Officers Testify at Sheriff|Arpaio’s Contempt Hearing

     PHOENIX (CN) – A former supervisor in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s now-defunct Human Smuggling Unit testified that Arpaio ordered him not to release undocumented immigrants who were arrested, despite a court order telling Arpaio’s office to stop racially profiling.
     Arpaio and a number of his former and current officers are in court through Friday in a civil contempt hearing. Arpaio allegedly violated a court order in a 2007 class action stemming from Arpaio’s procedures against Latinos in traffic stops and street raids.
     Sgt. Brett Palmer testified Tuesday that when he told Arpaio he would not follow his order, the sheriff became argumentative.
     “The sheriff took a very authoritative stance with me and told me that I was not to release those individuals,” Palmer said. “I told the sheriff immediately that that was an unlawful order and I was not going to follow it.”
     Cecilia Wang, plaintiffs’ attorney with the ACLU Immigration Rights Project, asked Palmer why he thought the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was violating the court order.
     “My opinion on who is ultimately responsible is the sheriff,” Palmer answered. He said that the prevailing attitude in the Sheriff’s Office is that “it’s our duty to make the sheriff look good in the media and in the public.”
     The hearing, which is expected to last through Friday and potentially for another week in June, got off to a slow start Tuesday, as attorneys for Maricopa County and Arpaio disputed who should represent Arpaio in light of last week’s 9th Circuit ruling.
     The ruling, which found that Maricopa County should be substituted for the Sheriff’s Office as a defendant, pulled the county back into the nearly seven-year long dispute, after it was dismissed in the early stages of the case.
     “This wasn’t quite how I envisioned today going,” said Michele Iafrate, an attorney representing Arpaio, shortly after her co-counsel Tom Liddy with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office excused himself for potential ethical conflicts.
     Liddy represented Arpaio and Maricopa County during the 2012 trial.
     Maricopa County’s counsel, Richard Walker of Walker & Peskind, asked whether Iafrate was the right attorney to represent Maricopa County’s interests.
     Walker asked that the court allow defense attorneys to seek ethics counsel to determine if there was a conflict.
     “I’m prepared to defend the clients I’m here to defend,” Iafrate said, then acknowledged that she was “concerned with the issues the 9th Circuit has thrust upon us.”
     Wong opposed Walker’s request.
     “Essentially, under the 9th Circuit opinion, the county has stepped into the shoes of MCSO,” Wong told the court. “We don’t believe there are any issues that require a stay. In effect, the entity that is responsible has changed from the MCSO to the county, but the issues are the same.”
     U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow told Walker he would allow him to “take depositions, or do what you feel like you need to do,” but agreed with Wong that the hearing must continue.
     “This has gone on for too long, and I do believe it would be prejudicial to the plaintiff class,” Snow said.
     Just before the hearing broke for lunch, it was interrupted by a Hispanic woman who told Snow she had “something to say.” When Snow responded that she would have to talk to plaintiffs’ counsel, she interrupted him, saying, “It’s all lies.”
     Snow reminded the packed courtroom that while “people in the gallery and the audience” may have strong opinions on the case, “if you can’t restrain yourself, you will be escorted out.”
     The court also heard testimony from David Trombi, chief of enforcement for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, involving former deputy Ramon “Charley” Armendariz, who secretly recorded traffic stops and confiscated drugs, license plates, and identification cards from the stops without turning them over to the agency. Armendariz, a member of Arpaio’s Human Smuggling Unit, killed himself in May 2014.
     Trombi said the Sheriff’s Office had no policy in place requiring retention of tapes from deputies’ body cameras worn when it was found that Armendariz had stores the tapes and confiscated items in his home.
     Trombi had the opportunity to transfer or fire Armendariz after the Sheriff’s Office began to get complaints about his behavior on patrols.
     “There was nothing so egregious that it would then be forwarded to Internal Affairs,” Trombi said. “Sir, it’s my experience in 31 years of law enforcement and military that transferring doesn’t fix the problem.”
     The hearing continues today.

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