Monitor's Report Criticizes Sheriff’s Internal Investigation

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 5:05am
Updated: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 8:23am
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The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office made a series of mistakes in its investigation of its own former deputy, according to a court-appointed monitor.

Last May, the sheriff’s office discovered one of its deputies, Ramon "Charley" Armendariz, had stashed hundreds of IDs, license plates, drugs and videos of his own traffic stops in his garage. A few days after Armendariz’s arrest, he apparently hung himself at his home. The sheriff’s office initiated an investigation.

The status of that investigation was the subject of a critical report that was released to the public Wednesday. It's author was Robert Warshaw, an independent monitor who was assigned by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow to oversee the sheriff’s office's compliance with his orders. Snow ruled last year the sheriff's office had racially profiled Latino drivers in the county and ordered sweeping reforms at the agency. 

Warshaw's report says the sheriff's office's investigation was “poorly planned and executed” from the start.

The report lists missteps the agency made classifying evidence, recovering video footage from other deputies, and questioning deputies about stolen property. According to the report, a sergeant leading a criminal investigation into whether members of the Human Smuggling Unit had engaged in theft only initially planned to ask deputies four "yes or no" questions. 

“The investigation that has come out of Deputy Armendariz’s death has showed there was real systemic problems in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” said Cecillia Wang, an attorney with the ACLU who represents plaintiffs in the racial profiling lawsuit.

According to the monitor’s report, before Armendariz’s death, numerous citizens complained about his behavior but his supervisors in the Human Smuggling Unit did not adequately intervene.

The reports says that Armendariz’s videos show a pattern of misconduct during traffic stops. According to the report, Armendariz would handcuff drivers and place them in the backseat of his vehicle before giving them a traffic citation, would improperly search and tow vehicles, and appeared to unfairly stop Latino drivers.

“This was not a matter of a rogue deputy who went off the rails,” Wang said. “It was a system that allowed him to stay in place. It was other people, deputies and sergeants and other commanders as well who fostered that kind of behavior, that kind of lawlessness. It resulted in the civil rights violations that the court has already found.”

In court briefings, lawyers for the sheriff argued the monitor’s criticism of investigation was unfairly harsh.  

“They have invested tens of thousands of man hours into investigating the details, and these are ongoing investigations, and they are going to find out exactly what happened,” said Tom Liddy, a lawyer with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office who represents the sheriff. “They are obviously troubled by what they found, that’s why they are investigating.”

Liddy said the sheriff’s office viewed 8,900 videos of traffic stops and found more than 400 that were problematic.

The monitor’s report indicates that Armendariz hung himself with a rope from a pool table in his home and left behind a 35 minute “good-bye video.”

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