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The Growing Trend of Prosecuting Protestors: A Look at Arizona

A conversation with Judge William Murphy, Steve Benedetto, & Heather Hamel Robles.

This month, Steve Benedetto and Heather Hamel Robles joined our conversation with Judge Murphy for The Justice Beat's legal hour. The purpose of the legal hour is to provide our listening audience with advocacy strategies, litigation strategies, and/or next steps for tackling social justice reform issues. This week, we had the opportunity to speak at length with Murphy and Benedetto regarding the growing trend of prosecuting protestors.

William H. Murphy, J.D.

Judge Murphy is a senior and founding partner at

Murphy, Falcon, & Murphy law firm. He has been a Baltimore trial attorney for decades, aggressively and effectively handling a broad range of cases

including criminal defense, medical malpractice, personal injury, and more. Judge Murphy has a 90%

success rate in federal cases, which is four times higher than the national average (9%). His 40+ years in the courtroom have equipped Murphy to advocate for clients from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Steve Benedetto, J.D.

Steve Benedetto is founder of The People's Law Firm in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2014, upon finding out about the murder of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri, his life changed forever. He became very interested in the police response to nonviolent protestors. As a result, he chose to leave his practice and focus on defending survivors of violence and other civil rights abuse. Over the last six years, The People's Law Firm has provided substantial legal muscle to the movements for systemic change.

Heather Hamel Robles, J.D.

Heather is an attorney at The People's Law Firm. Growing up in a biracial family, seeing her siblings treated differently left an inevitable imprint on her at a young age. By the time she was a teenager, she realized that what might be a routine traffic stop for her as a white woman might look very different for her younger brother with dark skin. She pursued a degree in law with the hopes of enacting change and eradicating the systems of oppression she witnessed growing up.

What's going on in Arizona?

On May 25, 2020, the lives of George Floyd and Dion Johnson were abruptly and wrongfully stolen by police officers. These murders caused protests nationwide, and Phoenix, Arizona was no exception. Protestors who rallied together to express their sadness, fear, anger, and disdain for the current legal system in the United States were met with disproportionate force. Police responded with indiscriminate use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and bean bags. Over the course of the first four nights of protests in Phoenix, officers arrested 354 people. A vast majority of these arrests occurred over a two-day period beginning on May 30. Officers began to arrest anyone and everyone in the downtown Phoenix area, whether or not they were actively protesting. They went as far as stopping cars, pulling people (including children) out of vehicles and arresting them with no probable cause. They were held in vans with no air conditioning for 6-8 hours. Due to the fact that they were held in such close quarters near chemical weapons, many individuals who were arrested suffered significant medical complications. Afterwards, they were taken to jail and booked for felony charges related to rioting.

What ultimately happened?

Judges quickly caught on to Phoenix Police Department's not-so-clever idea of fabricating probable cause for these cases. Not only were the probable causes fabricated, they were literally copied and pasted from one person to another. Judges became outraged and threw out almost all of the cases immediately, before the individuals were even released from jail.

In response to these events, the city of Phoenix implemented an 8pm city-wide curfew. Citizens had to be inside by 8:00 unless they were dealing with a medical emergency. Phoenix Police Department used this curfew as justification for arresting 300+ more people, simply because they were outside past 8:00. Once the media got hold of this information, Phoenix police was under serious heat and began to change their tactics.

Check out this video to get a closer look at what happened during the protests:

Who's being investigated now? Why?

14 officers involved in the mass arrests were placed on desk duty and are currently under investigation to determine whether or not they are fit to remain on the force. The lead prosecutor who brought all of these cases forward was placed on leave and is currently under investigation by the National Bar Association and the city of Phoenix. Additionally, the entire Phoenix Police Department is under two separate investigations by a national law firm and a police reform group.

Check out this week's episode at:


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