Arpaio's Noose Tightens: Bench Trial Ordered in DOJ Lawsuit

Joe Arpaio's lawyers recently bought the sheriff and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan a little time by asking for federal Judge G. Murray Snow's recusal in contempt proceedings against the pair and three of their current and former MCSO colleagues in the racial-profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.  

Further contempt hearings are stayed till Snow makes a ruling. His decision is expected sometime after June 22, when defendants are scheduled to file their last brief on the matter.

But now Arpaio has another federal judge dogging him in a separate civil rights complaint brought by the U.S. Department of Justice: Judge Roslyn O. Silver, who is overseeing U.S. v. Maricopa County.

On Thursday, Silver ordered a bench trial in U.S. v. Maricopa County to begin August 10, estimating that the trial will last 15 days.

The DOJ complaint, filed May 2012, mirrors many of the same issues concerning the MCSO's discriminatory practices toward Latinos that are addressed in Melendres, where the Sheriff's Office was found guilty of widespread racial profiling in 2013 and ordered to undertake a laundry list of remedies. 

However, the DOJ complaint is much broader than in Melendres, and covers Arpaio's abuses of power, his retaliation against his critics, and ongoing discrimination against Spanish-speakers in county jails. 

The DOJ alleges that the MCSO has violated both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, according to the DOJ's website, "prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance."
Potentially, millions of dollars in federal aid to Maricopa County and the MCSO could be at stake.

The DOJ complaint also alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as violations of the First Amendment rights of Arpaio's critics and opponents.

Additionally, the DOJ argues that the MCSO's misdeeds fall under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. § 14141), which states that,

“It shall be unlawful for any governmental authority, or any agent thereof, or any person acting on behalf of a governmental authority, to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

As detailed in the DOJ lawsuit, the MCSO's unconstitutional activities run the gamut from the targeting of Latinos, to the violation of the rights of Spanish-speakers, to the illegal arrests of New Times' founders in 2007, to the wrongful arrests of Arpaio critics at a county Board of Supervisors' meeting in 2008 for "clapping," to the illegal targeting and arrest of Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza, to false charges brought by the MCSO against ex-Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, to the MCSO's retaliation against former supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, and so on.

Ironically, Arpaio's investigation of Judge Snow's wife, and his year-long attempt to gin up a bogus conspiracy theory involving Snow, the DOJ, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and others also could be deemed part of this "pattern or practice" by Arpaio and his henchmen of depriving others' rights under the color of law.

But it seems unlikely that the targeting of Snow will be part of the August trial before Silver, given that Silver already has cut off discovery in U.S. v. Maricopa County.

Silver's courtroom is just down the hall from Snow's in the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse in downtown Phoenix. If hearings in the Melendres contempt case resume in time, Arpaio and his Chief Deputy could stroll from one trial involving their misconduct to another.

Given Arpaio's penchant for investigating judges and anyone else who gets in his way, you have to wonder if the sheriff has attempted to implicate Silver in the MCSO's Seattle investigation involving alleged computer guru Dennis Montgomery.

Silver's name has yet to surface in details surrounding the Seattle snipe hunt. But would it surprise anyone if it does?

Of course not. Nothing is beyond the pale of Arpaio and his den of rogue cops. 

Email [email protected].

On Twitter @stephenlemons.

Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.