Judge warns Arpaio with contempt, more investigation
The federal judge presiding over a long-standing civil-rights lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office warned the agency during a routine hearing on Thursday that he has run out of patience and could order more action.
U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow told attorneys for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio he is inclined to cite the agency for contempt of court and to issue a court order for new investigations into how it treated Latinos and the degree to which the county’s lawmen buried evidence of it.
The case, filed in 2007, had appeared to be in the final stages after the court appointed a monitor to oversee the sheriff’s efforts to reform its discriminatory policing of Latinos during traffic stops. Snow complained of foot-dragging in May and attacked the progress again this week.
“There is ample evidence,” Snow told county officials and their lawyers, “at least some people at MCSO are abusing this process.”
His remarks came before the county’s private attorney, Timothy Casey, disclosed that new evidence was uncovered as recently as this month and that plaintiffs’ attorneys in the class-action suit still haven’t seen much of it.
“There is a substantial volume of material. It will be an undertaking,” Casey said when asked if it could be turned over.
Casey reported that, in pursuing its internal investigation of possible policy violations, the agency uncovered audio and video tapes from interviews of human smuggling suspects taken between 2009 and 2011. That and other materials – such as Miranda cards and cellphones – were linked to investigations and marked with crime report numbers, but never catalogued into evidence, he said.
Also, he said, deputies opened a locker on Sheriff’s Office premises Nov. 5 and found two purses with cellphones, keys, ID cards and indications that they, too, were related to a case file.
Then, five days later, deputies were cleaning departmental offices and uncovered 164 ID cards, mainly bearing Hispanic last names and issued in foreign countries. Deputies told investigators 111 of them were used for “training,” while no explanation was offered for the remainder.
Then, Casey, said, deputies found 35 license plates, which were supposed to have been indexed as evidence and returned to the state’s Motor Vehicle Division. Of these, 13 were linked by computer files to Deputy Ramon “Charlie” Armandariz, who testified in the civil rights trial and was suspected of targeting Latinos illegally during traffic stops.
Unlike evidence taken from his house after he committed suicide, the new evidence was found at the Sheriff”s Office.
Judge Snow had clearly reached his limit on Thursday.
He told attorneys he will issue an order telling MCSO to spell out what it plans to continue investigating internally. Anything else, he said, could be investigated by himself or by the court-appointed monitor, Snow signaled. He plans to hold a hearing on Dec. 4 into the proposed order and to call deputies as witnesses as part of his own independent inquiries, he said.
“I have given your client opportunity after opportunity after opportunity,” Snow said. “In opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, your client has violated the law, violated my express orders or subverted the investigation I ordered.”
Snow said he had the right, and maybe the inclination, to cite MCSO with civil or criminal contempt of court.
“I am not going to be tolerant any more,” he warned.
Casey, who was in court asking to be removed from the case, said he disagreed with Snow’s characterization.
“Despite some of the things that have been said here, my clients’ belief is that they have followed this court’s orders in good faith,” he said.
Last year, Snow found that the agency had racially profiled Latinos during its patrol operations and later ordered sweeping reforms to prevent discriminatory policing in the future.
Snow ordered multi-million dollar reforms, including in-vehicle recording devices, bias-free training for deputies, increased data collection and a court-appointed monitor to oversee the agency’s compliance.
But his initial reforms expanded this spring following revelations that Armendariz had been stashing drugs, identification cards, license plates and torn-up citations in his home, signaling what appeared to be a shake-down operation that stretched for years.
Armendariz also secretly recorded thousands of his own traffic stops, documenting his own misconduct and signaling to Snow that the Sheriff’s Office did not turn over all of the traffic-stop data that was required for the lawsuit.
Complicating the issue was Armendariz himself — he was one of a handful of deputies to testify during the trial.
Snow soon extended his purview to include the agency’s internal investigation into Armendariz and the possibility of widespread corruption within MCSO’s Human Smuggling Unit.
Snow has become increasingly agitated over the investigation in recent hearings.
Sheriff’s officials poured thousands of man hours into inquiry, but court-appointed monitor Robert Warshaw deemed the investigation insufficient.
The monitoring team described a lax inquiry into which deputies also employed recording devices and said investigators disregarded another former deputy’s allegations that HSU members had pocketed evidence.