In Court Testimony, Sheriff’s Posse Leader Pleads The Fifth
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s most prominent volunteer posse member was called to testify late Tuesday in the sheriff’s contempt of court hearing, but he hardly answered any questions. Instead, Cold Case Posse leader Mike Zullo invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not self-incriminate.
Zullo said he was taking the Fifth nearly 40 times in the 15 minutes he was on the witness stand.
Zullo is the last witness the plaintiffs’ lawyers are expected to call in the ongoing contempt of court case against Arpaio and four other members of his staff. They are facing civil contempt for violating U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow’s orders in a racial profiling case.
Zullo was part of the team assigned by Arpaio to work on an investigation with a self-proclaimed CIA and National Security Agency whistleblower named Dennis Montgomery, who was living in Seattle at the time.
Though Arpaio and his chief deputy have testified the investigation was based on Montgomery's claim that he had taken CIA records showing improper federal surveillance of Maricopa County residents — including hacking into 150,000 residents’ bank accounts — some evidence submitted in court suggests the probe may have also included an attempt to dig up dirt on Snow.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Stanley Young asked Zullo a series of questions about the Seattle investigation and looking up information about Snow.
Zullo, who does not have an attorney, responded to each question with some version of “I’m taking the Fifth, sir.”
Zullo only answered a single line of questions at the very beginning: about whether he had discussed his intention to plead the Fifth with the sheriff’s lawyers.
He confirmed he had, both months prior, and right before his deposition on Monday. In his deposition, Zullo also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights repeatedly over the course of almost four hours.
In that deposition, Zullo even refused to answer mundane questions such as, “Are you currently employed?” To that question Zullo responded, “Sir, I am going to put forth my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and then wish not to answer any questions at this time,” according to a transcript.
After court on Tuesday, Zullo told reporters his decision to plead the Fifth wasn't about “criminality, innocence.”
“Every one of your readers should really pay attention to this: It is about your due process rights, your Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment,” Zullo said.
Zullo previously asked Snow to push back his testimony by 30 days so he could get a lawyer. He argued that he had been mislead into believing the sheriff's civil lawyers would be representing him as well. Snow denied the request, saying he had already delayed the proceedings and Zullo had adequate time to find counsel once he learned he did not have representation.
Pleading the Fifth could have consequences though, since in a civil case such as this one, plaintiffs can ask Snow to draw negative inferences to Zullo responding that way to certain questions.
Zullo's testimony is expected to continue Thursday.