PHOENIX - Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is known by many for his tough stance on illegal immigration, but what you might not know is the number of lawsuits his office has faced and how much it has cost taxpayers.
According to Maricopa County Risk Management records, almost 6,300 claims and lawsuits have been filed against Sheriff Arpaio and his office since he began as sheriff in 1993.
The cost to defend those cases has been more than $50 million.
Part of that $50 million has gone to defend more than 5,000 cases which were closed with no payout to the plaintiff.
But of the total 6,300 case, there have been 1,828 lawsuits against the sheriff's office, according to a national lawsuit database.
To put that into perspective, the ABC15 Investigators also searched Harris County in Texas which includes Houston. Harris County is almost the same size in population to Maricopa County.
There are only 283 lawsuits listed under the Harris County Sheriff's Office for the same 17 year period. Maricopa County has about six times more.
“We get a lot of fairly foolish ones, and I am not saying all of them are, but the vast majority of these lawsuits are simply idle hands have nothing better to do,” said Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre, who is with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. “Would they rather we not defend it and roll over and play dead? No, I say the taxpayers say, defend those cases because you have to."
According to county records, the cases fall into 3 categories.
Personnel related lawsuits account for just over $2 million in costs. Jail related claims cost the county about $22 million.
The final category, named other, includes lawsuits like ones for civil rights violations. Those cost the county just over $26 million.
“These aren't frivolous lawsuits...these are serious lawsuits that involve death, dismemberment, abuse of power...they are very serious cases,” said Michael Manning, a defense attorney in Phoenix.
Manning has successfully sued the Sheriff's office five times. He has an additional eight cases still pending.
“Claims are far excessive, and that is because he (Arpaio) has created in our jails a culture of cruelty,” said Manning.
Manning represented Charles Agster, a mentally handicapped man who died in jail after being restrained. The result was a $9 million jury verdict.
MacIntyre defended the county's actions in this case and others by saying deputies make split-second decisions in their line of work.
“Now, it is way easier for some plaintiffs attorney who has never done anything but sit behind a desk and chew on the end of a pen to say, ‘Well I think that is wrong’,” said Deputy Chief MacIntyre.
The Sheriff's office does settle some cases instead of going to trial too. The biggest settlement involved the death of Scott Nordberg. He was also restrained and died in custody. This case was settled by the county's insurance provider for more than $8 million.
The $50 million in taxpayer funds does not include payments by the county's insurance company. Those costs are not picked up by the public. But taxpayers are on the hook for the county's insurance deductible. And over the past 10 years, the out of pocket deductible has gone up from $1 million to $5 million.
“That is a business decision. The business decision is because it reduces the amount of the premium for them,” said Deputy Chief MacIntyre.
We asked MacIntyre if he thought it had anything to do with settlements or the costs that were incurred.
“No, the last time I checked with Risk Management, they said that had nothing to do with it,” said Deputy Chief MacIntyre.
The county’s Risk Management Department told us it can't say one way or the other why the deductible went up.
“When this story is finally written by some historian 10-15 years from now, the cost of Joe Arpaio to the taxpayer will be startling. It will be far beyond $50 Million,” said Manning.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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