Judge tosses felony case against lawyer arrested during immigration rally

By: - August 23, 2019 11:38 am

Jamaar Williams, right, talks to reporters outside the Maricopa County Superior Court in downtown Phoenix after the felony case against him was dismissed Aug. 22. Williams was arrested during a July immigration protest. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

The felony case against Jamaar Williams that alleged he resisted arrest during a protest against inhumane treatment of migrants was tossed out by a judge Aug. 22. 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Seyer dismissed the case after reviewing three cellphone videos provided by Williams’ attorney, Thomas Henager, and hearing testimony from Phoenix Police Officer Francisco Barrios, who arrested Williams. 

Barrios admitted Williams was wrongfully identified in one of the two instances that led to his arrest and felony charges. 

Williams, 34, was among the 16 people arrested on July 12 during the protest in downtown Phoenix. 

Fourteen of the protesters arrested during the rally had their misdemeanor cases dismissed in a municipal court after spending a night in jail. 

One man, Jorge Soria, was grabbed by the neck, tackled by police and taken into custody while speaking to a reporter. Soria, 64, believes police racially profiled him

The Phoenix Police Department had alleged Williams assaulted two policemen. Prosecutors dropped the assault charges for Williams, but insisted he resisted arrest. 

Henager, Williams’ attorney, argued to Seyer that the state didn’t have probable cause to prosecute Williams for three offenses: resisting arrest (a felony), unlawful assembly and obstructing a public thoroughfare (both misdemeanors).

“We feel there was a great injustice,” Henager said in court. “When (police) realized they had the wrong guy, they called it a resist, because you can call anything resist.”

Seyer, the judge, agreed there was no probable cause to try Williams. He ordered the case dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors can refile the case in the future. 

‘Film the police’

Williams is a public defender in Maricopa County. He is a member of the National Lawyers Guild.

His friends and colleagues packed the courtroom Thursday afternoon. They cheered when Seyer dismissed the case. They later five-highed Williams and hugged him.

Outside the courthouse, Williams said he was relieved. 

“It’s been stressful,” he said. “We were trying to be fair, in giving (prosecutors) all of the evidence, explaining what happened that night and just trying to tell them everything that happened from our perspective, and it didn’t seem like they were that interested.”

Williams had a message for other community members who interact with police.  

“I hope that people understand that, just because an officer says something, it doesn’t mean that it’s true,” he said. “And that’s why it’s so important for us to document what happens at protests and film the police.” 

Williams was appointed this month to a Phoenix police reform committee, which will hold its first meeting Aug. 29. Phoenix City Council created that committee after community outrage following a June incident in which a black family was held at gunpoint for allegedly shoplifting from a dollar store.  

Last year, Phoenix ranked first nationwide for the largest number of police shootings

Arresting officer admits wrong person was arrested

Barrios, who arrested Williams and others during the July rally, said in court he didn’t see any of the acts alleged against Williams. 

“I got second-hand information, I didn’t witness any of these,” Barrios said.  

Instead, as part of an “arrest team,” he was called in when other police had identified which people would be taken into custody. 

Barrios said he was instructed by a police sergeant to arrest Williams. 

Most of the Phoenix police officers who faced protestors and made arrests that night were not wearing body cameras

In a court document where an officer documents reasons for arrest, known as the Form IV, police claimed Williams “committed aggravated assault” on police Officer Darell Magee and Sergeant Joseph Gage. 

Police alleged Williams hit Gage in the chest with a closed fist and then went back into the crowd. The day after the arrest, Barrios learned that wasn’t true. 

In court, Barrios said a sergeant told him Williams was not the person who allegedly struck Gage. 

Henager then asked Barrios what he knew about how the Phoenix Police Department came to that conclusion.

“I think video was pulled up, or some calls were made, but ultimately it came down to the wrong person was arrested,” Barrios said. 

Barrios added he didn’t know if there were any police documents that show Gage retracted his accusation against Williams.  

‘I see the face of injustice’

Barrios said he arrested Williams “without incident.” 

But earlier that night, Magee — the other police officer — alleged that Williams charged at him after a policeman pushed him off the street onto a sidewalk, according to a police document. 

“Office Magee believed that he was going to be attacked,” Barrios said. Magee pushed Williams away and tried to arrest him, but Williams took a defensive stance and walked into the crowd, Barrios said.   

He also said Magee later identified Williams as the person he tried to arrest but pulled away.

Jeremy Miller with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office argued police accounts were enough to try Williams for resisting arrest.

Henager, Williams’ attorney, showed two videos during the hearing from the July 15 rally. They showed the moment when police pushed Williams and others off the street. 

Williams was knocked down, then got up, faced police officers and continued filming them with his phone. Another video showed Williams walking through a police line, with his arms raised and palms open. 

Henanger said the videos showed Williams didn’t charge at police, like Magee alleged. 

Miller, the prosecutor, argued that two brief videos don’t account for a two-hour rally. 

Henager countered that the police admitted they arrested the wrong person, but prosecutors, instead of dropping the charges, opted to dig in their heels and go after Williams for resisting arrest. 

“Clearly, Officer Barrios has no confidence on what essentially happened that night,” Henager said. He added there’s no reasonable grounds showing “an actual crime happened, and that Jamaar Williams is the person who committed it.”

jamaar williams
Jamaar Williams (right) walks on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix toward a line of Phoenix police officers during an immigration protest on July 12, 2019. Williams was arrested for alleged assault of police officers, but county prosecutors dropped those charges. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Rosalind Atkins, a member of Living United for Change Arizona, sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing. 

She later said it was painful to watch prosecutors insist Williams committed a felony.

“I see the face of injustice. There was no repentance, there was no regard for what justice says it does,” Atkins said. “Shame on them for sending an officer that can only bring hearsay, but not an officer that was actually there.”

Atkins said she was “exhilarated” by the outcome, but thinks about others who don’t have Williams’ resources and community support. 

“I think about those who don’t have this type of representation, or this type defense team, and how when they come into court the outcomes are very different,” she said. 

Atkins said she works advocating for criminal justice reform. Williams’ case, she said, strengthens that cause.

“(This case) solidifies our fight. We must continue to not just talk about justice reform, we have to talk about abolishing this justice system and building it brick by brick from the ground,” she said. 

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.