Arizona County Still on the Hook for Sheriff’s Abuses

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – The Ninth Circuit ordered Maricopa County to enforce a federal court order addressing a broad array of sheriff’s office policies issued in the wake of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s conviction for contempt of court.

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest in a seven-year legal battle between largely urban Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and Latino drivers who claimed in a class action that law enforcement had illegally pulled them over and detained them because of their race.

The drivers won, and the court eventually convicted Arpaio on contempt charges for violating a court order to halt the profiling.

After ruling that Arpaio had systematically violated the drivers’ civil rights, the district court issued an injunction ordering the sheriff’s office to implement remedial measures including “appointing an independent monitor to assess and report on MCSO’s compliance with the injunction, increasing the training of MCSO employees, improving traffic-stop documentation, and developing an early identification system for racial-profiling problems,” according to Tuesday’s 14-page ruling.

The county appealed the federal ruling, which the Ninth Circuit upheld, asking the lower court to further address provisions concerning reports of abuse and internal investigations. A second federal ruling revised MCSO’s training, procedures for complaints against officers, and disciplinary, conflict of interest and whistleblower policies.

In the latest appeal, the county argued that the injunction gave an independent monitor too much access to internal affairs investigations, gave the court too much control of policies, and unreasonably removed internal affairs away from the main sheriff’s department offices.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected all of those arguments.

The county also argued that it has no authority to enforce the injunction, because of a state law that prevents it from spending money on issues arising from willful misconduct. But the Ninth Circuit found that law doesn’t apply in this case.

“[A] state statute prohibiting payment for valid federal court-ordered remedies does not excuse a defendant from complying with those remedies,” U.S. Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote for the panel.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which represented the drivers, said the ruling holds the sheriff’s office accountable.

“Systemic civil rights violations of this magnitude require systemic reforms. Maricopa County must continue to implement these court orders for the protection of all its residents,” Cecillia Wang, ACLU deputy legal director, said in a statement.

U.S. Circuit Judges Susan P. Graber and Marsha S. Berzon also sat on the panel.

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office Appeals Division did not reply to a request for comment, and a Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment.


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