In a bombshell filing in federal court Tuesday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan admitted that they are guilty of civil contempt, in a blatant attempt to avoid an upcoming civil trial before U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow.
Since earlier this year, when Snow ordered a four day civil contempt hearing to address allegations that Arpaio and four former and current aides have disobeyed the judge's orders in the ACLU's big racial profiling case, Melendres v. Arpaio, the sheriff and his co-defendants have sought to wiggle out of the de facto trial, scheduled for April.
(One exception: Former Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who according to his attorney Dennis Wilenchik, is willing to testify at the hearing and will not invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege.)
Arpaio and some of the others have sought assurances that the civil charges would not be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible criminal action, and have tried to settle the matter with the plaintiffs in the case, all to no avail.
Now, Arpaio and Sheridan are admitting wrongdoing, promising to make good, and pleading for mercy from Judge Snow.
Their motion states, in part that:
The purpose of this Motion is to convey to the Court and to Plaintiffs that Defendants Joseph M. Arpaio and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and identified nonparty Chief Deputy Gerard Sheridan (collectively, "Defendants") consent to a finding of civil contempt against them and the imposition of remedies designed to address their conduct. Under these circumstances, a 4-day evidentiary hearing, which would cost the county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and which would consume significant time of the Court, is unnecessary......
The [court's] Order to Show Cause identifies the following three areas of contemptuous conduct: (1) a "failure to abide by and apprise MCSO deputies of the terms of the [December 23, 2011] preliminary injunction." (2) the failure to disclose audio and video recordings made and maintained by MCSO deputies, as well as other materials maintained by or relating to the MCSO HSU.; and (3) the failure to cooperate with the Court's May 14, 2014 oral directives with respect to the collection of recordings that were in the possession of patrol deputies.
The facts, with respect to each of these areas, have been discussed in detail in the Order to Show Cause and the Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law and Facts re Contempt Proceedings and Request for Order to Show Cause. Defendants do not intend to present any arguments or evidence which materially dispute these facts.
Arpaio and Sheridan ask for the April hearing to be vacated and that they be punished, forthwith.
Indeed, the pair acknowledge that their punishment "will encompass the identification and compensation of individuals who were harmed by violations of the December 23, 2011 preliminary injunction, as well as putting in place structural measures to ensure that the Court's orders are disseminated and complied with in a timely fashion."
See, in 2013, following a lengthy bench trial, Snow found Arpaio and the MCSO guilty of racial profiling against Hispanics in Maricopa County, in addition to other constitutional violations.
Ultimately, Snow ordered a laundry list of reforms and appointed a monitor, Robert Warshaw, to oversee their implementation.
But the (alleged) May 2014 suicide of MCSO deputy Raymond "Charley" Armendariz revealed a world of corruption within the MCSO, especially in the agency's notorious Human Smuggling Unit, of which Armendariz had been a part.
Armendariz came under scrutiny after an emergency call to his home revealed a stash of illicit drugs. The deputy was arrested and later resigned from the MCSO. A few days later, he was found dead by hanging.
In Armendariz's home, investigators also had discovered hundreds of confiscated IDs, wallets, purses and other personal items, supposedly taken from the people Armendariz had stopped.
Detectives also found countless hours of video footage of vehicle stops made by Armendariz.
Snow was informed of the discoveries, and that the videotaping of stops was a widespread practice in the sheriff's office.
The judge ordered that any remaining video be quietly rounded up, but Chief Deputy Sheridan violated that order when he instructed an underling to send out an e-mail, giving a heads up to other MCSO honchos of the collection of evidence.
Snow later learned that Arpaio was aware of Sheridan's activities. The judge ordered his monitor to investigate.
But the MCSO continued to buck Warshaw, defying his attempt to probe other corruption in the MCSO ranks, including allegations that deputies shook down illegal immigrants.
The fallout from the Armendariz scandal also implicated MCSO brass in allegations that evidence had not been properly turned over during discovery, and, significantly, that despite a preliminary injunction from Snow in late 2011, ordering the MCSO not to enforce civil immigration law, the MCSO's Human Smuggling Unit continued to do so.
Asked about Arpaio and Sheridan's recent admissions in Melendres, ACLU of Arizona attorney Dan Pochoda declined to comment, stating that the ACLU had only just begun taking depositions of MCSO personnel ordered by the court.
Still on the hook in the civil case are former MCSO deputy chief Brian Sands, MCSO deputy chief Jack MacIntyre, and MCSO lieutenant Joseph Sousa.
Whatever Snow's decision regarding this development, it likely will have far-reaching implications for Arpaio and his office, and may imperil his re-election effort for 2016, when he'll be seeking an unprecedented seventh term in office.
In exhibits to the motion, it's clear that Arpaio not only is ready to take responsibility for his actions and the actions of his subordinates, he anticipates a measure of public humiliation as well.
The exhibits read almost like a response to demands from activists such as Lydia Guzman, during a recent court-ordered town hall meeting in Phoenix, that the sheriff apologize for his actions.
Take this passage, for example:
Sheriff Arpaio will appear in a public forum to acknowledge violations of the Court's orders. The statement would be videotaped and disseminated for viewing by members of the public who are unable to attend the forum. Costs associated with producing and distributing the videotape would not be at government expense......
The Sheriff will personally accept responsibility for himself and for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and offer an apology for the violations both to Plaintiffs and the Court.
The exhibits state that Arpaio "will seek from Maricopa County the creation and initial funding of a significant reserve to compensate victims of MCSO's violations of the Court's December 2011 injunction."
Arpaio offers to ask the county for $350,000, "but will seek to adjust this figure if it does not adequately cover all identified victims with valid claims."
Plus, the sheriff suggests that the defendants "personally make a total cash payment of $100,000 to a civil rights organization based in Maricopa County approved by the court which, among other services, has, as one of its missions, a commitment to protecting the constitutional and civil rights of the Hispanic community."
I can already hear the cries of "not enough," and to be truthful, $100,000 is nada to Arpaio and his rich backers.
Moreover, the use of the word "defendants" suggests that Arpaio is looking to split the tab.
Still, this court filing, on the whole, shows just how desperate Arpaio is to avoid that civil hearing and a possible criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
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Meaning that Arpaio's guilty as sin, of course. But regular readers of this blog knew that already.
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