Success Story

Investigating Police Response to Civil Unrest in Philadelphia and Phoenix

February 14, 2021

Ballard Spahr’s White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group was engaged to conduct investigations into two major urban police departments—Philadelphia and Phoenix— in close succession, resulting in high-profile reports of crucial findings and important recommendations.

In Philadelphia, the City Controller turned to the group to conduct an independent investigation into the city’s response to civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. In Phoenix, the city engaged the group to investigate two separate, high-visibility matters: false charges against a group of protesters and circulation within the police department of a commemorative “challenge coin” with an inflammatory inscription mocking a protester injured in an earlier demonstration.

The Philadelphia review focused on the city’s operational and resource deployment and tactics during the protests and looting that occurred in May and June 2020. More than 1,700 documents—including intelligence reports, after-action reviews, training records, and police procedures—were reviewed and scores of residents, city leaders, and police officials were interviewed.

The report found that the city failed to heed warning signs and plan sufficiently for widespread unrest. The resulting was an inadequate response, including failure to engage available resources to mitigate chaos or adhere to protocols developed from past experience with large-scale disturbances.

To address the findings in the report, our attorneys made specific recommendations to the city, including to the structure of its Office of Emergency Management. We also provided recommendations for improving future responses and enhancing policies, procedures, and training. The team was led by Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., leader of the White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group, and included Terence M. Grugan, Emilia McKee Vassallo, and Izabella Babchinetskaya.

In Phoenix, attorneys from the White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group determined that a challenge coin and other, similar items—including patches, hats, and shirts—circulated among dozens of Phoenix police officers to celebrate an incident where an officer struck a protester in the groin with a smoke canister during an anti-Trump demonstration in August 2017—all in violation of department policy.

In the second Phoenix matter, our team investigated the decision to charge a group of 15 protesters at an October 2020 racial justice demonstration as a criminal street gang—charges that were later thrown out of court.

The review found that Phoenix Police and prosecutors from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office ignored established criteria for identifying true criminal street gangs and instead relied on information from a source of highly questionable credibility. They then “orchestrated” the criminal street gang case with inconsistent and inaccurate police reports, dubious grand jury testimony, and deeply flawed legal conclusions, which a judge found to be unconstitutional, the report states.

In investigating the two incidents, Ballard Spahr’s team conducted dozens of interviews with police leaders and officers and reviewed more than 10,000 documents, including police reports, personnel files, emails, court documents and transcripts, social media postings, and news coverage, as well as body-worn and strong-mount camera footage.

The reports include recommendations for addressing the findings, including adoption and revision of policies and procedures, appropriate disciplinary action, improvements to internal investigative methods, and further investigation by a separate law enforcement agency. The team was led by Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., and included Terence M. Grugan, Brad Gershel, and Jillian L. Andrews.

Subscribe to Ballard Spahr Mailing Lists

Get the latest significant legal alerts, news, webinars, and insights that affect your industry. 
Subscribe