PHOENIX (CN) – A federal judge ruled late last week that the arrest of an ACLU legal director by Maricopa County’s controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio was an attempt to intimidate the director “from future First Amendment activity.” The judge found that the deputies who arrested legal director Dan Pochoda knew of his position with the ACLU and conferred with Arpaio or a representative about arresting him after he attended a demonstration against the sheriff.
Arpaio and three of his officers sought dismissal of the suit, claiming they had probable cause to arrest Pochoda as he left the demonstration. But U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake found that Pochoda’s arrest was an attempt to “intimidate (him) from future First Amendment activity” since the officers knew of Pochoda’s position in the ACLU, saw him speaking with the protest’s organizer and consulted with Arpaio “or his representative about whether to arrest him on a misdemeanor charge.”
Pochoda said two deputies who were patrolling a parking lot near the demonstration approached him on Nov. 3, 2007 and questioned him for five minutes. He says the officers told him he could not park in the lot and stood between him and his car. After Pochoda asked one of the deputies to identify himself, since he was in street clothes, Pochoda says he was handcuffed, taken to the county jail and booked on criminal trespassing charges.
Pochoda claims that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by stopping him from leaving the parking lot.
But Judge Wake found that the officers had the right to stop and question him after. However, once Pochoda made it clear that he was leaving the property, the officers should have let him go, Wake said.
Judge Wake ruled that the deputies “are not immune from Pochoda’s claim of unlawful detention and arrest” because Pochoda never refused to leave the parking lot and was prevented from doing so by the officers.
The sheriff and the officers denied Pochoda’s claim of malicious prosecution, saying they had probable cause to arrest him, but Judge Wake found the arrest motivated by “deterrence or retribution for First Amendment activities.”
Pochoda has worked as an attorney in many constitutional cases against Arpaio.
Pochoda is represented by Joel Robbins and Anne Findling.