Susan Schuerman, a 23-year employee of Maricopa County and secretary to Supervisor Don Stapley, has filed a notice of claim with the county, the first step to a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
The claim, filed by attorney Michael Manning, details how Schuerman was personally threatened by Arpaio's chief deputy, David Hendershott, and then targeted with a public "criminal investigation" when she refused to cooperate.
As the claim details, Schuerman first learned that her boss, Stapley, was in trouble when Stapley's son called the office in December 2008 to say his father had been indicted. Returning to the office from an appointment, Schuerman was greeted by Maricopa County Sheriff's detectives.
"Susan was served with a grand jury subpoena by the detectives who then tried to interview her on the spot regarding her knowledge of Stapley's financial dealings and an alleged 'leak' of the grand jury proceedings," Manning writes. "She candidly told them that she did not know anything about either topic and declined to answer questions without being represented by counsel."
Don't take New Times word for that, either. Hendershott apparently made his anger with Scheurman for exercising her right to an attorney pretty damn explicit.
"In the two months following that, Susan was personally threatened on more than one occasion by Chief Deputy Hendershott of the MCSO who told her that she was making a 'big mistake' by not speaking directly with him and giving him information helpful to their investigation of Stapley," Manning writes. "His message was clear: cross me and you will pay."
And pay she did.
Thomas' spokesman, Barnett Lotstein, announced to the press that the focus of the Stapley probe had turned to Schuerman, Manning writes.
"None of this was true," he continues. "There was not a hint of evidence linking Susan with any of Stapley's business dealings. Arpaio knew this. Thomas knew this. Stapley's bank and business records had been in their possession for months and had been scoured by their personnel. If there had been the slightest evidence to support their claim, Susan would have already been arrested."
Instead, Arpaio and Thomas let her twist in the wind. She was served with a search warrant -- and, again, the sheriff and county attorney tipped off the media. She was also told that the county couldn't pay for her lawyer -- she was a target of the probe, not merely a witness.
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"She had reason to believe that her office and cell phones were tapped," Manning writes, "she was followed to lunch by MCSO detectives in marked vehicles and MCSO plain clothes detectives parked outside her home and cruised her street on more than one occasion, making their presence in her quiet neighborhood felt." At one point, she received an anonymous note from a sheriff's office employee, telling her she was being watched.
Schuerman is a single mother of three whose daughter suffered a permanently debilitating stroke on her 21st birthday. Schuerman has been her caregiver.
Three years away from attaining retirement benefits from the county, Schuerman "worries that if Supervisor Stapley chooses not to run again or is reindicted, she may no longer have a position in county government because of all the adverse publicity she has received," Manning writes.
She's asking for $1.75 million.