PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone came into office promising to undo the problems created by his predecessor, Joe Arpaio, who was ousted in part because he was found in contempt of court ruling for disobeying a judge’s order in a racial profiling case.
But Penzone now faces calls for a contempt hearing in the same profiling lawsuit.
Civil rights lawyers asked a judge Wednesday to hold a contempt hearing for Penzone for not complying with a court-ordered overhaul of his internal affairs operation.
The agency has a backlog of 2,000 internal cases, each taking an average of 500 days to complete. Penzone’s office declined to comment.
The contempt request comes just a day after Penzone called a press conference to outline why he helped kill a reform bill that would require law enforcement departments to turn over deadly police encounters to an outside agency for investigation.
The main reason is based on a key belief: Penzone doesn’t think lawmakers have the right to tell law enforcement officials what to do.
“I think it's incumbent upon law enforcement to fix this problem,” Penzone said. “Because if the community wants to have trust in us, we should be the ones that lead it. Because if the legislature dictates it to us, it appears as though we don't embrace it, and we haven't initiated these changes ourselves.”
HB2765 was just two paragraphs and would make agencies in Maricopa County and Pima County turn over deadly police encounters to another agency for investigation.
Rep. Reginald Bolding has introduced similar versions of the bill multiple times in past years.
This was the first time it was heard in a committee, and it passed unanimously. Some Arizona police unions also supported the bill.
Just before the committee’s unanimous vote, Bolding predicted what would happen next: Certain law enforcement officials and other unions would work behind the scenes to stop it.
“I know who they’re going to call. I know the meetings they’re going to have. I know the attempt to try and kill this,” Bolding said. He later added, “To say that there should be a third-party investigation when someone's life has been taken, that’s the minimum.”
At the press conference, Penzone confirmed he had direct discussions with House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
He bristled when questioned about the extent of his involvement in stalling HB2765 so it wouldn’t receive a full House vote.
“As a subject matter expert, I have a responsibility to share my concerns,” Penzone said. “Because I’m responsible for the outcomes. The lawmakers who wrote this legislation aren’t responsible for the outcomes.”
Some prominent Arizona police unions supported the bill, especially since it would give police leaders a full year and full power to set up the process any way they want as long as it resulted in third-party investigations.
Penzone said he and other police leaders weren’t brought in early enough to help work on the bill.
But Democratic lawmakers have pushed back on those claims by releasing a series of documents showing MCSO and other police leaders were invited to discuss this issue as early as last Fall.
Penzone criticized ABC15’s repeated questions about how long the public should wait for his plan, when this is a problem he admitted has existed for decades.
REPORTER: How long is this going to take for you guys to figure this out? Is it a year? Five years? A decade until we forget?
PENZONE: I don’t know what to say with your tone, Dave, because you try to be so confrontational for some reason. You think it makes for better journalism and it doesn’t. The truth of the matter is I don’t have a timeframe. As I said before, this has been a problem for 200 years, I told them my hope is that within 90 days I’ll have a template of what a working group would look like.
At one point during the press conference, a lobbyist for Penzone interrupted ABC15’s questions to try and cut off reporter Dave Biscobing.
The lobbyist, Tommy McKone, later got into an online Twitter argument with top Democratic lawmakers, which ended with him admitting that police just don’t want any legislation that would require reform.
"You are correct in that statement. The Arizona Law Enforcement community does refuse to accept that a group of legislators with no law enforcement background voted to pass a bill that would inflict unfunded mandates on LEOs across the state. And, LE is not above the law, ever,” McKone wrote.