Arpaio's Chief Deputy Shredded on the Stand

ACLU attorney Cecillia Wang played hammer to Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan's nail in federal court Thursday, as Sheridan was the first to take the stand in the contempt trial of Sheridan, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and three current and former MCSO bigwigs.

The multi-day hearing, with dates scheduled in September, October, and November, is the second round of a contempt proceeding that began in April.

Arpaio and Sheridan already have admitted that they are in civil contempt of federal Judge G. Murray Snow's court in the ACLU's big civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio.

What remains is the fate of the other defendants, remedies for the civil violations, and the possibility of criminal contempt charges for Arpaio, Sheridan, and the rest.

During his grueling day-long testimony, Sheridan's face often turned the color of a Redbox kiosk as he defended his actions as Arpaio's top henchman.

In one tense exchange, Wang grilled Sheridan on why he had opened a criminal internal affairs investigation into hundreds of IDs and other personal property improperly seized by the MCSO's now-disbanded Human Smuggling Unit.

The IA investigation by the MCSO's Professional Standards Bureau was based on allegations made by fired former deputy Cisco Perez and deceased ex-deputy Ramon "Charley" Armendariz.

Each man had accused other deputies of stealing property confiscated by the MCSO, such as a large-screen TV, guns, and sometimes cash.

Sheridan said he "felt sympathy" for the criminally accused HSU deputies and that he initiated a criminal investigation despite believing that the allegations were "unfounded."

When Wang wondered why Sheridan had done that, the chief deputy erupted.

"Because we knew you'd be on our ass if we didn't," he said, voice raised. "We had nothing, no probable cause, but we did it anyway."

Wang was incredulous.

"You did a criminal IA because you knew I would be 'on your ass' [about it]?" she asked.
Sheridan admitted that he had, in case he needed to defend himself on the matter during the course of litigation in Melendres.

Also, Wang reviewed allegations that other MCSO employees had taken IDs and other seized items to Armendariz's house, which the MCSO searched with a warrant following a Phoenix Police Department call to the residence.

That call and the warrant resulted in the discovery of cocaine, marijuana, meth, and other illicit substances, as well as drug paraphernalia, much of it still in MCSO evidence bags in Armendariz's garage. 

Wang noted that there had been an unaccounted-for sawed-off shotgun found at Armendariz's residence, along with hundreds of license plates, wallets, purses, IDs, and other property.

As a result, there were scores of related spin-off IAs from the Armendariz investigation following his suicide in May 2014. 

One spin-off IA involved $300 that a woman claimed had been taken from her purse.

Another involved $260 that was not properly impounded. 

Sergeant David Tennyson, the detective looking into the allegations made by Perez and Armendariz, only investigated the taking of IDs and "trinkets," as Sheridan called them, which were found on the desks of HSU members.

According to Wang, in his memo closing out the investigation,Tennyson praised the members of HSU, declaring there had been no criminal wrongdoing, a decision in which Sheridan and the County Attorney's Office concurred.

Sheridan admitted that Tennyson never looked into whether other HSU members swiped illicit drugs from the MCSO or from suspects.

More seriously, Sheridan confessed that he'd never opened a criminal investigation on the stolen drugs, but rather allowed the issue to be investigated administratively. 

With this and other examples of questionable behavior, Wang sought to demonstrate that the MCSO is incapable of investigating itself.
Out of about 40 spin-off investigations from the Armendariz matter, only one resulted in major discipline, Wang observed.

She said a target of an IA was promoted while he was still under investigation and that Sheridan had closed another IA because he thought it was unfair to the targeted deputy.

In yet another example of ineptitude, Wang recounted the story of a Hispanic MCSO sergeant working in Gila Bend who complained of being racially profiled by fellow deputies.

The sergeant also said certain MCSO deputies had refused to take criminal complaints from illegal aliens, threatening them with deportation.

Sheridan found fault with the whistleblower, saying the sergeant should have "counseled" the other deputies, "taking them under his wing" instead of reporting them.

Lastly, Wang raised the issue of administrative IA investigations into Sheridan and other MCSO satraps over their failure to obey Snow's 2011 order, prohibiting the MCSO from enforcing civil federal immigration law.

Don Vogel, a local private detective, was hired by the MCSO to conduct the investigations.

Sheridan faced five allegations of policy violations. Vogel's investigation resulted in some of these being "sustained" by Deputy Chief Mike Olson.

Olson, one of Sheridan's subordinates, was appointed by Arpaio to review the findings.

Through an internal MCSO grievance process, Sheridan was able to give a 90-minute presentation to Olson on why he (Sheridan) should not be disciplined.

Wang played part of an audio recording of the grievance hearing, what the MCSO refers to as a "name-clearing" session. 

In the recording, Sheridan said he and the sheriff had taken responsibility for not enforcing the 2011 order "because we [had] to."
Sheridan advised Olson to do "what's best for the organization," and if Olson felt Sheridan deserved the punishment — 40 hours without pay — Sheridan wouldn't hold it against him.

Not surprisingly, Olson reversed the IA report's earlier findings, re-labeling them "not sustained."

Sheridan was not alone in escaping punishment for failing to follow Snow's 2011 order.

Wang said "none of the principals had a single 'sustained' finding" from these IAs.

Also during the hearing, Wang eviscerated Sheridan's credibility on the key issue of whether he knew of Snow's 2011 order before March 27, 2014, when he says he first learned of it.

Wang cited several e-mails from former Arpaio attorney Tim Casey, as well as evidence of meetings in Sheridan's own office to discuss the matter.

But Sheridan maintained that the Melendres case "was not on my radar" at that time and that he knew very little about it, even in late 2012, when Casey e-mailed Sheridan and other MCSO brass, warning that the MCSO might be in violation of of Snow's order.

In one e-mail, Casey counseled that this could mean trouble, as Arpaio was seeking re-election and it was close to Election Day.

"Casey was concerned that the plaintiffs would file a contempt motion prior to the election," Wang said.

Sheridan insisted that he never looked at the e-mails. He could not recall meeting with Casey about the preliminary injunction.
Sheridan even attended a January 2012 Board of Supervisors meeting where County Attorney Bill Montgomery addressed Snow's preliminary injunction, vowing to appeal it to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The meeting's minutes put Sheridan there, but Sheridan said he was "preoccupied with other matters," other controversies swirling around the MCSO.

"I attend a lot of Board of Supervisors meetings," Sheridan said. "It's difficult for me to be specific about what I recall."

Sheridan would only say he was "vaguely aware" of being at the meeting.

Nor could he remember advice by Casey via e-mail when a Ninth Circuit panel upheld Snow's preliminary injunction later in 2012.

Wang said Deputy Chief Jack McIntyre, one of Sheridan's co-defendants, recalled meeting with Sheridan about the order in January 2012.

But Sheridan dodged blame, pointing the finger at an unnamed "executive chief," whom he said was the responsible party.

No doubt he meant former executive Chief Brian Sands, one of Sheridan's co-defendants, who is at odds with Arpaio and Sheridan.

The day ended with Wang's beginning to ask Sheridan about the so-called Seattle investigation and the MCSO's confidential informant Dennis Montgomery.

In an earlier development, defense attorney John Masterson's last-minute motion to prevent the Seattle operation from being discussed, and another to limit the testimony of private investigator Vogel, were denied by Snow as the hearing got under way.

Plaintiffs' counsel Stan Young asserted that the Seattle operation and the anti-Arpaio conspiracy the sheriff was ginning up involving Snow and others was "very relevant" for showing Arpaio's "state of mind."

Snow said he already had determined that the Seattle investigation was relevant — and stated that Vogel could testify as well.

Sheridan's testimony resumes today at 9 a.m.

I'm told Casey or Sands could be called to testify this afternoon.

As for Arpaio, it's anticipated he will testify sometime next week. 

For live Tweets during breaks in the contempt hearings, follow @StephenLemons or search #ArpaioContempt.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons