When a reliable source sends photos of a recycling firm loading computers in front of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's downtown headquarters at Jackson Street and Fifth Avenue, it's cause for concern, given past events.
Though county officials maintain that everything is on the up and up, federal Judge G. Murray Snow's monitor of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office nevertheless is looking into the situation, sources say.
The truck from Phoenix's Global Electronic Recycling was at the MCSO's Battlestar Galactica-lookin' main building mid-morning on Thursday, August 6. The individual who sent me these photos (below) tells me that a forklift temporarily stopped traffic after spilling a pallet of computer towers, which it had been loading onto the truck.
Anyone who has followed the big civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio knows that Arpaio and MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan have admitted to civil contempt of Judge Snow's orders and that battles over the production of documents to the court by the MCSO continue to flare up.
The MCSO admits that a pickup of old computer equipment happened on the date in question but insists that it was routine.
MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen replied to my inquiries with the following statement via e-mail:
The electronic equipment observed being loaded into the truck marked "Global Electronic Recycling" was a scheduled pick-up for old/salvage electronic equipment for disposal to include: Desktops; laptops; printers, cables and other peripherals.
None of the equipment contained hard-drives or digital storage media; hard drives are removed prior to being scheduled for disposal/recycling and the digital storage media is secured by MCSO Information Technology in their warehouse. Scheduled salvage/recycling runs are set up as needed as a typical business practice for outdated electronic equipment. MCSO Information Technology has been in the process of a long-term upgrade project which includes replacing close to 2000 PCs/Laptops.
I asked Allen what happens to the hard drives once they are secured in the MCSO Information Technology warehouse. She promised to get back to me with an answer. (Note: Please see update below.)
Maricopa County communications director Fields Moseley supplied me with the county's contract with Friedman Recycling, for which Global Electronic Recycling is a subcontractor. The contract states that whenever the county wants to get rid of obsolete electronics equipment, GER is notified and comes to take possession of it.
The county is reimbursed a standard rate per pound depending on the items involved and GER either destroys or recycles the material.
Moseley says the county's Office of Enterprise Technology received a standard request from MCSO on August 5, which resulted in the August 6 pickup.
He provided the disposal request form from MCSO, stating that the hard drives had been removed from the computers in question.
He also noted that the county's OET folks regularly get requests like this one from the MCSO and other county departments.
"OET is going through this all the time since they started swapping out all the old desktops around the county this summer," he said.
Robert Warshaw, Snow's monitor over the MCSO in Melendres, is aware of the situation and his team has been making inquiries, sources tell me.
This could be one of the few occasions that Arpaio actually wasn't caught destroying evidence red-handed.
Talk about man bites dog.
The MCSO persistently has defied requests by the plaintiffs and the monitor for records related to Melendres. Recently, this resulted in Snow's ordering U.S. Marshals to seize 50 hard drives and about 1,500 IDs that the MCSO had hidden from the monitor.
These 1,500 IDs were slated for destruction, according to the court record.
On Friday, August 7, Snow called another emergency meeting to address why records discussed in closed court and under seal had not been turned over to the monitor.
Just before the hearing took place, Arpaio's attorney, Michelle Iafrate, filed a notice to the court stating that Arpaio had coughed up the goods to the monitor, "pursuant to the Court’s Order."
This has been an ongoing problem in Melendres. Part of the contempt proceedings relate to the MCSO's withholding thousands of video recordings made by deputies, which should have been turned over to plaintiffs as part of pre-trial discovery.
Indeed, the MCSO had been seizing identifications and other property from those it suspected of being in the country illegally, a practice only discovered after the suicide last year of Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz.
Before Melendres went to trial in 2013, it was discovered that the MCSO's now-defunct Human Smuggling Unit systematically shredded records kept of Arpaio's immigration-related sweeps.
This resulted in do-overs of some depositions and allowed "adverse inferences" to be made by Snow during trial.
That is, Snow assumed that whatever was in the shredded documents would have been to the detriment of the defendants.
In May 2013, Snow found the MCSO guilty of racial profiling, and later ordered a litany of reforms for the agency and appointed his monitor to oversee the implementation of these reforms.
Given such a history, as well as other shenanigans by Arpaio, such as investigating Snow's wife for comments she allegedly made, and hiring an alleged computer guru in Seattle to flesh out a crazy conspiracy involving Snow and others, it's evident why a recycling truck loading computer equipment outside MCSO headquarters would merit a review by Snow's monitor.
But if the MCSO was looking to destroy evidence, would it go about it in such an obvious and ham-fisted way?
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UPDATE August 11, 12:34 p.m.:
MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen got back to me with the following explanation of what the MCSO does with its computer hard drives.
Stephen, this is the process by which all old hard drives are removed and sent for destruction to standards deemed correct by the federal government and Dept of Defense...
· All Hard drives are removed by MCSO personnel prior to salvaging the physical asset
· The hard drives are safely secured in a locked warehouse until we have approximately 200-300 drives stored
· We then physically count the drives in order to provide an exact # to be destroyed, prior to pickup
· The Maricopa County Wireless Systems Group works with Global Electronic Recycling, to pick up the drives as requested.
· Before accepting them, they will also count the drives, so that they can confirm our request amount is correct