PHOENIX — A federal judge said Thursday that he will hold a contempt of court hearing against the sheriff of metro Phoenix in the same racial profiling case that led to contempt rulings against his predecessor, Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Paul Penzone has a week to decide whether to contest arguments that he should be held in civil contempt over his huge backlog of internal affairs cases or whether to acknowledge that he is in contempt and work to remedy the problems.
The lawyers who won the racial profiling case eight years ago say Penzone is out of compliance with a court-ordered overhaul of his agency’s much-criticized internal affairs operation, which has a backlog of 1,800 cases, each taking an average of 500 days to complete.
In a statement to ABC15, the ACLU of Arizona said:
"We are pleased that Judge Snow will move forward on whether to hold the MCSO in contempt for its severe backlog of delayed investigations. We also agree with his assessment that rather than filing idle motions, MCSO should instead devote their attention to compliance with the measures imposed by the court.”
This all stems from a racial profiling lawsuit filed against the agency while Joe Arpaio was still in office.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
From 2006 to 2015, Latinos in Maricopa County were targeted during crime sweeps, raids at workplaces and traffic stops, all under former sheriff Joe Arpaio's leadership. Records show Latinos were pulled over for minor traffic infractions just to be questioned about their legal status.
“That was the norm. We were targeted because of the color of our skin,” said Daniel Magos, a key witness in the case against Arpaio.
Magos and his wife, both U.S. Citizens, say they were racially profiled by one of Arpaio's deputies in 2009.
He is now one of the main characters of a book that’s making national headlines.
“I haven't read it all because it opens up old wounds, it touches the soul; it touches the core and not in a nice way,” expressed Magos.
“Driving while brown” is a brand-new book about former Sheriff Arpaio’s controversial immigration tactics.
Critics of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office say issues linked to Arpaio’s era are still relevant today.
MCSO still hasn’t complied with court orders from 2018 in the Melendres case.
The average internal investigation for complaints against deputies is taking 500 days, far from the 60 to 85-day target laid out by the ruling.
ACLU says there is currently a backlog of 2,000 investigations that need to be completed. Critics say that’s problematic for an agency with the history of MCSO.
“I remember a scene where there was a little girl sitting in the back seat of a car and it was hot and she was crying because she was watching her mom being handcuffed. She reminded me of my nieces, it could have been my niece, it could have been me,” said activist Lydia Guzman.
Guzman says she witnessed many unlawful traffic stops under Arpaio. She says it is never too late to remind people what is like to be ‘driving while brown’ in Maricopa County and why there’s still so much trauma in the community.
“What we saw was nothing but carnage... Carnage of families being torn apart, children crying, women crying, someone’s parents being taken away, someone’s child, father, and that was heartbreaking,” added Guzman.
ABC15 reached out to MCSO for comment but have not received a response.
The contempt hearing has not been scheduled yet.