Overhaul of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's investigations expected in coming weeks

Posted at 3:21 PM, Jul 08, 2016

A judge plans to order an overhaul of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office within the next week or two as a punishment to his earlier contempt-of-court ruling against the lawman for ignoring court orders in a racial profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow revealed his timeline for releasing a reorganization of the sheriff's internal affairs operations at a hearing Friday that examined how to remedy Arpaio's civil contempt violation for ignoring a 2011 order to stop his immigration patrols.

The contempt ruling could lead to a criminal contempt case that could expose Arpaio and his second-in-command to fines and even jail time. The judge set a July 22 hearing to mull arguments about whether he should recommend a criminal contempt case against Arpaio and others.

The racial profiling lawsuit that Arpaio lost more than three years ago has morphed into a contempt case after the judge accused Arpaio and his aides of violating court orders. The contempt case led Snow to issue a bruising critique of the Arpaio's internal affairs investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by officers and sheriff's managers.

The 84-year-old sheriff, who is seeking a seventh term this year, built his political reputation by carrying out crackdowns on immigrants, making inmates wear pink underwear and jailing them in canvass tents during Phoenix's triple-degree summer heat.

Critics have accused the sheriff's office of manipulating internal affairs investigations to cover up wrongdoing, and they hope that reopening the cases will lead to discipline, including to the firing of at least one officer.

The judge has said several internal investigations were inadequate, fraught with conflicts of interest and often didn't lead to discipline against the officers who were targeted.

He has signaled that he will appoint an outsider investigator to redo the investigations that he has deemed inadequate or invalid. He also wants to have a court-appointed official who is monitoring the agency examine uninvestigated misconduct allegations.

Snow has invalidated internal investigations into which managers were responsible for ignoring the order to stop the patrols and into allegations that Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling investigators regularly pocketed items in traffic stops and safe-house busts.

Attorneys pressing the lawsuit against the sheriff said they plan to seek contempt cases in the near future on two additional grounds.

They say Arpaio hasn't done enough to comply with a 2013 court-ordered overhaul of that agency that was aimed at correcting racial profiling. They also say the violations of the immigration-patrol order extended many months after sheriff's officials had claimed they were in compliance with it.

"They act as if none of that happened and as if they can dictate the terms for what happens next. That simply will not fly," Cecillia Wang, one of the attorneys who brought the case to trial.

Arpaio attorney John Masterson said the opposing lawyers don't want the nearly 9-year-old case to end.

"That's their whole mission here," Masterson said. "So as long as they can drag this out, that's what they want to do."

Arpaio's foes in the case are seeking the termination of top Arpaio aide Jerry Sheridan, who was found in civil contempt for ignoring the immigration-patrol order.

Snow said the outsider who will be appointed to discipline employees found to have committed misconduct will have the power to punish employees, including firing them.