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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Doubts Truth of Arpaio’s Testimony

PHOENIX (CN) - During closing arguments Friday, the federal judge overseeing Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt-of-court hearing questioned Arpaio's "willingness to tell the truth while he's on the stand."

Arpaio and four of his top assistants are accused of civil contempt, for failing to deliver data to the court and failing to train deputies on how to make constitutional traffic stops without racially profiling Latinos, as required by a 2013 court order.

The assistants are Maricopa County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre, Lt. Joe Sousa and Brian Sands, a retired executive chief.

In the underlying case , Melendres v. Arpaio , U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found that Arpaio's deputies violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Latinos by arresting them during traffic stops and so-called crime-suppression sweeps based on their race.

After about 21 days of testimony, Judge Snow challenged the six-term lawman's "forthcomingness," asking one of Arpaio's attorneys what kind of orders he must make to ensure the plaintiff class is protected.

"The substantial question is whether these gentlemen are trying to deceive the court," Snow told attorney John Masterson, with Jones, Skelton & Hoculi. "Are they telling the truth or are they having us incur hundreds of thousands of dollars?"

Snow's questions came after Masterson mentioned Arpaio's involvement in an investigation by a confidential informant the sheriff hired to look into whether Judge Snow and the Department of Justice were conspiring against Arpaio.

According to the informant, the federal government wiretapped Sheridan's and Arpaio's cellphones, possibly at the behest of Snow.

"No one at MCSO was actively investigating you," Masterson told the judge. "We had a guy that was providing information for the most part we think now was completely false."

Sheridan testified in September that the informant, Dennis Montgomery, was hired after he claimed the federal government had illegally accessed the bank records of about 150,000 Maricopa County residents. Montgomery, a former CIA consultant, gained notoriety for duping the federal government into awarding him millions of dollars in contracts for fake computer software to catch terrorists.

Masterson said that Arpaio was merely "curious" about Montgomery's claims.

"Was this information that I think should have been followed up on? I do," Masterson said. "I don't think the sheriff of this county can ignore a complaint that someone has hacked data."

Plaintiff's attorneys painted a very different picture of Arpaio's actions Friday, claiming he set out to violate the court's order to advance his "political imperative."

The court has heard a number of testimonies that Arpaio had been told repeatedly by his aides and then-attorney, Tim Casey , that under a preliminary injunction order in the class action, his deputies must stop detaining people suspected to be in the country illegally.

"I don't know if I heard the sheriff say a lot of times that he wasn't really sure about the injunction," Snow inquired of Stanley Young, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"The problem is the sheriff sets the policy for the department," Young answered. "He doesn't delegate that."

Instead of complying with the injunction, the Sheriff's Office distributed a number of press releases that described ordering deputies - as a "backup plan" - to transport undocumented immigrants to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol despite having no criminal charges against them. The action was a direct violation of Snow's injunction, Young said.

Arpaio also gave an interview to Fox News during the 2012 Republican National Convention, in which he said he had $7.5 million in campaign contributions because people supported his actions.

"It's a political imperative that causes him to do it," Young said. "He sends out press releases because he wants everyone to know what he is doing."

Failures by Arpaio and his aides did not stop after Snow's 2013 order instituted a long list of reforms , including appointment of a federal monitor, enhanced data collection, improved record-keeping and training, and a video recorder in every patrol vehicle.

Arpaio and Sheridan have already admitted they are in contempt of Snow's order. They could face fines and criminal charges.

"The sheriff's attorneys have argued or implied that somehow the sheriff should be able to rely on shady characters or criminals," Young said, mentioning Arpaio's involvement with Montgomery's investigation. In the process, he said, Arpaio and his aides became "shady and unsavory people themselves."

According to Young, all this activity shows intentional contempt.

"That activity is not worth the sacrifices that rank-and-file MCSO employees make every day and the risks they take to their lives," Young said.

It is unclear when Snow will issue a ruling.

Follow @jamierossCNS
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