Longform

Coddling Joe: How Do You Collaborate With a Felon?

* COMMENTARY *


The Department of Justice, following a three-year investigation, identified Sheriff Joe Arpaio as overseer of the worst pattern of racial profiling in the history of the nation. A week later, on December 23, 2011, federal Judge C. Murray Snow allowed all Latino victims of the racial harassment to sue as a class.

You might believe from these two events that the sheriff is hog-tied; the reality, however, is more unsettling.

Racial profiling is a felony.

Yet the top two black officials in the nation, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, intend, in the words of the Justice Department, to "collaborate" with Sheriff Arpaio to remedy the abuses.

Fully one-third of Maricopa County is Hispanic. Do the victims of racial profiling have a constitutional expectation that America's federal officials will do more than go into business with the perpetrator and perpetuator of bigotry?

The fact is that the U.S. Attorney's Office had little choice; the feds collaborated with Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Latino roundups, detentions, and deportations from the beginning.

When victims and advocates sued to stop illegal sweeps, Arpaio defied the federal courts. Repeatedly.

How do you partner with a felonious lawman who refuses to abide with something as basic as rules of evidence ?

And Arpaio also stonewalled the Justice Department by refusing to turn over any documents. He forced the feds to sue the Sheriff's Office to extract minimal compliance.

As the victims' lawsuits and the federal investigation dragged on, Arpaio hid files. His men destroyed evidence, shredded documents, and erased incriminating correspondence.

Arpaio willfully used a team of lawyers to orchestrate a cover-up that stretched over years to mask a racist culture.

Finally, U.S. District Judge Snow issued a series of orders that open the door to damages for any Latino citizen or immigrant wrongfully stopped by Arpaio's deputies. Yet even this pool of litigants is unlikely to stress Arpaio.

In offering to partner up with the sheriff, the Justice Department held out the alternative of litigation unless Arpaio cooperated.

Last week, Arpaio officially responded to the Justice Department.

With the subtlety of a drunk Marine fresh off of Parris Island, Arpaio staged a press event. In red type, all caps, and underlined, his press release screamed:

"SHERIFF ARPAIO MEETS TODAY'S DEADLINE; PROMISES TO CONTINUE FULL COOPERATION WITH INVESTIGATION BUT WILL NOT COWER AT THREAT OF LITIGATION."

Arpaio then served the Justice Department with 29 pages of demands.

This, then, is the color of collaboration.


Lawyers for Jesus Ortega Melendres filed suit on behalf of Hispanic plaintiffs in 2007 to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps. Melendres v. Arpaio highlighted the sheriff's most controversial practice: the use of terror to round up migrants. In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Eduction Fund joined the suit with additional plaintiffs.

Arpaio responded to the lawsuit with characteristic defiance.

The sheriff, his deputies, and his lawyers repeatedly ignored legal notice to save evidence. They weren't warned once, twice, three times. Opposing attorneys alerted Arpaio close to a dozen times. The sheriff's people dismissed the warnings. This continues a historic pattern of Arpaio's ignoring the law.

Evidence in his custody is always in jeopardy. There is no such thing as a public record if it is an Arpaio document.

Arpaio's serial abuse of the legal system is the most dramatic red flag raised by the Justice Department's decision to "collaborate" with this perverter of law and ethics.

The sheriff and his command staff routinely destroyed evidence and refused to turn over documents as required by law.

Individual officer statistic sheets — an entire body of evidence in the racial-profiling case, as well as in the federal civil rights investigation — were shredded and never will be recovered.

On December 12, 2007, the racial-profiling complaint was served. Three months later, the Department of Justice notified Arpaio that he and his office were the targets of a civil rights investigation that focused on roundups of immigrants during his high-profile crime-suppression sweeps.

The destruction of evidence was not an accident.

On nine separate occasions, Arpaio and his command ignored the law and ignored warnings from opposing counsel.

When a lawsuit is filed, defense attorneys alert their clients that any and all relevant documents must be saved and turned over to the other side. No one is allowed to destroy evidence. Period.

Arpaio's deputy chief, Jack MacIntyre, isn't merely a lawman; he is an attorney. When notified of the hold on documents by attorneys for those bringing the suit, he refused to act.

"I must have simply, albeit regrettably, forgot to forward [the demand for documents] to others at MCSO," MacIntyre informed the court.

Deputy Chief MacIntyre took the position that he wasn't entirely culpable because the same request for a production of documents went to the sheriff's spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla. This duplicate request to the sheriff's public-relations officer was pursuant to Arizona Public Records law.

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.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey