Noose Tightens Around Arpaio's Neck as He Channels Ronnie Reagan in Day Two of Contempt Trial
Think To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch doing Jedi mind tricks on an addled Emperor Palpatine.
That's what Stanley Young, the plaintiffs' lead attorney in the ACLU's big civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio, resembled as he interrogated Sheriff Joe Wednesday afternoon during day two of Joe's civil contempt trial before federal Judge G. Murray Snow.
A veteran litigator with the Silicon Valley arm of Covington and Burling, which has partnered with the ACLU in this suit, Young began his examination of Arpaio by first having the sheriff acknowledge that he had violated the orders of the court, asking the pseudo-lawman to agree that all 21 facts both he and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan stipulated to in a March admission of guilt were true.
This Arpaio did, while leaving himself some wiggle room.
"With the caveat that I'm the leader of this office and take the responsibility," he said.
Arpaio, digging the hole deeper on Day Two of his contempt trial.
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The sheriff, who was sworn in about 4 p.m., seemed to inflate himself on the stand, as opposed to when he was sitting at the defense table with his lawyers and co-defendants, sunk deep into his chair, his gray scalp barely visible above a row of computer screens.
At issue was Judge Snow's December 2011 preliminary injunction in Melendres, which reads, in part:
Local law enforcement agencies, such as the MCSO, may not enforce civil federal immigration law. Defendants are therefore enjoined from detaining individuals in order to investigate civil violations of federal immigration law, including those "regulating authorized entry, length of stay, residence status, and deportation." They are further enjoined from detaining any person based on actual knowledge, without more, that the person is not a legal resident of the United States.
But it would be 18 months before the MCSO's notorious Human Smuggling Unit would obey Snow's preliminary injunction and cease holding persons suspected of violating civil federal immigration law.
Arpaio's defense was to channel Ronald Reagan circa the Iran-Contra scandal: The sheriff either could not recall specifics of dealing with the order or he'd handed responsibility off to assorted flunkies.
"I delegated this court order to my subordinates and to the counsel that represented me," Arpaio told Young at one point.
Arpaio said he was aware of the order when it came out, and Young read portions of one deposition wherein Arpaio said he did not believe the order was "vague or unclear." Nor did he need the court to clarify it, Arpaio claimed in that depo.
Young also referred to a quote from one deposition where Arpaio was asked if he ever "forgot" about the 2011 order.
"No, I don't forget," Arpaio said in the transcript, which was projected onto a screen in the courtroom. "I knew [the order] was out there."
Yet Arpaio insisted on Wednesday afternoon that he "didn't have all the facts of the order" and that the job of responding to the order was "delegated to my staff and counsel."
Practiced words, which he kept repeating.
Did Arpaio ever check with Executive Chief Brian Sands or Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan to ask if they were making sure the MCSO was in compliance with the 2011 order from a federal court?
"I don't recall whether I did or not," Arpaio replied.
And yet, Young reminded him, Arpaio appealed the judge's 2011 order.
"My attorney did," Arpaio countered.
"And you were the ultimate decision-maker," Young pressed.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Snow's order later in 2012.
Young also confronted Arpaio with statements attributed to him in defiant MCSO press releases.
"I'll continue to enforce illegal immigration laws," he said in one press release just seven days after Snow's preliminary injunction.
Another in February 2012 stated that Arpaio "continues to crackdown on illegal immigration . . . and will not be deterred by activist groups and politicians for enforcing all immigration laws."
Young had the press release projected for the entire court to see.
"That's not a quote," Arpaio shot back weakly. "That's a statement."
Early on, Snow had to admonish Arpaio to answer Young's questions rather than make excuses for himself.
Arpaio offered a similarly lame explanation for a March 2012 press release that read:
"Arpaio remains adamant about the fact that his office will continue to enforce both state and federal [immigration laws]."
Regarding Tuesday's testimony by onetime HSU Sergeant Brett Palmer, during which Palmer detailed an "illegal order" given by Arpaio to detain five undocumented persons in defiance of the court's 2011 injunction, Arpaio seemed to contradict testimony he'd given in March deposition.
There, he claimed to have no recollection of talking to Palmer on the issue.
But on the stand, Arpaio denied Palmer's assertions.
"I don't give orders to sergeants," he scoffed.
Earlier that day, the testimony of MCSO Sergeant Mike Trowbridge, a former HSU manager, backed up Palmer's tale concerning the five undocumented individuals from a so-called "load vehicle," who were not suspected of having committed a crime, and so, in Palmer's view, could not be held according to the preliminary injunction.
The incident occurred after the 2011 order. Trowbridge recalled that Palmer either wanted to release the individuals or transport them to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Casa Grande.
Joe had other ideas.
"The sheriff wanted them held until the media arrived," Trowbridge remembered. "So [TV cameras] could film them coming out of the building."
Trowbridge believed Arpaio wanted to embarrass U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because it would not take custody of these individuals.
Sergeant Trowbridge confirmed that HSU continued to hold people "in violation of the order," after December 2011, and that there was much concern among HSU members about the injunction and how it would affect them.
Trowbridge assumed that any shift in policy to accommodate the order would be decided upon by MCSO's top brass and that HSU members would be "told by command staff" if they needed to change anything.
But new instructions never came.
Lieutenant Brian Jakowinicz assumed command of the Human Smuggling Unit from Lieutenant Joe Sousa in April 2012, remaining in charge until HSU was disbanded in May 2013.
Jakowinicz testified that he'd been concerned about taking over the controversial unit, but he was assured by Sousa and by Deputy Chief David Trombi that HSU's woes, and the litigation with Melendres, were all in the past.
At some point, Judge Snow commented that despite what Jakowinicz had been told, "Clearly the litigation was not over."
Indeed, the bench trial in Melendres took place summer 2012, and Snow did not rule till May 2013, when he found the MCSO guilty of widespread racial profiling.
Jakowinicz said HSU continued to hold people on suspicion of having violated civil immigration law, without any state charges pending, for transfer to ICE.
When ICE stopped taking people, Arpaio ordered Jakowinicz "to call Border Patrol."
The straightforward lieutenant told the court that he believed the proper training could have corrected HSU's course, but at the time, he did not know HSU was operating in violation of the 2011 order.
Jakowinicz said he did not read the preliminary injunction until May 2013, when Snow made the order permanent as part of his game-changing ruling in Melendres.
"I had no reason to believe what we were doing was wrong," Jakowinicz stated.
According to the lieutenant, MCSO bosses, including Sands and Trombi, would have known that illegal aliens were being handed off to ICE, contrary to the 2011 injunction, because of shift summaries regularly e-mailed to MCSO bigwigs, indicating how many individuals were turned over.
Additionally, there were MCSO spreadsheets with a column labeled "total turned over to ICE."
From the date of Snow's order till the end of 2011, HSU turned over 14 people to ICE. In 2012, it was about 90, and so on. These numbers did not reflect regular patrol or the Criminal Employment Squad, whose members also were apprehending illegal aliens not suspected of state crimes.
Jakowinicz suggested that the sheriff had ultimate authority over HSU and "could shut down an operation" if he wanted to.
Arpaio would call Jakowinicz periodically and inquire about the details of HSU operations for press releases.
"Everything we did resulted in a media release," he said.
"Media attention [for the sheriff]."
During the hearing, there was some talk of MCSO Deputy Ramon "Charley" Armendariz, and how Jakowinicz wanted to have him transferred out of HSU because of his mental instability, complaints from citizens, and a suicide attempt.
But Chief Trombi overruled Jakowinicz and allowed Armendariz to remain.
In May 2014, Armendariz committed suicide, a couple of days after his arrest at his Phoenix home following a domestic-disturbance call.
Discovered were illicit drugs and countless videos of traffic stops, along with scores of license plates, purses, wallets, and other items confiscated from people stopped by Armendariz.
But there were indications in Trowbridge's testimony that Armendariz was not just one bad apple.
Trowbridge admitted that he and other HSU deputies would take license plates from suspected trafficking vehicles as trophies and hang them on the walls of HSU offices.
The practice was so flagrant that Trowbridge felt sure Trombi and other top MCSO honchos would have seen it.
Arpaio's testimony resumes today at 8:30 a.m. in Judge Snow's court.
I briefly caught Arpaio's criminal attorney, former U.S. attorney Mel McDonald, as he was leaving.
He told me that he and Arpaio had made a decision that Arpaio would not invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, despite a risk it could impact a possible criminal referral by Judge Snow.
Snow would have to determine that Arpaio's contempt was willful in order for it to rise to criminality.
Day two of the trial gave Snow more ammo to do so.
Still, during his time on the stand, the sheriff's priorities remained the same as always.
While being asked about some chest-thumping statements made to reporter Jorge Ramos on a March 2012 Univision appearance, Arpaio watched intently as a clip was played that showed him trading barbs with Ramos.
As a formality, Young asked Arpaio whether that was him in the video that had just been played.
Evidently pleased with his performance, Arpaio snarked in a gravelly, self-satisfied voice:
"It sure is."
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