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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Federal Judge Rules for Sheriff Arpaio

PHOENIX (CN) - A federal judge granted summary judgment to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the County Board of Supervisors, after a former county school superintendent claimed they retaliated against her complaints of insufficient school funding by filing a criminal complaint against her.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled that former Superintendent Sandra Dowling and her husband, Dennis, "seem to impute each board member's individual actions to the board as a whole, but do not provide any support for their allegations that the board acted as an entity with a retaliatory motive to violate Dowling's constitutional rights."

The Dowlings claimed the Board of Supervisors asked the Sheriff's Office to investigate Sandra Dowling to retaliate for her "positions on various political issues that placed her in conflict with members of the board."

But Teilborg found no evidence that the board "decided to initiate a criminal investigation into the deficit or that the board, as an entity, provided misinformation to investigators ... in an attempt to violate Dowling's First Amendment rights."

Since the Dowlings provided no support for "their assertion that the motivation of an individual board member could be imputed to the board as whole or that the board, or any individual supervisor initiated the criminal investigation of Dowling, the court finds that the board is entitled to summary judgment with regard to plaintiffs' claim of retaliatory prosecution in violation of Dowling's First Amendment rights," Teilborg wrote.

Dowling's claims against Maricopa County also failed, because "a municipality cannot be responsible for the acts of its employees on a respondeat superior basis," Teilborg wrote.

The Dowlings claimed that Sheriff Arpaio "is individually liable for [Chief Deputy David] Hendershott's alleged retaliatory investigation of Dowling because Arpaio 'encouraged and ratified' unconstitutional conduct by employees under his supervision."

However, even if the court assumed that Hendershott had a retaliatory motive and encouraged Dowling's prosecution in the absence of probable cause, the Dowlings failed to establish that Arpaio "acted unreasonably in delegating the investigation to Hendershott and believing Hendershott when he claimed probable cause existed for the prosecution of Dowling," Teilborg wrote.

The Dowlings failed to present the court "with evidence showing that initiating the criminal investigation into Dowling was arbitrary or irrational or that the board, as an entity, and Sheriff Arpaio were involved in the decision to initiate the investigation," Teilborg found, and failed to establish a "genuine issue of material fact that Sheriff Arpaio and the Board entered into a conspiracy to violate Dowling's First Amendment Rights."

According to Dowling's Superior Court complaint, the board retaliated against her by enlisting Arpaio to investigate her after she got an opinion from then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas stating that the board and county had failed to adequately fund the Maricopa County Regional School District; and after Tom Horne, then-state superintendent of public instruction, had determined that the board and county had failed to pay the school district $3.5 million over seven years.

In November 2006 Dowling was indicted on 25 felony charges, including theft and mismanagement of public funds, but all of the charges were dropped.

Dowling pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor that was not part of the original indictment.

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