PHOENIX — Nearly a dozen local advocacy groups are condemning Phoenix police for arresting an activist for people experiencing homelessness in the area known as “The Zone.”
Cell phone video shows two officers arresting Sophia Dancel on Wednesday.
Dancel, an outspoken activist with Unsheltered Phoenix, said she was out handing out food to people near 9th Avenue and Jackson Street during the city’s latest cleanup sweep and was also there to monitor city officials.
“I was actually present at the last sweep, within the supposedly restricted area, and I was allowed to stay,” Dancel told ABC15 in an interview after her arrest. “So once again, I have a lot of questions about how the situation transpired.”
In an emailed statement, a Phoenix police spokesperson said officers came to talk to Dancel because they received a trespassing call.
“When officers arrived, they were directed to the woman, identified as 33-year-old Sophia Dancel, who was within the barricaded area for the event. Dancel was given multiple commands and a reasonable amount of time to leave the event area. Dancel refused these commands and while officers attempted to detain her, she resisted arrest,” the statement said.
Dancel has been a regular presence in “The Zone” for several years.
Her group, Unsheltered Phoenix, runs a social media account that crowdsources help and supplies for people experiencing homelessness.
The account also shares critical messages about how the city and police treat people in The Zone.
“I just want to make it clear that I was targeted by Phoenix police,” Dancel said. “The cops who patrol The Zone know me. They often will honk their horns when they pass by or stop their patrol cars. And I try as hard as I can to document it, but no one walks around with a camera on them all of the time.”
Dancel sent ABC15 some recorded examples of previous run-ins with one of the officers who just arrested her.
Eleven community groups also sent ABC15 a joint statement criticizing the city for Dancel’s arrest.
“For years, Sophia has provided resources to unhoused community members while also exposing the violence and discrimination experienced by unsheltered folks at the hands of the Phoenix Police Department. Let us be clear, this arrest is a political prosecution,” according to the statement.
The groups also compared the arrest to Phoenix’s treatment and mass arrest of protesters in 2020.
“The fact that this arrest happened while the department is under a Department of Justice investigation for several civil rights violations, including retaliatory targeting and arrests of police critics and their treatment of the unsheltered community, is a slap in the face not only to Phoenix residents, but the DOJ as well.”
The city and its police department are under a sweeping Department of Justice pattern or practice investigation.
The federal probe is focused on several areas, including the city’s treatment of those experiencing homelessness and the destruction of their property.
The DOJ is also investigating Phoenix for retaliating against protesters.
Phoenix is also facing multiple lawsuits about “The Zone.” In one of those cases, a judge ruled that Phoenix must begin conducting cleanups of the area.
Dancel is facing charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.
She was released from custody following her initial appearance in court where the judge ordered that she can’t return to “The Zone” while her case moves forward.
“I absolutely think that’s part of the goal,” Dacnel said. “The city of Phoenix has a real habit of targeting activists.”
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.