A jury will start hearing the case of Chandler police officer Thomas Lovejoy versus Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on April 17, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, whose ruling two weeks ago in the case slammed both Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, also ordered a final pretrial conference for April 2 in his ruling yesterday. The April 17 jury trial is slated to begin at 8:45 a.m., in case you want to go.
Lovejoy claims the publicity-mad sheriff violated his constitutional rights by ordering his arrest in 2007 after the officer accidentally let his K-9 partner, Bandit, die in a hot patrol car.
In his damning December 23 ruling, Wake noted that Lovejoy had plenty of evidence to support his case. The judge wrote:
First, a jury could conclude that Arpaio acted "with reckless disregard for the rights of" Lovejoy... The press releases, the press conference on the day of Lovejoy's arrest, and the fact that no reasonable official could conclude that the animal cruelty statute applied to Lovejoy could all be reasonably interpreted by the jury as "reckless disregard" of Lovejoy's rights.
Wake went on to say that a reasonable juror might also conclude that Thomas gave up his "independent judgment" in the case and apparently "rubber stamped Arpaio's alleged decision" to put Lovejoy through a legal wringer. Wake noted that the decision to "arrest and charge" Lovejoy was possibly made by the sheriff and that Thomas put the chief of his criminal division to supervise the misdemeanor animal cruelty case against the officer. (Lovejoy was acquitted.)
While Thomas lost an election and now stands to lose his law license, Arpaio remains sheriff and recently announced plans to run for a sixth term. But Arpaio's also in the midst of his biggest-ever political crisis, a deadfall of problems that would be insurmountable for most politicians.
The U.S. Justice Department called him the worst racial profiler in U.S. law enforcment history last month in a damning report and demand for reform, and that embarrassment was immediately followed by a negative ruling in a racial-profiling lawsuit that now may include any Hispanic detained by the sheriff's office since 2007.
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On top of that, he can't seem to make the bad press go away in an even more egregious scandal -- that of hundreds of sex crimes his office ignored, in part, allegedly, because Arpaio's former chief deputy was more concerned with the political nature of an investigation against former county Schools Superintendent Sandra Dowling.
And now this -- a looming jury trial in a lawsuit by an officer who inadvertently became another of the power-hungry sheriff's victims.
The case has nothing to do with illegal immigrants, so Arpaio can't claim this is another conspiracy by the Obama administration, like he's done with the racial-profiling accusations.
Lose or win, the long-running Lovejoy civil suit has certainly underscored the character flaws of both Thomas and Arpaio.