- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The top county prosecutor for metro Phoenix says a series of freeway shootings that has put this desert community on edge are acts of domestic terrorism, but he acknowledged there’s no state terrorism law to bring against those responsible.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Wednesday that the shootings qualify as terrorism in a general sense because they have caused fear among motorists and prompted them to change their driving routines.

“My reason for using that terminology, again, is to underscore how serious law enforcement is taking this threat to the public and recognizing what the impact has been,” the prosecutor said.

Arizona’s terrorism laws enacted after the 9/11 attacks focus mostly on protecting public utilities from attack, but they wouldn’t apply to the freeway shootings, Montgomery said.

Instead, those responsible for the shootings could face state endangerment, criminal damage and aggravated assault charges, said Montgomery, adding that nothing has surfaced to suggest the case would be handled by federal prosecutors.

Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead, whose agency is leading the investigation, has previously called the incidents “domestic terrorism crimes.”

Danielle Wallace, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, disagreed with the characterization.

“It’s a little extreme. We don’t know what the motivation is of the shooter. It’s kind of hard to say what it is until we know,” Wallace said. “Who knows what this person is doing? They could just be mimicking another crime that’s happened recently.”

Authorities are investigating 11 confirmed vehicle shootings since Aug. 29, mostly along Interstate 10. Some involve bullets and others came from projectiles that could include BBs, pellets or rocks. No motive has been established.

Authorities announced Wednesday that they would be using 16 all-digital billboards across the metro area to advertise the $50,000 reward being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case. Officers handed out thousands of fliers in neighborhoods near Interstate 10 in hopes of getting a break in the case.

There has only been one injury. A 13-year-old girl’s ear was cut by glass as a bullet shattered the window of the vehicle she was riding in.

There hasn’t been a freeway shooting reported since Thursday, investigators said.

A 19-year-old Avondale man who was detained Friday remained jailed on a charge unrelated to the shootings. Investigators have declined to explain why the man was questioned about the case.


Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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