Letter calls for integrity review of Phoenix police use of secret messaging app

PHOENIX — A government transparency watchdog group is calling for a new investigation into the integrity of Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and her use of a secret messaging app called Signal.

Last week, ABC15 investigator Dave Biscobing raised concerns that Chief Williams and other senior police officials had accounts on the app, which encrypts messages and can delete them automatically, to discuss government business.

A letter sent by an attorney for three deputy police chiefs to the Phoenix City Manager included screenshots of a ‘right at the top’ messaging group that indicated Williams may have used the app as recently only in 2021.

A police spokesperson previously told ABC15 “Chief Williams requested that Signal not be used by his management team for work-related issues and removed his app from his phone in 2020.”

Judicial Watch sent a letter to the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office on Sunday, saying Williams’ alleged conduct undermined public confidence in law enforcement and claiming she tried to hide the truth from the public.

“Public officials must comply with the Public Records Act,” said Mark Spencer, South West Projects Coordinator for Judicial Watch. “It goes against what is called destruction of evidence which could be a violation of public records law, or even tampering with evidence.”

The letter demanded a review of Williams and all other Phoenix police officials who used Signal. “Maricopa County attorneys can assess what is happening with the management misconduct and allegations and whether they deem it appropriate to put them on the Brady List, a Rule 15 matter,” said Spencer, who is also a former leader of the Phoenix Police Union.

Williams is weeks away from retirement, and her department is currently the subject of a Justice Department civil rights investigation.

Brady Lists are kept by prosecutors to track officers with a history of dishonesty, criminal activity and other integrity issues. Information from the Brady List can be used to challenge an officer’s credibility on the witness stand. Even after her retirement, Williams could be called upon to testify in court cases related to her role as police chief.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents rank and file officers, released a statement about Williams:

“The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is aware of the allegations against Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams regarding the use of the Signal encrypted messaging platform for communication with her executive staff and the department’s misrepresentation regarding the removal of the chief’s app in 2020. We believe all police officers, regardless of rank, should be held to the same standard of conduct, especially when it comes to providing accurate information to the public . Our priority is to preserve the integrity of the Phoenix Police Department. Therefore, leaders must be transparent and truthful when questioned about serious allegations. “

A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office would not comment on the allegations against Williams, but confirmed that the letter from Judicial Watch had been received and was being reviewed.

ABC15 has also reached out to the Phoenix City Manager’s office with several questions, including whether Williams has been under internal investigation for an alleged violation of public records rules and who else has used Signal or apps from similar secret messenger to communicate.

In response to questions from ABC15, a city spokesperson emailed the following statement:

“Technological changes have influenced the way people communicate in modern society. These changes often go beyond the policies and procedures governing their use. The City is committed to evaluating our policies and training to ensure employees comply with all applicable laws relating to public records.”

Lance B. Holton