PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Former Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel died Saturday morning from “health complications,” according to a family spokesperson. She was 45.
“This May we would have celebrated 20 years of marriage. My family and I are utterly heartbroken by this unimaginable loss. We are so very proud to call Allister wife and mom,” said her husband, David DeNitto. “We are asking that the press and the public honor her, her legacy, and our family by respecting our privacy at this difficult time,” he concluded. Funeral arrangements have not yet been publicly announced. Adel is survived by her husband and two children. Arizona’s Family is working on learning more information.
Replacing county attorney Rachel Mitchell released a statement Saturday afternoon, saying in part that she was “heartbroken” to learn of her passing. “[Adel’s] many years of service to our community leave a legacy that impacted crime victims, first responders, and animals, just to name a few. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, and this community that she so dearly loved,” Mitchell wrote.
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ Bill Gates added that he will “forever cherish” the conversations he’s had with her.
I’m devastated by the passing of my friend, Allister Adel. I will forever cherish the conversations we shared & hope she was able to find peace in her final days. My thoughts & prayers are with her family & all who loved her.
I’m shocked and devastated to learn that my friend, Allister Adel, passed away earlier today. My heart is broken for her husband and two young children that she leaves behind. Please join me in praying for the family as they grieve during this difficult time.
RIP Allister. 💔 pic.twitter.com/TDcbZJ5ZFF
Adel was appointed to the post in 2019 and won the race the following year. Adel’s time as the Maricopa County Attorney has been embroiled in controversy, after the results of an independent investigation into the protesters who attended an October 2020 rally in Phoenix.
That report from Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher found that charging the protesters as a gang was made “collaboratively between some personnel at the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.” Arizona’s Family previously reported that Adel was in office at the time, but she suffered a brain injury on Nov. 3, 2020, after a fall. While hospitalized for several months, she was back to work full-time by February 2021.
Adel was also criticized for her handling of 180 misdemeanor criminal cases that were dropped because her office didn’t file charges on time. “I think leaders need to take accountability for their actions and not blame the people on their team,” Gov. Doug Ducey told reporters on Mar. 15, 2022. The Arizona Republic first broke the news, which involved drunk driving, assault, and domestic violence arrests. In order for those cases to be prosecuted, they need to be assigned within one year of the alleged crimes.
It was last year that Maricopa County’s top prosecutor announced she was seeking treatment for anxiety and “unhealthy coping behaviors, including an eating disorder and alcohol use.” While she faced several tough critics in her field including several calls to resign, she resisted for months. “I am committed to rising to meet this challenge and I thank you for allowing me the grace to do so,” Adel said during that September 2021 announcement.
Calls for her to step down continued and in February 2022, Adel sent a letter to five division chiefs who called for her to resign, claiming that the deputies took an “unorthodox approach” in asking her to step down in public. Those division chiefs had accused Adel of being drunk while talking to the bureau chief on Feb. 14, but in that letter, she denied being impaired. She asked those unhappy with her to leave their roles if they felt they needed to.
“You have stated that you have no confidence in my ability to run this office,” she told the chiefs in the letter. “If that makes it impossible for you to continue to work here in any capacity, your option is to resign from the office, not demand my resignation and cast unjustified accusations and innuendo at me.”
Ultimately, Adel announced on March 21 that she was stepping down. She did not give an official reason for her resignation. It came ten days before the deadline that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich gave Adel demanding answers for dropping those criminal cases. Brnovich wanted to know who was responsible for making sure cases were filed on time, background information on each case, and what was being done to prevent it from happening again.
“I am proud of the many accomplishments of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office during my tenure,” she said during her resignation announcement. “Voters supported me in November 2020 as the first woman elected to be Maricopa County Attorney, and it is an honor I will always cherish.
The board considered the three Republicans running for office because state law requires an appointment must come from the same party as the previous office holder. They interviewed all three Republican candidates and questioned them about how they would do the job, including whether they believe the Republican-dominated board made a mistake when the board certified the 2020 election results. Anni Foster, Gov. Doug Ducey’s top lawyer, and Goodyear city prosecutor Gina Godbehere were also in the running, but the board ultimately chose Mitchell.
Last week, Interim Maricopa County attorney Rachel Mitchell sat down with Arizona’s Family’s Nicole Crites to discuss the office and the upcoming special election. She was one of the five top division chiefs to sign a letter asking Adel to step down from her position. Mitchell says one of her top priorities is working on regaining the public’s trust and handling the current caseload. “The prosecutors in this office are overwhelmed,” she said.
Arizona’s Family’s David Baker, Jessica Goodman, Rudy Rivas, Jeffrey Popovich, Nicole Crites, Whitney Clark, and Dennis Welch contributed to this report through previous coverage.
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