Alabama's Chief Justice is no stranger to court — but this time he's on trial.
Arpaio, Chief Deputy Admonished By Judge
A top leader at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office admitted Monday to a federal judge that he made a mistake. He was caught on tape undermining the judge’s order that found the sheriff’s office had racially profiled Latino drivers.
The court obtained a video of Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan taken in October. He was briefing deputies on Judge Murray Snow’s court order, which requires new training and protocols at the sheriff’s office.
Sheridan used the words “ludicrous” and “crap” in reference to the order, according to a memo Snow issued to the parties on March 17 that quoted from the video.
That was one reason the judge summoned both Sheridan and Sheriff Joe Arpaio to appear in court Monday.
From the bench, Snow explained that he did not intend to restrict the sheriff's first amendment rights in how he or his staff characterized the order.
"I respect their ability to disagree," Snow said. "I don’t expect them to be fair about their disagreement. That is their right."
But he added: "It changes when we talk about how they instruct their officers."
The Court took issue with advice that Sheridan gave to deputies about complying with a provision of the order that requires deputies to start recording their perception of the race or ethnicity of the drivers they stop.
According to Snow's interpretation, Sheridan may have suggested that deputies did not have to make their best effort to comply.
"I am concerned about sending mixed messages to deputies," Snow said.
Snow said he worried MCSO might be relaying his order to deputies in a "wink and nod" manner, saying "this is a lot of crap."
Sheridan addressed the judge.
"I am ashamed of some of the things I said," he told Snow.
He said he had been frustrated and was trying to boost deputy morale.
Tom Liddy, who represents the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told reporters afterwards that his clients understood Snow's concerns.
"The biggest concern of this court – and that is completely understood by Chief Deputy Sheridan – is the tone and tenor perceived by an objective observer was not one of a commander being absolutely clear that every member of the MCSO has got to respect and comply with the letter and spirit of this court order," Liddy said.
The ACLU’s Cecillia Wang represents plaintiffs in the case. She said it’s important that Sheridan and Arpaio sign a letter that corrects the errors.
Because when the top brass at a law enforcement agency make statements, that tends to undermine a federal court order, they need to rescind that," Wang said.
Snow said if the sheriff’s office continues to disrespect the order, he may resort to coercive action, such as holding defendants in contempt. That could mean fines, or even jail time.
Updated 11:05 pm 3/24/14