Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Deputies Admit Destroying Evidence in Racial Profiling Lawsuit

In a stunning revelation recently made public as part of the ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an MCSO sergeant has admitted that the department has been destroying documents and e-mails directly related to the MCSO's anti-immigrant sweeps. This, despite numerous requests by the plaintiffs' lawyers for those documents and e-mails since the beginning of the Melendres v. Arpaio suit in December 2007.

During an October 27 deposition of Sgt. Manuel Madrid, a supervisor and founding member of the MCSO's infamous Human Smuggling Unit, Madrid admitted that he had been deleting e-mails related to the sweeps and shredding so-called "stat sheets" submitted by individual deputies and posse members. The Human Smuggling Unit takes the lead in all immigration raids and sweeps, and Madrid was one of those responsible for compiling data on the dragnets.

In that deposition, part of which was made public Friday in a massive 132-page motion by the plaintiffs seeking sanctions against the MCSO's defense, Madrid stated that the destruction of evidence continued at least till the recent October 16-17 sweep in Surprise. Below is a small excerpt from Madrid's questioning under oath by a lawyer for the plaintiffs:

Q. After the sweep from about two weeks ago, were you given stat sheets by the individual officers who participated?

A. Yes.

Q. And do you still have them?

A. No.

Q. What did you do with them?

A. I believe I shredded them.

Madrid made clear that he destroyed all stat sheets as a matter of course after collecting data from the sheets, which included information on stops made by sheriff's deputies, any criminal arrests, citations issued, and the number of hours the deputies worked. The stat sheets also included a section for notes by the deputies or posse members involved. 

Those remarks are not collected by the MCSO, and so are now lost, thus damaging the plaintiffs' ability to prove that the department is racially profiling, which is the point of the lawsuit. Other pertinent information is lost when those stat sheets are shredded, as well as the ability to cross-reference them with the final MCSO reports.

Under oath, Madrid copped to deleting e-mails concerning the sweeps whenever his e-mail box got full. Madrid testified that he had never received an order from higher-ups instructing him to save requisite e-mails or to retain stat sheets. 

Additionally, in a November 4 affidavit from Madrid's boss Lt. Joe Sousa, the Human Smuggling Unit's top dog, Sousa admits that after the information on the stat sheets was transferred to a "master data sheet," the stat sheets were "discarded."

Because each sweep has been performed by 100 to 200 deputies and posse members, and because there have been 13 sweeps so far, plaintiffs' lawyers estimate that "hundreds, if not thousands, of stat sheets would have been available to Plaintiffs but for Defendants' shredding of the documents." 

Attorneys for the Phoenix law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, lead counsel in the case involving several racial-profiling victims, have made numerous requests for such documents in letters to Arpaio's lawyer Timothy Casey, and in court pleadings. (Note: The ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund joined Steptoe & Johnson in an amended complaint against the MCSO last year.) 

"Defendants shredded the stat sheets even while receiving multiple requests from plaintiffs for these documents," reads the motion filed Friday by Steptoe & Johnson. "Plaintiffs identified these materials for preservation and production in July 2008, and served Rule 34 document requests for them in February of 2009."

The motion maintains that a "litigation hold" should have been placed on such documents by MCSO honchos at the beginning of the suit in 2007. Nevertheless, the shredding continued. After the February 2009 request "defendants produced a smattering of these records." However, Madrid's testimony indicates that the destruction of evidence went on far after that.

Steptoe & Johnson lawyers David Bodney and Peter Kozinets have also sought immigration and sweep-related e-mails to and from Sheriff Arpaio, Chief Deputy Brian Sands, and Chief Deputy David Hendershott. But defense attorney Casey insisted in a November 4 letter to Kozinets that such e-mails from the upper echelon do not exist. That would mean no e-mail communication to or from these three MCSO big shots concerning immigration enforcement for the last two years.

Casey's reply to the charge that the MCSO has been destroying evidence was that the plaintiffs didn't need that evidence anyway.

"Your charge of evidence destruction by Sgt. Manuel Madrid or the MCSO is hyperbole," Casey informs Kozinets in the November 4 letter. "Whether the MCSO kept individual stat sheets from July 21, 2008 to the current date is immaterial to the successful prosecution of the plaintiffs' case."

Yet on November 12, presiding Judge G. Murray Snow issued an order authorizing the plaintiffs to file a motion seeking sanctions on the defense based on the admission that evidence had been destroyed.

"Counsel for Defendants," wrote Snow, "acknowledges that requests for such documents were transmitted to the MCSO as of July, 2008, and further acknowledges that, despite this request, the `stat' sheets that are prepared by individual officers during the course of the `crime suppression sweeps' or `saturation patrols,' have not been maintained by the Defendants. It is also possible, but less clear, that e-mails discussing these operations have also been deleted by the Defendants."

Snow ordered both parties to "take affirmative steps to prevent the destruction of" other documents relating to the sweeps. The plaintiffs are seeking attorneys' fees, and are asking that the depositions be reopened in light of Madrid's admission. They also want the judge to draw "appropriate adverse inferences against the defendants," meaning that the judge would assume that the destroyed evidence had been harmful to the defense's case.

Judge Snow's November 12 order can be read, here. The plaintiffs' November 20 motion is available, here.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons