A lawsuit filed by activist Randy Parraz against Maricopa County following his 2008 arrest outside the Board of Supervisors Auditorium can move ahead, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
Parraz was arrested on September 29, 2008, after he and members of his group, Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, held a demonstration at a Supervisors' meeting to protest abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and were asked to leave. As yesterday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver explains, though, (see below), Parraz was arrested after he'd already left the downtown Phoenix auditorium, a public building, and was standing outside. A dispute remains as to whether Arpaio's deputies had probable cause to arrest Parraz on suspicion of trespassing and disorderly conduct, Silver wrote.
Her ruling was made in response a motion for summary judgment made by the county, which had argued that deputies were justified in arresting Parraz. The ruling includes a transcript of a videotaped conversation between Parraz and deputies that preceded his arrest, which reveal that when Parraz asked why he was being asked to leave the spot outside the building and what law he was breaking, a deputy answered, "It doesn't matter."
Parraz had exited the building immediately after being asked to do so by deputies, records show. But he refused to budge from a taped-off area just outside the doors. The area had been cordoned off with yellow tape to ease access for people exiting and entering the building. A small group of deputies converged on him, reportedly pushing aside other activists as they approached.
In his lawsuit, Parraz "alleges his arrest was politically motivated and he was singled out for arrest for his perceived role as 'ringleader' of MCSA," records state. He had stopped outside the building for about 35 seconds to talk with deputies "only to determine the basis for his removal from the premises," Silver wrote.
The videotaped exchange went down as follows:
Plaintiff: What law's been broken? Deputy: It doesn't matter. Plaintiff: Yes it does. Deputy: [Inaudible. It appears the deputy is asking Plaintiff to move.] Plaintiff: I said no. What law's been broken? I said no. I said no, what's the law being broken? Deputy: Okay guy, we asked you to leave. Plaintiff: We left. Deputy: Okay, once you're escorted out, you are trespassing . . . Plaintiff: No, no, trespassing's in the building. Deputy: You gotta go out there, okay? Deputy: [Inaudible, it appears a deputy is saying, "The property."] Plaintiff: This is a public place. Deputy: Sir, you're being told to leave this area. Plaintiff: I was told to leave the meeting. I left the meeting. Give me a break. I left the meeting. Deputy: Either leave now, or you're gonna get arrested. Deputy: Step down, or you'll be arrested. Plaintiff: Why do I have to move? What's the broken law? Deputy: He's a 42. Deputy: [Multiple deputies speaking, it appears one says, "You're under arrest."] Plaintiff: For what? Deputy: Trespassing. Plaintiff: I'm leaving. Deputy: Too late now. Plaintiff: I'm walking away, what are, what are you guys talking about?
Parraz was then "handcuffed, walked to another area where his belongings were invoiced, then shackled in leg irons and a belly chain." Deputies booked him into the Fourth Avenue jail.
He'd left the auditorium as soon as he was asked, and based on evidence presented by Parraz, did not engage in a disruptive, noisy commotion that might serve as probable cause for a disorderly conduct arrest, Silver wrote. Parraz's claim of malicious prosecution also survives the motion for summary judgment because he presented evidence that Plaintiff offers evidence that deputies "followed him, eavesdropped, and directed toward him contemptuous insults about being a high profile ring leader and a coward."
Silver didn't say those facts are true -- a jury may get to decide that. But yes, that sounds like the kind of attitude for which Arpaio's deputies are known.
If Parraz's contentions are correct, Silver wrote, the deputies would not qualify for immunity, because they're actions may not have been clearly within the boundaries of the law. A jury may decide that one, too.
Silver dismissed Deputy Chief Brian Sands from the lawsuit, saying that Parraz has presented no evidence to refute Sands' argument that he had nothing to do with the arrest or prosecution. Another of Arpaio's men, though, Captain David Letourneau, remains in the suit because Parraz offered evidence that Letourneau told him "he was 'high profile' and a 'coward' and followed Plaintiff around and listened in on his conversations when Plaintiff attended Board meetings. As discussed above, this evidence supports Plaintiff's claim for retaliatory motive."
Silver's order means the lawsuit moves forward toward a trial -- and a possible jury award against the county.
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Arpaio won a sixth term in office in November, but his past antics are still likely to cost county taxpayers. For example, two major lawsuits regarding his office's alleged discrimination of Hispanics are still ongoing; so is a lawsuit by retired Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe and former County Supervisor Don Stapley, who claim that Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas abused their power to target political enemies.
Parraz, meanwhile, is now leading an effort to recall Arpaio.