Joe Arpaio's (ahem) Legal Scholar Brett "Shut Up" Palmer and Flunky Brian Sands Under Oath

Sheriff Arpaio and Deputy Chief Sands at a Pei Wei raid in 2011
Sheriff Arpaio and Deputy Chief Sands at a Pei Wei raid in 2011

See also: Joe Arpaio Struggles in Racial-Profiling Trial to Answer Examples of Seemingly Bigoted Leadership See also: Joe Arpaio Looks Like Tired, Old Racist on Stand During Racial-Profiling Trial See also: Joe Arpaio's Racial Profiling Trial Begins, and, Yes, He's Guilty as Sin See also: Joe Arpaio's Deputy Thinks Most Day-Laborers Are Undocumented

Early this morning, I obtained what I was looking for: A legal document highly-valued by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, researched by a scholar of such repute that he's known for telling elected officials to, "Shut up!"

The "scholar" in question is Sergeant Brett Palmer, a supervisor in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious, racial-profilin' Human Smuggling Unit.

No, he doesn't have a law degree, or any legal training to speak of. But he does have a direct line to high MCSO muckety-mucks, including HSU Lieutenant Joe Sousa, Deputy Chief Brian Sands, and Arpaio himself.

See, Palmer took the stand yesterday in Melendres v. Arpaio, the big ACLU lawsuit that's trying to bring Arpaio to heel on his pattern and practice of discriminatory policing. There, Palmer discussed his involvement in a couple of major scandals that have hit the MCSO concerning its Hispanic-hunting ways.

One was a direct embarrassment to Arpaio himself, when Arpaio used misinformation Palmer had forwarded up the chain of command after, Palmer says, Sands asked him to do some "legal research" for the stone-faced deputy chief.

Palmer is the same brain surgeon who participated in a press conference in 2009 where he and other Arpaio employees blasted public officials who had dared to criticize Arpaio's immigration policies.

"We're telling these people in power such as [then Phoenix Mayor] Phil Gordon, [Maricopa County Supervisor] Mary Rose Wilcox and [then Mesa] Police Chief Gascon, shut up!" Palmer practically spat at the time. "They're ignorant. They don't know what it is they're talking about. They don't have their facts straight."

In other words, Palmer isn't the sharpest pencil in the drawer. So what does it say about the guy who asks him to do legal research and passes this "research" along to his boss, the most powerful lawman in the county?

Palmer admitted that he "cut and pasted" info from a website to send to Sands, and the info was, unknown to him at the time, incorrect. The material cited was old, and said that state and local cops have the right to enforce federal immigration statutes without prior approval of the "INS."

That mention of the no-longer-extant INS should have been a tip off for Palmer and his superiors. But they were eager to make the case that local law enforcement has "inherent authority" to question folks about immigration status.

In fact, that is incorrect. As federal Judge G. Murray Snow pointed out in his decision granting Melendres class action status, and as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held, "Local law enforcement officers...do not have the `inherent authority' to investigate civil immigration violations."

 

Nevertheless, Arpaio went on to cite the information publicly after the MCSO was stripped of its federal 287(g) power to investigate civil immigration violations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Palmer testified that at the time he believed all immigration violations were criminal in nature, but that is not true, and only the feds can enforce civil immigration law.

The sergeant also believed at the time that "Hispanic appearance," along with other factors," could be used by local police to develop "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is in the country illegally.

Arpaio bought this line as well, and repeated the same info for the press, citing a non-existent federal law.

The fact that Arpaio didn't consult with his in-house legal beagles or with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office on this issue, and instead chose to rely on Palmer, a sergeant with zero legal training, indicates just what sort of a bush-league operation Arpaio is running.

Palmer caused other problems for the MCSO, as he was one of the sheriff's deputies who e-mailed racist jokes around the office. Vile, derogatory pictures and statements aimed at Mexicans and Hispanics were regular e-mail fodder for MCSO employees, especially those in the HSU.

The sergeant claimed that he now realized he was wrong to circulate this filth, and he claimed that he was punished for it. Just how he was punished may be a part of today's testimony, either with Sands or with Lieutenant Sousa.

But Palmer was not fired. Other such incidents in the Valley have resulted in police officers being demoted, at the least.

Sands took the stand after Palmer, and the deputy chief conveyed all the intelligence and personality of a sack of potatoes as he was grilled late in the afternoon by the plaintiffs' lead attorney Stanley Young.

The chief deputy oversees the HSU, among other duties, and he looks like he should be standing in one of those old Cold War photos of sour Soviet leaders in the politburo.

Under oath, he was what I would call a passive-aggressive witness. He took long pauses before replying to Young's inquiries, and kept asking to read documents, which he's been deposed on and has read many times.

But like a determined dentist, Young pulled all the rotten teeth, one by one. Young went over the racist letters from constituents that Arpaio forwarded on to him. Though Sands wouldn't cop to it directly, these letters were used as pretexts for Arpaio's sweeps in different areas of the Valley.

Some of these letters complained about people speaking Spanish in a McDonalds, or kvetching about "dark complected" Hispanics, or deriding Latino law-enforcement officials.

Perhaps the most egregious, for its circulator if not its content, was a letter asking for a sweep signed by business owners in the area of Bell and Cave Creek Roads. It was passed around by none other than scruffy, Mexican-hating nativist Buffalo Rick Galeener, a convicted public urinator.

The letter prompted one of the ugliest of Arpaio's sweeps, a virtual powder-keg that easily could have resulted in bloodshed.

Sands admitted that he had made no attempt to investigate the source of the letter, or to interview the business owners involved.

Regarding another sweep spurred by the complaints of business owners about day-laborers, Sands had to admit that no day-laborers were arrested in that sweep.

Concerning a 2008 sweep in the nearly all-white enclave of Fountain Hills, Joe's town of residence, nine out of the 10 persons arrested one day of the two day action had Hispanic surnames.

"Fountain Hills is not a Hispanic neighborhood?" asked Young at one point, no doubt knowing the answer.

"I'm not sure of the demographics," Sands offered.

Young went on to point out that Fountain Hills is largely non-black and non-Hispanic.

I think you can figure out what Young was getting at.

The trial continues today with more Sands, and perhaps testimony from Sousa.

We have to hope Snow comes down hard on the MCSO after this trial is over, because the trial itself will play to Arpaio's advantage politically, and solidify his support with a large, elderly voting block that fears anyone with brown skin.

Racial profiling may be illegal, but it also happens to be why so many of these geezers support Joe.


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