Attorneys

Maricopa County Lawyer’s Workplace strikes to fireplace prosecutor in gang prices case, letter reveals

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office in downtown Phoenix.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in downtown Phoenix.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is moving to fire April Sponsel, a prosecutor who led the county’s controversial criminal case where 15 protesters were charged as gang members in Phoenix.

Officials with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office cited a “disturbing pattern of excessive charging and a failure to review available evidence” in five cases from 2020, according to a letter to Sponsel dated June 6 and obtained by The Arizona Republic.

According to documents, Sponsel displayed incompetence, inefficiency, and neglect of duty.

“Your actions in these cases have undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system. You failed to exercise sound judgement in these matters, and you failed to perform your essential duties to this office and this community,” officials wrote in the letter. “For all these reasons, it is my intention to dismiss you from your position.”

Chief Deputy Paul Ahler signed the letter, noting it was not a decision made “lightly.”

“Your evaluations over your years at MCAO reflect a skilled prosecutor and your work has held many violent offenders accountable,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, we have now discovered a continuing pattern of deficient performance.”

The letter also cites a meeting scheduled for June 14 for Sponsel to present an “explanation of the reasons why the proposed dismissal is not appropriate.”

Sponsel has been on administrative leave since March 2, 2021.

In August 2021, Sponsel filed a $10 million claim against her employer for defamation and damages. She alleges in the lawsuit that now-deceased Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel was aware of the gang-related charges that Sponsel was pursuing and that Adel used her as a “scapegoat” to protect her political career once public opinion toward the charges turned sour.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the process for termination is as follows:

  • Intent to terminate letter.

  • Predetermination hearing as referenced in letter.

  • Final determination of termination.

  • Should the final decision be termination, the employee may appeal the decision.

The office declined to comment further, saying it was a personnel issue.

Lawsuit allegations: When did Phoenix police chief know about gang charges?

Reach breaking news reporter Haleigh Kochanski at hkochanski@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @HaleighKochans.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Letter: Maricopa County Attorney’s Office moves to fire prosecutor

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