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Police critics arrested after 2019 immigration protest sue Phoenix, police

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Police critics arrested after 2019 immigration protest sue Phoenix, police

  • Phoenix police tackle Jorge Soria on a city sidewalk during a July 12 protest against ICE.
    Screenshot from YouTube, enhanced to show detail.Phoenix police tackle Jorge Soria on a city sidewalk during a July 12 protest against ICE.

A man who Phoenix police arrested during an interview with the Arizona Mirror at a July 2019 protest and another bystander who police mistook for a right-wing agitator have filed a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix and several police officers.  

Jorge Soria and Phil Martinez were arrested the night of July 12, 2019, at the end of a protest denouncing President Donald Trump’s border and immigration policies. Phoenix police in riot gear grabbed Soria by the neck and tackled him into a puddle while he spoke to the Mirror. Police then nabbed Martinez, who was walking to the light rail station to travel to Tempe, pushing him against a metal barricade and handcuffing him.

The men told the Mirror in 2019 that police unlawfully targeted and arrested them. The Phoenix Police Department stood by its decision to arrest them and how officers took them into custody.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week, Soria and Martinez claim police violated their constitutional rights by arresting them using excessive force. They also say there was no probable cause for the alleged misdemeanor offenses — unlawful assembly and blocking a public thoroughfare — which were dismissed a few hours after they were arrested.

Police told neither man that he was under arrest, what he was being arrested for and didn’t give either an opportunity to comply with instructions, the lawsuit states. Soria also alleges that the arrest violated his First Amendment right to express opinions critical of police.

The arrests of Soria and Martinez wrapped up an otherwise nonviolent and energetic summer night protest where hundreds gathered at the Central United Methodist Church and marched to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s main office in Phoenix. They denounced immigration and border policies harming migrant fathers, mothers and children.

After some demonstrators took over several lanes of traffic on Central Avenue and the light rail tracks, the police declared the protest an unlawful assembly. Police repeatedly asked the crowd to disperse.

In all, 16 people were arrested during the protest.

Neither Soria nor Martinez had planned to attend the protest. Soria saw the live coverage of the demonstration on the evening news and decided to leave his Maryvale home and head to central Phoenix. He disagreed with the way police showed up in riot gear to respond to the peaceful demonstration, Soria told the Mirror in 2019. Martinez was on his way to Tempe on the light rail but had to exit the train because police shut down service close to the rally. As he walked to the next station, he passed nearby the protest.

That night, Soria held ​​a Soviet Union flag on a wooden pole. He explained to the Mirror that the flag symbolized his belief that America is heading on a similar path of repressed dissent and limited free expression.  

Martinez is a public critic of police and a police reform activist, according to the lawsuit. When he tried to explain to officers he was trying to get to the light rail station, a police supervisor told him she recognized him and that he was “going to jail,” according to the complaint.

The City of Phoenix and nine Phoenix police officers — Bobbi Jo Cozad; Joseph Gage; Clifford Lewis; Darrell Magee; Douglas McBride; Jeffrey Miel; Benjamin Moore; Dianna Pineda; and Erick Selvius — are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

McBride, a sergeant who another lawsuit claims was placed on the “Brady List” of dishonest police officers in June, was exposed this year for colluding with county prosecutor April Sponsel to provide false, misleading, and inflammatory testimony to a grand jury about a non-existent gang. The end result was classifying Black Lives Matter protesters as members of a fictitious gang that McBride told the grand jury was akin to “the Bloods and the Crips” and Hells Angels.

Another federal lawsuit related to those botched prosecutions, which involved more than a dozen people who faced years of prison, was also filed this week.

There are now at least three federal lawsuits against Phoenix-area police and prosecutors filed by people arrested during 2020 protests denouncing the deaths of George Floyd, Dion Johnson and other Black Americans killed after encounters with police. That includes a class action lawsuit filed in May by people who were targeted for mass felony arrests without probable cause and a lawsuit against Sheriff Paul Penzone for allegedly holding one activist longer in jail to allow federal immigration agents to arrest her.

Other lawsuit from 2019 arrests ongoing

Soria and Martinez are asking for compensation for the damages for violation to their constitutional rights and punitive measures to be taken against the city and police officers mentioned.

The case is related to another lawsuit stemming from the arrest and prosecution of Jamaar Williams, who was at the same protest as a legal observer. Police arrested Williams, a public defense attorney, and pursued felonies for allegedly assaulting police officers and resisting arrest. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge tossed the charges against Williams after the officer who arrested him testified that police arrested the wrong person and that Williams did not resist arrest.

In 2020, Williams filed a lawsuit for false arrest and malicious prosecution against the City of Phoenix, the Phoenix police chief and other police officers. The city is trying to get the court to rule in its favor without accepting evidence. Williams’s attorney, Stephen Benedetto of The People’s Law Firm, told the court in a June 25 filing that the request from this city is “wholly inappropriate.”

“It appears to be nothing more than an effort by the City to grind the case to a halt when their department, their unit, and their key witnesses are under multiple investigations,” Bennetto wrote.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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