End Of Sheriff Arpaio’s Civil Contempt Case Looms; Another Could Be On The Horizon

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, July 8, 2016 - 6:19pm
Updated: Sunday, July 10, 2016 - 1:27pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (1.78 MB)
(KJZZ file photo)
Sheriff Joe Arpaio

The federal judge who found Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in civil contempt of court for violating orders in a racial profiling case said on Friday he will soon decide what the consequences should be.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow also set a hearing for all four individuals who were found in contempt to argue why the judge should not refer their cases to a prosecutor to pursue criminal contempt charges.

That hearing will likely be one of the final events in this contempt of court case, which began last year. Snow initially chose a date for the hearing that conflicts with the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, in which Sheriff Arpaio was elected to serve as an Arizona delegate. At the end of Friday’s hearing the judge agreed to move the hearing back by a day, to July 22.

On May 13 Snow found Arpaio, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, retired Executive Chief Brian Sands and Lt. Joseph Sousa in civil contempt for violating court orders in a racial profiling case. He has said he intends to determine civil contempt remedies first, and then make his decision about whether to refer the case for criminal contempt charges.

Snow promised on Friday to issue an order on remedies for his contempt finding in the next week or two. He is expected to mandate an overhaul of the sheriff’s Internal Affairs division as well as create a program to compensate people who were wrongfully detained by the sheriff’s deputies in violation of court orders.

Yet while this civil contempt case now seems to be finally wrapping up, another one may be looming.

Plaintiffs in the case told the judge they wished the court would take action since the sheriff’s office has repeatedly missed deadlines for implementing court-ordered reforms. For example, a court-ordered training for supervisors is two years overdue.

Snow said on Friday the plaintiffs should request a second contempt hearing about that issue. In May the judge threatened he could possibly fine the sheriff or hold him in jail for failure to comply with his orders on time.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said she hopes a second contempt hearing can be avoided.

“My hope is that any reasonable law enforcement authority looking at the state of compliance or rather non-compliance, would realize there is no need for a trial - they just need to get into compliance and get their act together,” Wang said after court. “But whether this sheriff is a reasonable law enforcement chief is a different matter.”

The sheriff’s lawyer John Masterson accused the plaintiffs of wanting this court case to never end. The contempt case stems from racial profiling litigation that began more than eight years ago.

“The plaintiffs fundraise off this, the plaintiffs make money off this,” Masterson said. “The plaintiffs want to destroy people at MCSO. That is their mission here so as long as they can draw this out, that is what they want to do.”

The majority of Friday’s hearing was dedicated to discussing the parties’ views on how to overhaul the Internal Affairs division in charge of investigating and disciplining officer misconduct. The judge will appoint an independent investigator to redo internal investigations the judge found to be inadequate. He said he will interview four candidates in the coming days that the parties nominated.

After court, ACLU lawyer Cecillia Wang said she was encouraged that the judge indicated an independent authority should have oversight over disciplining officers misconduct related to incidents involving Latino motorists.

“All those 22 days of contempt hearings last year were really geared toward the goal of taking the power to impose discipline, up to and including termination, out of the hands of the sheriff where he has abused that power and covered up misconduct and covered up violations of the plaintiff classes’ rights,” Wang said.