Hendershott on Computer Seizure: "We Felt Intrusion ... Was Imminent;" Wilcox Calls Raid a "Power Grab"

The chief deputy for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office told a judge yesterday he believed intrusion into a law enforcement computer system "was imminent," the Arizona Republic reported this morning.

Apparently, that's the reason the chief deputy, Dave Hendershott, ordered a dozen armed deputies to take over the system on Wednesday despite an ongoing court battle over it.

The hearing, which we covered in a live-blogging experiment yesterday from the courtroom, continues today at 2:15 p.m. As we indicated in our final post about the subject yesterday, this story wasn't nearly as sexy as when first reported by the Repub -- though it's still something of a hoot. The Republic stated in yesterday's article that...

State appellate courts have rebuffed Arpaio's attempts to obtain privileged court e-mails, which would be accessible through the system.

...which turned out not to be true, according to the program manager for the ICJIS system, Gary Huish.

Still, Sheriff Joe Arpaio did kind of flip the finger to the court system in conducting the raid, a fact that clearly bothered Superior Court Judge Joseph Heilman during yesterday's hearing. Arpaio's office has been using the courts to try and take over ICJIS since it filed a lawsuit against the county in April, but this week it decided instead to utilize armed deputies and the threat of arrest to exert its power.

We can only assume Hendershott will present clear evidence of why he felt "intrusion ... was imminent," and who he expected to do the intruding. If he can't present that evidence, this will look more like a third-world military coup than it already does.


This story becomes much more complicated when you realize the sheriff's office takeover was a far cry from, say, taking over the actual workstation computers of county leaders and Superior Court judges.

The information flowing through the ICJIS portal is privileged -- it's for law enforcement agencies only. Conversely, people who don't work for a criminal justice agency aren't supposed to see that data. And that includes the county manager and the Board of Supervisors. So who's system is it? Well, the answer to that must be fairly uncertain, since the lawsuit to decide the question has been going on for a few months now.

As the Repub reports this morning, DPS wrote a letter to the sheriff's office in August of 2008, asking if a criminal justice agency had control of the system, which launched in 2005. According to the Repub's timeline, in September of 2008,

Sheriff's Office responds to DPS, noting the system has been "significantly downsized due to ongoing budgeting constraints." It also says the Sheriff's Office cannot exert management control without proper governing bodies in place.

So, if the Repub got this right, the sheriff's office did not come right out and say "no, a criminal justice agency does not have control of the system." It also seems like the sheriff's office admitted back then that it didn't have the power to do conduct something like Wednesday's raid.

Still, DPS appears to be giving some support to the sheriff's side of the argument, albeit indirectly, by showing concern about the possibility of non-law-enforcement control of the system.

We called Lt. Steve Harrison of DPS this morning to ask him about that. He says that yes, DPS did ask the sheriff's office whether a criminal justice agency has control of the ICJIS. And the sheriff's office replied that ICJIS "was being overseen by the civilian IT department" of the county, Harrison says.

But did the sheriff's office, which is obviously biased on this subject because of the lawsuit, give DPS the right answer? We're not sure, but Huish, the ICJIS program manager, testified yesterday that ICJIS itself was a criminal justice agency and that who he reports to is "complex question."

Huish told us after the hearing yesterday that he believes Wednesday's raid was "monumental" and that he was "somewhat intimidated" when the armed deputies invaded his work space. But liaison for sheriff's office who was among the reported leaders of the takeover, Bob Rampi, is a guy Huish respects and has worked closely with years.

Rampi declined to comment to New Times.

Mary Rose Wilcox, who attended yesterday's hearing, told us that Wednesday's action by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office was a blatant power grab that will have the effect of destroying the spirit of cooperation between members of ICJIS, which include the clerk of the court's office and indigent legal defense department.

"When you have one of the five stakeholders take it over, there's no trust," she says.

Wilcox questioned what "right" Arpaio had to raid the county office.

Which is certainly a great question.

After all, if Michael Jeanes, clerk of the court and one of the five stakeholders of ICJIS, attempted to do what the sheriff's office did, he probably wouldn't have gotten far.

What you need to effect something like Wednesday's raid is armed troops and threats, because, as the saying goes, might makes right.

Other coverage of the raid:

Business Journal yesterday and today

Arpaio tells KTAR (92.3 FM) that "shocking information" about the ICJIS situation is being forwarded by his office to the Department of Justice.

KPHO-TV (Channel 5).

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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.