PHOENIX (CN) – Three of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s former right-hand men claim in court that they were forced out when one of Arpaio’s deputy chiefs wrote a memo that falsely accused them of misconduct.
Former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Deputy Chief Larry Black, and Deputy Joel Fox sued Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, both counties, Investigative Research Inc. and its president Keith Sobraske and secretary Melinda Sobraske, and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Frank Munnell, in Maricopa County Court.
The plaintiffs say in their complaint that on Aug. 17, 2010, Deputy Chief Munnell submitted a 63-page memo to Arpaio, asserting “false allegations of criminal misconduct, malfeasance, allegations of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and even included allegations of sexual misconduct.”
They claim that in the memo, Munnell “made many untrue statements that he intended to cause harm to the plaintiffs and that he knew or should have known were false.”
The memo includes allegations that Hendershott asked Munnell to donate money to a secret political action committee to fund Arpaio’s 2008 political campaign, that Hendershott tried to stop Munnell from complying with state investigators, and that Hendershott, Black and Fox teamed up to manage the PAC, the Sheriff’s Command Association.
Before Aug. 17, Munnell “had spent considerable time and energy working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Attorney General office of the State of Arizona as some type of undercover agent, confidential informant, or other position not authorized by his supervisors or by his employment with the MCSO,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.
Munnell “gathered information through the use of unauthorized procedures, illegal procedures, and violations of his oath of office, and by violations of the MCSO Code of Conduct,” according to the complaint.
“Defendant Munnell was directed by the AG’s office [the Arizona Attorney General’s Office] and the FBI as to matters to look into in MCSO and, at the same time, provided the AG’s office and FBI with directions as to what witnesses in the MCSO and elsewhere they should interview, what questions to ask, and what information would help them in their investigation,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim Munnell’s investigation “involved him secretly tape-recording other commanding officers in MCSO, including the sheriff, in an attempt to support his false accusations.”
The plaintiffs claim that Munnell would strike up conversations with people whom he “suspected shared his disloyalty and dislike of one or more of the plaintiffs, and when he got these individuals to agree, even in little parts, defendant Munnell would then later go back to some of these individuals, especially co-employees and others that he had previously recorded, and using the recorded statements content, get them to make what amounted to false statements that were taken out of context.”
They claim Munnell was retaliating against Hendershott “due to Hendershott having to discipline Munnell and Munnell’s need to be repeatedly counseled for making racial slurs of African Americans and interracial marriage.”
The complaint continues: “Further, defendant Munnell resented Hendershott for Hendershott’s denial of Munnell’s request to claim an industrial injury when Munnell fell off of a police horse in New York City while he was on holiday and intoxicated.”
The plaintiffs add: “Defendants made sure the memo was published in the Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times, and presented on television stations serving the area.”
Upon receiving the memo, the plaintiffs say, Arpaio asked Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to investigate. Babeu then saw “a perfect opportunity to advance his name and to use the investigation as a means of promoting his own political goals,” the complaint states.
It continues: “Defendant Babeu, knowing the need of the press for more controversy, knew he had only one viable result in his investigation.
“A finding of no violations would result in one or two days of criticism of the investigation and then the press would move to some other controversy.
“However, a finding of some violations would result in a possible springboard for defendant Babeu into a broader politics field, a fact he admitted to after his published findings.
“Defendant Babeu told some reporters that he does have his vision on high political offices.
“This opportunity was made to order for defendant Babeu’s higher goals.
“However, the plaintiffs became the stepping-stones for defendant Babeu, and, therefore, the goal for an impartial investigation was lost.
“Defendant Arpaio knew or should have known that defendant Babeu was not qualified and has his own agenda.”
They claim Babeu had only 4 years of experience as a police officer, 1½ years as a sheriff, did not have an extensive history in investigations, and “had misrepresented who and what he was to the public.”
(In February this year, after announcing that he was considering running for Congress, Babeu publicly acknowledged he is homosexual. Babeu spoke after a Mexican man, who claimed to be Babeu’s former boyfriend, claimed Babeu had threatened him with deportation. Babeu denied that allegation. But the controversy was regarded as a death knell for Babeu’s political prospects in Arizona.)
In their lawsuit, Arpaio’s former assistants claim that Babeu “was not qualified to conduct the investigation, to oversee the investigation, to direct the investigation, to interpret and perceive the facts presented to a professional standard, and to distinguish between what is rumor, speculation, and misleading conclusions, and what is truly a material provable fact.”
According to the complaint, Babeu got help in the investigation from Investigative Research and its president Keith Sobraske, who “were not qualified to conduct the investigation under the facts and circumstances that existed; therefore, Sobraske permitted the investigation to be directed toward the pre-determined conclusion controlled by and acceptable to the politicians and powers that be and who benefitted from the one-sided conclusion oriented findings of defendant Sobraske and his defendant company.”
Sobraske and Investigative Research billed Maricopa County more than $100,000 for their work, the plaintiffs say.
Babeu took credit for the investigation, the lawsuit claims, and said he went to “the interviews of each of the principles, including the five-hour interview of Sheriff Arpaio, which he said was taped.”
However, the interview of Arpaio “was not taped, and if it was, it is not part of the record,” and Babeu did not stay for the entire interviews, the plaintiffs say.
Before the release of the investigative report, Babeu “was on television, and holding press conferences, telling the public details of his results, and stating that the plaintiffs were going to be fired,” the complaint states.
As a result, plaintiffs Hendershott and Black were “constructively discharged,” and resigned “because they became scapegoats for defendant Arpaio and the political turmoil surrounding the MCSO despite their loyal years of service and dedication and the mistreatment they had endured throughout this procedure and the fact the one-sided report was directed towards attempting to prove Munnell’s false allegations without giving any credit to long-time faithful and loyal service,” according to the complaint.
Fox was fired on Oct. 20, 2011 and “has timely attempted to exhaust all his administrative remedies and his law enforcement merit appeal is still in process,” he says.
The Arizona attorney general asked the state’s solicitor general to investigate Babeu for abuse of power, the Arizona Republic reported in February.
Arpaio is under federal investigation for abuse-of-power claims, including whether he conspired to prosecute a judge without cause.
The plaintiffs seek general damages and compensatory damages for negligence, defamation, and abuse of process, among other claims.
They are represented by Edward Moriarity and Bradley Booke with Moriarity, Badaruddin & Booke of Missoula, Mont.