Arpaio Testifies in Contempt Trial, Pulls Old Man Shtick

Arpaio's "pity me I'm decrepit" act is older than Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.
Arpaio's "pity me I'm decrepit" act is older than Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.
New Times Illustration/Shutterstock

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio took the stand in his contempt trial before federal Judge G. Murray Snow Wednesday afternoon. And he relied on some of his favorite ploys, ones I've seen him use in deposition after deposition, trial after trial.

There's the inevitable cold. He always seems to be under the weather when he testifies. And sure enough, after he was sworn in at 4:30 p.m. on day four of his trial, he seemed to be nursing a catarrh, his voice more gravely than normal.

His interrogator, plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Young, asked how he was.

"I'm here," Arpaio replied. "That's what matters." 

Best I can figure, this is a tactic meant to garner sympathy. Perhaps he thinks his questioners will go easy on him, given that's he's (allegedly) ailing. 

Then there's the old-man shtick, where suddenly he owns every one of his 83 years on this earth and then some.

Arpaio pulled this on Young, as well, acting as if he were hard of hearing, or just auditioning for the all-geriatric version of Dumb and Dumber To.

Young was showing the sheriff videos in court from Arpaio's personal stash, which Arpaio keeps in his office. This vanity library spotlights Joe's favorite subject, himself.

The videos were from 2012, following Snow's December 2011 preliminary injunction in the ACLU's big civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio.

In the order — later upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and made permanent when Snow ruled in 2013 that the MCSO was guilty of racial profiling — Snow enjoined the MCSO from enforcing federal, civil immigration law.

Meaning, Arpaio's deputies could not arrest, detain, or transfer to a federal agency someone suspected of being in the country illegally, unless the individual was suspected of having committed a state crime.

Arpaio's former attorney, Tim Casey, boiled down the injunction to the shorthand "arrest or release" for his clients. 

But in 2012, the sheriff made numerous statements to the press about how he was going to do whatever he damn well pleased, despite the ruling and despite the Obama administration's having rescinded a federal 287(g) grant of immigration authority to the MCSO.

"I'm not going to give it up," said Arpaio during one Fox News segment. "I'm going to continue to enforce federal and state laws."

Arpaio acted confused after the clip was played in court so Young was forced to play it again.

Young asked what Arpaio meant by his promise to enforce federal immigration law.

"Sometimes I say things I don't mean," Arpaio replied, "when [I'm] dealing with the press."

In his televised comments, Arpaio said, he had been referring to Arizona's human-smuggling and employer-sanctions laws.

Federal law applies to these state laws via some pretzel logic that makes sense only to Joe.

Stanley Young, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in Melendres v. Arpaio.
Stanley Young, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in Melendres v. Arpaio.
Stephen Lemons

"If we do arrest people on state law, if they've come from another country, they probably have violated a federal law coming across the border," Arpaio explained.

After court adjourned, I asked Young about this unique legal theory. 

"It's not correct at all," Young said. "You have state laws, you have federal laws. Just because there's a state law you have the ability to enforce doesn't mean you can enforce federal law. That's what he was prohibited from doing."

In a 2012 interview with Fox 10's John Hook, Arpaio made an even broader statement, referring to a press conference recently given by the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the MCSO's civil rights abuses. 

"They do know," Arpaio said of the feds, "[that] I will continue to enforce all illegal immigration laws."

The DOJ sued Arpaio in May 2012 over the same prejudiced policing that Melendres covered. That DOJ lawsuit recently was settled by Maricopa County.

In a CBS News clip, Arpaio complained about the feds "going after this sheriff," stating that DOJ bigwigs "don't like me enforcing immigration law."

In another segment, he presumed the feds were targeting him because "it's an election year."

Arpaio was running for re-election in 2012. He eventually won a sixth term in a three-man race, where he spent $8 million and eked out a slim majority of 50.6 percent.

But Arpaio told Young there was nothing political about his immigration policies. It was about the law, not politics. 

"I didn't think they [DOJ officials] were trying to influence the outcome of the election," Arpaio claimed. "That wasn't in my mind."

Yet Arpaio's ex-attorney maintains that politics was very much on Arpaio's mind in 2012. 

Casey testified about illegal immigrants turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol in fall 2012 by the MCSO, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to take them. 

In a press release at the time, Arpaio called this Border Patrol gambit his "backup plan," claiming it was consistent with his agency's enforcement policies.

Casey said ex-Executive Chief Brian Sands told him that the Border Patrol incident had been orchestrated for "political reasons."

Additionally, Casey testified that when he informed Arpaio via correspondence about a complaint from the ACLU, which argued that the MCSO was in violation of the preliminary injunction, he mentioned the complaint's possible political impact.

He did this knowing it would "get [Arpaio's] attention."

Casey said that during the 2012 trial in Melendres, statements by Arpaio and his deputies tipped him off that there were violations of the preliminary injunction going on. Seems Arpaio and those in his Human Smuggling Unit refused to understand a basic principle: suspicion that someone is in the country illegally is not enough to stop or detain that person.

Veteran Arpaio adviser Jack MacIntyre likely will escape punishment.
Veteran Arpaio adviser Jack MacIntyre likely will escape punishment.
Stephen Lemons

Casey said he explained this to Arpaio over and over again.

But his client was stubborn and liked to "focus on the exception rather than the general rule" to achieve a desired result. 

The two men argued over Arpaio's backup policy in October 2013. Arpaio at first was defiant, but he ultimately said it wouldn't happen again.

Initially, Casey testified that, to his knowledge, it never did happen again. But he had to eat those words when he was questioned by ACLU attorney Cecillia Wang. 

Wang reminded him of the videos of MCSO stops revealed by the investigation into the arrest and eventual suicide of former deputy Ramon "Charley" Armendariz in May 2014.

She mentioned one videotaped stop by Armendariz that she called "the Korean stop," and Casey conceded that he knew of such violations of the 2011 injunctive order well after his argument with Arpaio.

Though Casey's testimony slammed his ex-jefe, it proved helpful to Sands, one of the five current and former MCSO muck-a-mucks on the hook for possible civil violations of Snow's court.

Casey described at length how proactive Sands had been in attempting to disseminate information about the 2011 injunction.

MCSO e-mails and other documents discussed in court backed up Casey's account of Sands' participation. 

But on the stand Wednesday, Sands, citing his retirement in 2013 and a bout with coronary heart disease, said he did not remember much of what Casey had testified to regarding him. Still, he did not dispute that it happened.

He did recall Casey's argument with Arpaio. He also said he had been relieved when the 2011 injunction was issued and that he had not agreed with the saturation patrols.

Asked about the investigation of President Obama's birth certificate, he talked about how those who pursued it — Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo and MCSO detective Brian Mackiewicz — reported to Arpaio directly, instead of through the chain of command. 

Sands said Arpaio made a revelatory comment after the sheriff initiated the birth certificate investigation. 

"Now let them go after me," Arpaio told him.

Young asked what this meant?

"The understanding to me," Sands said, "was [the sheriff] felt the DOJ would not further any investigation of him because he was investigating the president."

In another words, the birther probe was a classic Arpaio move: investigate the entity or person investigating you to conflict them off the case.

Arpaio's done it so often over the years that it would not surprise me if he still is engaging in such activity, as he sits in court, under the threat of a likely criminal contempt allegation referred by Snow to a special prosecutor or to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The sheriff and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, have admitted to civil contempt of the court. Of the five men so accused, the pair have a real reason to fear criminal-contempt allegations.

Sands (left), with attorneys Jack Wilenchik and soon-to-be Superior Court judge Greg Como.
Sands (left), with attorneys Jack Wilenchik and soon-to-be Superior Court judge Greg Como.
Stephen Lemons

As mentioned in this week's column, it would be a mistake for Snow to refer Arpaio and Sheridan's criminal case to the U.S. Attorney's Office, given the USAO's historical aversion to holding Arpaio accountable. 

Better for Snow to give the criminal case to a special prosecutor, as federal law allows. Another judge would be appointed to the case. But a special prosecutor would make sure justice is done. 

Someone like former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton comes to mind. 

MCSO Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre testified, as well, as he too is a defendant in the case.

His time on the stand was so tedious that Snow barely kept from falling asleep. MacIntyre is an ancient Arpaio crony, who over the years has used his law degree to rationalize practically everything the sheriff does.

Though MacIntyre may have some ethical or moral culpability as a top-level sycophant to Joe, he was not directly responsible for implementing Snow's order.

Today, the plaintiffs planned to interrupt Arpaio's testimony to bring in Lieutenant Kim Seagraves, a former investigator with the MCSO's Professional Standards Bureau.

Apparently she has an engagement that otherwise will prevent her from testifying in coming weeks.

If Seagraves takes the stand, Arpaio's examination will continue after she's done.

Either way, court resumes 9 a.m. today.

For live Tweets during breaks in the contempt hearings, follow @StephenLemons or search #ArpaioContempt on Twitter.


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