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Another protest lawsuit against Phoenix, Maricopa County on the horizon

By: - July 26, 2021 7:00 am

A banner hangs outside a Maricopa County Superior Court building in downtown Phoenix on Oct. 19, 2020, during a press conference calling on the county to release and drop prosecution of Suvarna Ratnam. Phoenix police arrested Ratnam twice and prosecutors sought criminal charges. Ratnam is moving to sue Phoenix, police and the county for the arrests, jail time and prosecutions. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

A protester who Phoenix police arrested for false felony claims in 2020 and who prosecutors claimed was a member of a non-existent gang is moving to sue the City of Phoenix, members of the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and some of its prosecutors, according to an April notice of claim filed by Suvarna Ratnam’s attorney.

Ratnam, who also goes by Sue and uses they/them pronouns, claims police arrested them on false charges, that the county maliciously prosecuted them and that they were illegally incarcerated, denied proper medical treatment and held in inhumane conditions at a county jail, according to the notice of claim.

A notice of claim typically precedes a lawsuit against a local or state government.

Phoenix police arrested Ratnam on Aug. 23 and charged them with a serious felony of aggravated assault. Police falsely claimed Ratnam had sharpened the tip of an umbrella and used it to “stab” a police officer in the hand, according to an investigation of the case by journalist Dave Biscobing of ABC15. Ratnam was arrested again on Oct. 17 and county prosecutors claimed they and another group of 14 people taken into custody that day were members of a non-existent gang.

A county judge in June dismissed those gang charges, and found police Sgt. Douglas McBride and county prosecutor April Sponsel provided false, misleading and inflammatory testimony to a grand jury about the fictional gang. 

If Ratnam takes their case against Phoenix, police and the county to court it would add to the mounting lawsuits in federal court filed by people arrested during 2020 protests denouncing police killings

Community advocates for months have said Ratnam’s arrests and criminal case are part of collusion between Phoenix police and county prosecutors to politically persecute activists and demonstrators who for months took to the streets to demand changes to the policing and criminal justice systems. 

On Oct. 30, groups gathered outside the Maricopa County Superior Court to advocate for Ratnam’s release. Some wrote #FreeSue with blue chalk on the ground. A banner calling to “Liberate Sue” was perched next to the entrance of the court building in downtown Phoenix.

Ratnam was held at the county Estrella jail, where she became infected with tuberculosis but was denied proper treatment, according to a petition calling for Ratnam’s release. The notice of claim states Ratnam was denied their prescribed medications while “housed in horrible conditions in jail” where COVID-19 safety protocols were not followed.

A campaign advocating for prosecutors to drop the cases against Ratnam was ongoing through the first half of this year.

“Sue has experienced housing instability and been barred from recieving (sic) financial aid to continue their college education as long as this case is open,” wrote Mass Liberation Arizona, a community group that advocates for criminal justice reform, in a May post on Facebook.

Ratnam’s criminal case from the August arrest was dismissed on July 14, according to court records.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

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