Judge Slams Arpaio For Investigation Mistakes, Comments

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 9:04am
Updated: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 11:30am
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The federal judge overseeing the racial profiling case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was visibly angry in court on Tuesday. He had complaints about how the sheriff’s office has handled an internal investigation stemming from a dead deputy, as well as comments Arpaio made to the media.

Last year Judge Murray Snow found that the sheriff's office discriminated against Latino drivers in the county. He's ordered sweeping reforms at the agency and has appointed a monitor to ensure the department complies.

Over the years of litigation in this case, Snow has periodically appeared angry with the Sheriff and his staff. Tuesday was one of those days.

“The judge, his expressions his grindings of his teeth really scared me,” said Lydia Guzman, an activist and one of the plaintiffs in the racial profiling case against the sheriff’s office. “If I was their lawyers I would be really scared."

Snow was upset by a number of factors.

In May, the sheriff's office discovered one of its deputies in the Human Smuggling Unit was hoarding drugs, hundreds of IDs, license plates and videos of traffic stops in his garage. The deputy, Charley Armendariz, died of an apparent suicide. Snow, along with the monitor, had given the sheriff's office specific instructions for its internal investigation to find out if other deputies had also been filming their own traffic stops.

But the agency didn’t follow that order, and has also closed its separate criminal investigation, which Snow suggested was a mistake. Snow said in court he had watched a video of an MCSO officer conducting an interview in that internal criminal investigation and was not impressed.

According to the judge, in the video he watched, Sgt. David Tennyson only asked four questions during an interview.

Snow suggested the agency should be exploring the possibility that Armendariz was not solely responsible for the items in his garage. Before he died, Armendariz implicated other members of the Human Smuggling Unit. The judge pointed out that a fired HSU deputy, Cisco Perez, had also said that he and other HSU members had taken property.

Snow was also frustrated by a statement Arpaio made to the Associated Press recently about a 2008 operation in the town of Guadalupe.

That operation was a key part of the racial profiling case, and included activities Snow found to be unconstitutional.

But Arpaio told the Associated Press, "With the same circumstances, I'd do it all over again.”

The sheriff’s attorney, Tom Liddy, argues that quote shouldn't be interpreted to mean Arpaio wants to repeat the Guadalupe operation again today.

This is not the first time the judge has had to address public comments made by Arpaio and other MCSO leaders in court.

Snow said he does not wish to prevent Arpaio from making statements since he is an elected official. But he also said if Arpaio continues to make such comments, it could prevent the court from finding the Sheriff's office to be in compliance with the court’s order. Snow has ordered the sheriff’s office to implement trainings on bias-free policing for officers and posse members, but he said Arpaio’s comments could undermine that training.

Cecillia Wang, an attorney for the ACLU who represents the plaintiffs in the case, believes there should be sanctions for such comments.

“The fact is and the law is, that if you have a sheriff who is expressing non-compliance, who is sending a message, either clear or veiled to the rank and file that they should not comply with the court's orders, then there will be consequences,” Wang said.

In court on Tuesday, Snow learned Arpaio himself has not attended one of the new trainings the court ordered MCSO officers to attend.

“I will order Sheriff Arpaio to take the training,” Snow said from the bench. “I will order that today.”  

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