Maricopa County Craziness

Arpaio's Office Blows Its Smear of Judge Gary Donahoe; Analysis of Sentencings Flawed

Judge Gary Donahoe, chief of the Maricopa County Superior Court's criminal section, routinely lets criminals off without prison time, yet jailed a detention officer doing his job.

That's the gist of a December 4 news release by the Sheriff's Office which cites six supposed examples of Donahoe's lenient judging. The detention officer, Adam Stoddard, was jailed for not apologizing to a defense attorney whose papers he swiped during a sentencing hearing.

"Judge's Record Shows Bias..." reads the headline of the news release. It goes on to state that criminals who commit the crimes of "child abuse, drug possession, and aggravated assault often walk away without serving any jail time" when sentenced by Donahoe.

The Sheriff's Office wants to rescue its employee from the hoosegow and come off looking like a martyr. But it really hosed this one.

A bit of extra research (with the help of Superior Court staff) shows that, in five of the six examples, Donahoe either included prison time in his sentencing or was following the recommendations of the County Attorney's Office.


*Zachary James Alosi: Car theft case. Sheriff's Office says "no jail time, probation only."

The facts: The plea deal written up by the County Attorney's Office states that Alosi will receive supervised probation. The month after his August 2008 sentencing, Alosi was sentenced to six years in prison on an aggravated assault charge.

*David Earl Sharp: Credit card theft case. Sheriff's Office says "no jail time, probation only."

The facts: Like the Alosi case, Sharp was offered a plea deal by the County Attorney's Office that gave him supervised probation instead of jail time. While it's true that Donahoe approved the plea deals of Sharp and Alosi, you can't criticize Donahoe in these sentencings without criticizing Arpaio's ally, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, even more. If Thomas' office had stipulated jail time in the plea deals, there's no reason to think Donahoe would not have approved it. (Sharp also entered prison a month after his 2008 sentencing on other charges)

*Christopher Isaac Sandoval: Drug possession case. "No jail time, probation only."

The facts: Judge Donahoe sentenced Sandoval for several cases at the same time. At the January 10, 2008 hearing, Sandoval was indeed sentenced to probation for the drug offense. But Donahoe also sentenced him to 12 years for armed robbery and 6.5 years for car theft. The sentences were to be concurrently. The probation for the drug offense kicks in after Sandoval serves his prison time.


*Steve Eilers: Solicitation of perjury. "No jail time, probation only."

The facts: Donahoe sentenced Eilers at the same time for separate cases. While Eilers did get probation in the perjury case, Donahoe also gave the ex-con five years in prison for robbery. Like with Sandoval, the supervised probation comes after the prison sentence -- so that's actually a good thing.

*Jerome Henley: Marijuana possession. "No jail time, probation only."

The facts: In 1996, voters approved Proposition 200, which prohibits sentencing anyone to jail for a first- or second-time drug possession offense. Because of that, the County Attorney's Office gave Henley a plea deal that requires probation instead of jail time.


One of the first questions we had for the Sheriff's Office in this latest flap is why our tax dollars are funding this kind of "research." Chief Deputy David Hendershott isn't apologetic:

"Because what Judge Donahoe did was absolutely inexusable," he says. "I think [the research] is absolutely an appropriate use of time when something so awful happened to a young man."

Of course, Hendershott's referring to Stoddard, the young detention officer in jail [supposedly] because of Donahoe's contempt order.

And, course, that's what Hendershott thinks

Deputy Chief David Trombi tries to explain away the details we learned. The Sheriff's Office wanted to make a point that Donahoe is quick to send Stoddard to jail for removing papers from a defense attorney's file, but doesn't always send real criminals to jail, he says. In the cases where the County Attorney's Office recommended probation, Trombi says, Donahoe approved the plea deals.

That's a 20/20-hindsight argument that seems to have been formed only after we began our inquiries. As far as we could tell, the Sheriff's Office was caught offguard today by the news that its findings were flawed.

If the Sheriff's Office knew that Sandoval and Eilers received prison time and about the plea agreements, it would have been disingenuous to fail to include the details in the news release. But this looks simply like a smear gone wrong.

So who's responsible? Lisa Allen, communications director for the Sheriff's Office, tells us that the office of County Attorney Andrew Thomas did the research on these six cases. The information about the cases "landed on our lap" on Friday afternoon, she says. However, she's not sure whether the Sheriff's Office asked for the information or whether Thomas' office did the research on its own.

We called Michael Scerbo, spokesman for the Thomas' office. He says he'll get back to us.

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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.