Sheriff Plays Dumb, Pt. 2: "She Wanted This Matter Pursued Further..."

Sheriff Plays Dumb, Pt. 2: "She Wanted This Matter Pursued Further..."

Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Lake Patrol units

By Ray Stern

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's take on a racial profiling complaint filed against one of his deputies in December isn't just spin — it's a stinking quagmire of political manure.

As reported by New Times yesterday, the idea that Arpaio had launched a legitimate investigation into the complaint is laughable. Instead of checking the Sheriff's Office own records for any racial profiling complaint, the office spent four months waiting on the City of Phoenix to cough up Mayor Phil Gordon's e-mails, phone records, and appointment calendar.

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Rather than admit to either incompetence or political tricks in this bogus investigation, Arpaio decided to print a lie about what that "investigation" supposedly revealed.

The July 29 press release issued by the Sheriff's Office starts off with the highly opinionated and still-disputed statement that the mayor's racial profiling charge is "totally false." Then the secondary headline throws out a whopper of a lie:

"SHERIFF’S OFFICE INVESTIGATION REVEALS GORDON’S EMPLOYEE ADMITTED NO RACIAL PREJUDICE IN STOP/CITATION"

The release goes on to state, "In fact, the employee apologized to the Sheriff's Office sergeant investigating the incident for "throwing out the 'racial card.'"

While that apology may have taken place, a close reading of the complaint report taken by a deputy and his sergeant reveals the employee, Buckeye resident Jessica Rodriguez, did not admit that no racial profiling had occurred. (Should be pages 14-16 in your PDF viewer).

Here is the relevant passage about the apology from Sergeant Wes Ellison's report:

Sheriff Plays Dumb, Pt. 2: "She Wanted This Matter Pursued Further..."

(Try to ignore the silly spell-check mistake, "desecration" rather than "discretion." This kind of mistake is how you know it's a Maricopa County report).

As you can see, Rodriguez's apology contains a very important "but." She never backs away from any part of her complaint. She sure never "admitted" there was no racial profiling. It's more like she's embarrassed the Lake Patrol deputy, Matt Ratcliffe, had put her in the uncomfortable position of having to make such a complaint.

The part near the end of the above paragraph hammers home the idea that Rodriguez felt she had just cause to make the complaint, despite saying she was sorry to do so:

"Rodriguez related that she wanted this matter pursued further and wanted to take it higher than myself," the report states.

That doesn't sound like someone saying the accusation of racial profiling was nothing but a mistake. In fact, Arpaio's contention that Rodriguez "admitted no racial prejudice in stop/citation" starts to look a lot like yellow journalism. Since it's a taxpayer-funded entity putting out this tripe, however, it's not journalism — it's inaccurate government propaganda.

Considering the November election is fast approaching, the press release could also be considered one-sided campaign literature.

True, the amended lawsuit filed on behalf of Rodriguez and others by lawyers hired by the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is a one-sided document itself. A couple of interesting discrepancies emerge when comparing the Sheriff's Office reports with Rodriguez's account in the ACLU lawsuit.

So you don't have to slog through the whole lawsuit, here's the part about Rodriguez:

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The Unlawful Stop and Detention of David and Jessica Rodriguez

On or about December 2, 2007, Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, along with their two young children, visited Lake Bartlett.

As they were leaving the preserve, while driving on a paved road, they saw a sign that read, "Road Damaged." They could then see that the road ahead was washed out by recent rains.

Two Sheriff’s vehicles were parked on the opposite side of the wash-out. Like the motorcycle rider behind him, Mr. Rodriguez decided to turn around and head the other way. The two Sheriff’s vehicles followed. The deputies stopped Mr. Rodriguez, the motorcycle now in front of them, and another sedan. The deputies let the motorcycle and sedan go in short order, without visibly exchanging any documentation.

When Deputy Matthew Ratcliffe approached Mr. Rodriguez, however, Deputy Ratcliffe asked for a Social Security card, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.

Mrs. Rodriguez asked Deputy Ratcliffe why he needed to see a Social Security card, to which he responded, "standard procedure."

Deputy Ratcliffe then asked Mr. Rodriguez whether he had seen the "Road Closed" sign. Mr. Rodriguez explained that he had seen only a "Road Damaged" sign. The Rodriguezes later discovered that there was a "Road Closed" sign, but on a part of the paved road that they had not traveled.

Deputy Ratcliffe took down Mr. Rodriguez’s information and returned to his vehicle.

While they waited, the Rodriguezes watched another deputy pull over several other vehicles, and from all appearances, the other drivers were being given only warnings.

When Deputy Ratcliffe returned, Mrs. Rodriguez asked if they could be given a warning like everyone else. He said no.

Mrs. Rodriguez told Deputy Ratcliffe that this was selective enforcement. She said that this looked like racial profiling.

Deputy Ratcliffe became visibly angry and gave them a citation for failure to obey a traffic control device. Deputy Ratcliffe returned to his vehicle, turned on his siren and yelled over the loudspeaker, "You’re free to go."

As Mr. Rodriguez drove to the exit of the preserve, he finally saw the "Road Closed" sign. He pulled over and waited on the side of the road. Mr. Rodriguez was able to stop and speak with several drivers he had seen pulled over by Sheriff’s deputies. Not one of them had been asked for a Social Security card, and not one of them had been given a citation. The other drivers were all Caucasian.

The next day, Mrs. Rodriguez filed a formal complaint with the MCSO.

To date, she has not received a formal response.

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As you can see, it's not necessarily a clear-cut case. Did Deputy Ratcliffe ask David Rodriguez for his Social Security card immediately, which would be unorthodox, or did the deputy simply ask for the guy's Social Security number to answer a question that's on every Arizona traffic citation form? Did the deputies really just give warnings that day to most Caucasians or did Ratcliffe single out Rodriguez for a citation that would require the driver to give out his Social Security number, if he had one? (Of course, a good question here would be: If the Sheriff's Office could prove the Lake Patrol deputies wrote citations equitably that day, why hasn't the office brought that evidence forward?)

Mayor Gordon says that when he talked to Rodriguez about the incident soon after it happened in December, she was distraught and crying. Gordon also told me the Sheriff's Office had initially refused to take a complaint report from Rodriguez, and budged only after members of his staff called the Sheriff's Office to help her get the complaint logged.

And now Rodriguez is suing over the incident.

Yet Arpaio maintains this woman "admitted no racial prejudice" had occurred. What a crock.

When I called Jessica Rodriguez to ask her about the reported apology and other issues, she "lawyered up," refusing to comment about the sheriff's report. That's a bit suspicious itself — sure, there's a big lawsuit at stake, but what's the harm in answering a few questions?

A Steptoe & Johnson lawyer speaking for her, Peter Kozinets, says Rodriguez isn't backing away from anything:

She believes she and her husband were profiled. Period.


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