Of the nine people arrested over the weekend in connection with abortion rights protests, eight were released after a judge determined no probable cause for charges were found, according to court documents.
Thousands of people rallied near the Arizona Capitol complex after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Four people were arrested Saturday after protesters pulled down a temporary fence around the perimeter of the Arizona Capitol. They were booked on suspicion of rioting, disorderly conduct and trespassing. All were released Sunday, according to court documents obtained Monday by The Arizona Republic.
On Sunday night, four people were arrested on suspicion of failing to identify, according to Bart Graves, a Department of Public Safety spokesperson.
Court documents state that troopers saw them on surveillance cameras crossing 18th and Madison avenues outside of a marked crosswalk. Troopers approached the group of four in an unmarked police vehicle with red and blue emergency lights and asked them to stop and identify themselves.
The people "began yelling at troopers demanding why they were being detained" and troopers tried to explain why they were contacting them, according to court documents. Troopers asked for identification, and they "refused" to provide any information.
After several requests, the troopers arrested the group of four. Court documents state they were "belligerent, yelling, used profane language" and were uncooperative with officials.
One of them was also booked on suspicion of resisting arrest after the person "lunged towards troopers" who were placing the person under arrest, according to court documents. This person tried to prevent the arrest of other person in the group. Officials said the person also tried to "break the hold of the troopers," court documents state.
The four people were released on Monday after a judge determined no probable cause to arrest was found in their cases, according to their release orders. Graves said in an email DPS had no comment on the releases of those who were arrested.
Aiden Starkey, 18, also was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of criminal damage for drawing on property. Court documents state undercover troopers saw Starkey spray painting the sidewalk and a bench in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.
Officials found Starkey had a red can of spray paint, the same color of paint troopers saw on the sidewalk and bench. As he was taken into custody, he addressed protesters and said "I did it, not you," according to court documents.
Starkey was released on his own recognizance until his court appearance, according to his release order.
Where do they stand? These candidates for governor could decide the future of Arizona abortion law.
'This whole experience makes me want to fight harder'
Sage Myers and her husband, Toby Ford, were among those arrested Sunday night after they came to the Capitol to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Shortly before 11 p.m., Myers said, she and Ford, both 19, were walking in a small group back to their cars when several unmarked vehicles with as many as 15 police officers surrounded them.
She said officers refused to tell them what they were being detained for and ignored requests to provide their names and badge numbers. Bryce Alfrod, who was not arrested but was present, said he took out his phone to record and an officer mockingly did the same.
Myers and Ford say they, along with two others, were transported first to another parking lot, where Myers said officers got out and discussed which charges to book them with. Sitting in a dark parking lot late at night, Myers said, was terrifying.
“I genuinely thought that I was going to be a missing person's case,” she said.
The group was then taken to the police station and booked on various charges. Myers and Toby didn't speak to a judge until 11 a.m. Monday and didn't make it back home until about 3 p.m.
During the arrest, Myers says she suffered a PTSD attack that caused her to convulse and vomit. An officer responded by shoving her head into a wall, she said. Both Ford and Myers say they were subjected to strip searches before being released.
Realizing how much officers don't care about people’s rights was traumatizing and heartbreaking, Ford said.
Despite his fear, however, he plans to continue protesting the ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Myers agrees, saying that she refuses to stop raising her voice.
"This whole experience makes me want to fight harder," she said. "They're not gonna stop, so we shouldn't, either."
The path forward: Legal questions remain
For Lola N’sangou, the executive director of Mass Liberation of Arizona, which advocates for an end to mass incarceration, the arrests Sunday were just one more example of a historical problem.
“We’ve seen this since the civil rights movement,” she said, “This happens when you have those in power who weaponize that power against you,”
The solution, she said, is to scale back police funding and hold those involved accountable. The first arrests were made with the help of drones, N’sangou pointed out, and the use of tear gas, flash bangs and fences were clear attempts to intimidate would-be protesters.
“We cannot continue to give them these weapons. They use them like toys to chase and antagonize people who criticize them and criticize the laws,” she said.
Mass Liberation is keeping a watchful eye on the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, mindful of its handling of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest arrests, N’sangou said.
“We are making sure the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office doesn’t lapse into the poor behavior and the poor patterns that their predecessor left behind and we’re making sure folks don’t have to go down the horrific road that protesters in 2020 had to go down,” she said.
N’sangou expects interim County Attorney Rachel Mitchell to back law enforcement actions, especially as Mitchell hopes to retain her position.
“We expect her to collude just like that office always does,” N’sangou said.
Mass Liberation connects people arrested while exercising their First Amendment rights to legal counsel. It also partners with law firms like attorney Ray Maldonado's, which was operating a bailout hotline on Sunday night. Through this partnership, Maldonado was made aware of the arrests and ultimately decided to represent the four who were arrested.
“It’s outrageous to come out of a court hearing – to hear the judge say no probable cause for the charges that were filed and know that four protesters had to spend a humiliating night in jail when they shouldn’t even have been stopped by law enforcement in the first place,” Maldonado said.
The emotional damage done to his clients was substantial and long-reaching, Maldonado said. He said one of them shared fear of walking in the street as a result, expecting officers to attack them out of nowhere.
The jaywalking statute used against the four was deliberately used to deter people from exercising their rights, according to Maldonado.
“Here we’re seeing an Arizona law enforcement agency misinterpreting statute in order to quell people’s First Amendment rights. They’re clearly simply wanting people to not protest anymore, so they’re arresting them under statutes that do not fit,” he said.
Maldonado said he hopes the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office drops any investigation into the four, but he believes more should be done to remedy the wrong.
The federal government should get involved, Maldonado said, and training should be mandated to ensure that both state troopers and Phoenix police respect First Amendment rights and understand which statutes they are allowed to use in the arrests of protesters.
“When you have large government agencies with these huge budgets really turning into an agency to discourage people from exercising their First Amendment rights, we should all be concerned,” he said.
N’sangou said people hoping to get involved shouldn’t allow themselves to get discouraged.
“We can’t allow these violent militarized systems to prevent us from doing what is our constitutional right,” she said, “Stay the course, because this is how change gets made.”
Karla Navarrete, public information officer for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said no court cases have yet landed on their table.
If a judge decides there is no probable cause, the case is sent back to the arresting agency. If officials decide to stay the course, they must provide more information or pursue different charges. Cases for which probable cause has been found can be sent to the County Attorney's Office for consideration, which may also decide to send it back for further review or refuse to take it altogether.
"In this case, the judge said there's no probable cause. So, I wouldn't necessarily say it's been dismissed, but the case has been put back on law enforcement," Navarrete said.
It remains to be seen if the arresting agencies bring new charges, resubmit or drop the cases entirely.
In the event that some end up making it as far as the County Attorney's Office, spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer said they will review each case individually, "based on the facts and evidence provided (by) law enforcement."
Lillian Boyd and Haleigh Kochanski contributed to this report.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Judge releases 8 of 9 people arrested in AZ abortion rights protests