Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio?s Office Back In Court

August 30, 2013

The two sides in the racial profiling lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office were back in court Friday. Three months ago in May, Judge Murray Snow found the sheriff’s office under Sheriff Joe Arpaio violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers in the county. The sides have been trying to figure out what kinds of changes to make in areas like how deputies are trained, how they collect data and what kind of equipment they use

Attorneys from both sides of the class action lawsuit spent Friday morning negotiating the reforms. Even without a final order yet, Friday’s hearing made clear what some of the coming changes will likely be. Among them, an independent monitor to oversee MCSO's compliance with the order, more thorough data collection during traffic stops, and cameras in deputies vehicles.

Attorneys from both sides seemed pleased with the process and with Judge Snow.

“It was a very productive and constructive session today and will lead to an order that will be meaningful and hopefully will lead to significant change in the county,” said Dan Pochoda of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona which represents the plaintiffs.

Attorneys for Arpaio had previously objected to the appointment of an independent monitor, but after court on Tuesday, MCSO attorney Tom Liddy said he was  “pleased” with the arrangement because Snow clarified the monitor would not have veto power over Arpaio.

There were several areas of disagreement between the two sides, and it remains to be seen which way Snow will lean on those disputes when he crafts his final order. Among them is whether the court will mandate the creation of a community advisory board to serve as a liaison to the Latino community.

Plaintiffs argue it is necessary to heal the strained relationship between MCSO and the Latino community.

Attorneys representing Arpaio argued such a committee would be a “molotov cocktail” that would help fuel political opposition against Arpaio. Arpaio's attorneys said their client was willing to hold community meetings but it was beyond the scope of the lawsuit for the judge to order such meetings or a community board.

The sheriff’s attorneys asked the judge to allow both sides to file additional briefs on the question of whether deputies should have to record the reason why they pull over a car in a traffic stop, before approaching the vehicle.

Plaintiffs say those records would help determine if racial profiling is occurring, but in court, the sheriff’s attorneys suggested the extra time it would take to record the reason for the stop presented a danger to the deputies.

“There are a lot of variables that go into making a traffic stop,” Liddy said after the hearing. “We want to protect our deputies from sensory overload, there are a lot of safety issues that are involved right there.”

The judge has asked the two sides to submit briefs on one last issue,  whether or not officers would have to record why they have made a traffic stop before they approach the vehicle. Those briefs are due in the next few weeks. The final briefing is due Sept 18, and Snow said he would issue his order shortly after receiving the briefs.

Meanwhile, Arpaio is appealing Snow’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Updated 8/30/2013 at 5:21 p.m.