) they were facing...I believe, myself, there were 14 that I personally handled that it was the same copy-and-paste statement."
Maxima Guerrero, a community organizer and DACA recipient who works with Puente Human Rights Movement, was among those determined to have been arrested on Saturday without probable cause. During her initial appearance, a judge stated her arrest didn't have sufficient evidence. However, she was still held and transferred to ICE custody.
She was released Monday following protests.
"So Maxima was at the protest engaging in legal observing to make sure that people's rights were protected. So as she was leaving, they pulled over her vehicle and pulled her out and arrested her," defense attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado said.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams defended the actions of her officers when asked about the arrests.
"There's always a concern when there are not charges. But at the end of the day, I do know that my officers were functioning under justice, under trying to protect public safety, because our number 1 priority is safety," Williams said. "So you're talking about pulling people out of cars, those cars were used to help fortify and give guns, rocks and bottles, water, food, to those individuals who were absolutely there to commit crimes."
Maldonado and Nava strongly disputed those claims against Guerrero and other defendants.
"It's absolutely disgusting the charges they put against her," Maldonado said. "They're completely false. She did not engage in any rioting. Nor did the vast majority of the people arrested. These are trumped up charges to try to keep people from going out into the streets and protesting."
It's not clear how many of the 114 arrests on Saturday were made using the same copy-and-paste probable cause statement. Defense attorneys present at the initial court hearings said it is the vast majority, if not nearly all of them.
Reporters could not immediately review all of the jail booking documents because public access computers with court case information are not available amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorneys said most of the protesters were charged with rioting, which is a Class 5 felony. While they were ordered to be released based on a lack of probable cause, their cases were not dismissed.
Court records show defendants have new court appearances in roughly two weeks. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office can decide whether to drop the cases or continue to pursue charges.
Some of the accused protesters are in contact with an attorney and are considering a class-action civil rights lawsuit against Phoenix.
The ACLU of Arizona is currently suing the city from their response to a protest following a 2017 rally for President Donald Trump.
"Judges are rightfully dismissing charges against protesters due to lack of probable cause, but this tells us that the Phoenix Police Department was violating civil rights en masse," Jared Keenan, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement. "Phoenix Police has a history of violating people's civil rights and their documented and repeated misconduct is one of the reasons why we filed a lawsuit against the department in 2018."
This story was originally published by Dave Biscobing and Melissa Blasius on KNXV in Phoenix.