911 Call Backs Up Parts of Allegation Against Sheriff Arpaio's Deputies

Manuel Nieto Jr., Manuel Nieto Sr. and Velia Meraz

By Ray Stern

A recording of a 911 call obtained by New Times reveals that some kind of altercation did, in fact, occur last spring between deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and two North Phoenix siblings who allege they were racially profiled.

The recording makes it clear that the lengthy incident outside of Manuel's Auto Repair near Greenway and Cave Creek roads should have resulted in documentation by the sheriff's deputies involved. Yet the Sheriff's Office maintains it has no record or report of any kind related to the incident, implying the incident may not have really happened. The siblings, along with several other alleged racial profiling victims, are suing the county with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

As New Times previously reported, the pair's claim has a ring of truth to it -- despite their status as ex-cons who have spent time in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail -- because they had obtained the names of two of the deputies who had supposedly harassed them. The 911 call goes even further in backing up the pair's claim.

My August blog post, linked above, describes the incident in detail, as related by Manuel Nieto Jr., Velia Meraz and their father, Manuel Nieto Sr. To recap, the siblings say that on March 28 they had driven to a convenience store near their father's auto repair business, only to run into a deputy working one of Arpaio's illegal immigrant sweeps.

The deputy reportedly told them to leave the area, but when they did, they were followed by more deputies who ultimately stopped them, pulled Nieto Jr. from his van at gunpoint and handcuffed him. After Nieto Sr. came out to see what was going on, the deputies released Nieto Jr. and left the scene without issuing anyone a citation.

In this first part of the recording, you hear Nieto Jr. calling 911 as he and his sister were being stopped by the deputies. The call is answered by a Phoenix police 911 operator. Shouting can be heard coming from both Nieto Jr. and an unidentified man. At one point, Nieto Jr. tells someone he's on the phone with 911, and a man's voice, possibly that of a deputy, tells Nieto Jr. he doesn't care who he's on the phone with. This part ends when Nieto Jr. drops the phone on the ground.

Several minutes goes by with Nieto Jr.'s phone picking up broken, inaudible parts of a conversation between the parties involved. In the next file, you hear the only audible section of that part of the recording: The apparent voice of a law officer telling someone he or she "can't get in there."

After the deputies leave, Nieto Jr. calls 911 again to report what happened and request that officers come to his business so he can file a complaint:

Next, the 911 operator calls her supervisor for advice, and the supervisor tells her to have Nieto Jr. call the Sheriff's Office:

But after Phoenix 911 transfers Nieto Jr. to the MCSO, a sheriff's operator passes the buck right back to Phoenix. Finally, Nieto Jr. reaches a supervisor who appears ready to take his complaint. The file released by Phoenix police ends at that point:

The recording doesn't prove that Nieto Jr. and Velia Meraz were racially profiled by the deputies. But combined with the names of the deputies obtained by the pair, it does establish that the two were involved in a fairly serious episode with the Sheriff's Office -- if not the very incident they describe.

New Times made repeated records requests to the the Sheriff's Office about the incident through Arpaio's media representative, Captain Paul Chagolla. After weeks of searching, Chagolla said he found no mention of the pair in any record or report.

The fact that the MCSO has no report or documentation of a tension-filled traffic stop like this is inexcusable. It's shoddy record-keeping, at best.

At worst, it smacks of a cover-up.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern