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Judge Orders US Marshals To Seize MCSO Records

The federal judge overseeing the racial profiling case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ordered U.S. Marshals to seize records the sheriff’s office failed to turn over to the court.

The dramatic step was the result of an emergency hearing U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow convened Friday after his independent monitor learned the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office had withheld records it was mandated to turn over by previous court orders.

Arpaio is already facing contempt of court for repeatedly violating Snow’s orders in the racial profiling case. The contempt hearings are slated to resume in September, and Snow has threatened he may refer the case for criminal contempt charges as well.

Some of the latest alleged violations date back to a court order Snow issued in February. After it came to light last year that sheriff’s deputies routinely engaged in potential misconduct by seizing driver’s licenses, IDs and passports from people, Snow ordered the sheriff’s office to turn over records of IDs seized from Latinos by the end of February.

But the court’s monitor, Chief Robert Warshaw, told the court Friday he learned the sheriff’s office had recently discovered more than 1,400 IDs. Warshaw claimed the sheriff’s office intended to withhold this information from the monitor and the court, and destroy the IDs.

Warshaw did not reveal in court how he learned this information, but he said sheriff’s staff later confirmed the existence of the IDs and allowed the monitor to examine them.

“They were slated for destruction, which would have been a gross violation of their obligation under the court’s orders to preserve exactly those kinds of documents,” ACLU of Arizona attorney Dan Pochoda said after the hearing.

Snow expressed frustration with Arpaio's attorneys for the failure to turn over the records. He sent U.S. Marshals to take the IDs into their possession, as well as 50 hard drives.

The hard drives contain the work of the sheriff’s confidential informant, Dennis Montgomery. Some documents relating to Montgomery’s work for the sheriff's office that were released in recent weeks suggest Montgomery may have been hired in part to investigate Snow and discredit him.  

When Montgomery’s investigation for MCSO was discovered in April, Snow ordered the sheriff’s office to turn over all documents relating to Montgomery’s work. In response, the sheriff’s office handed over a single hard drive, according to the court monitor. But other records released suggested Montgomery had actually provided the sheriff’s office with about 50 hard drives.

Arpaio’s attorney John Masterson tried to argue both the IDs and the hard drives are irrelevant to the contempt of court case and the original racial profiling case against his client.

“Certainly we are going to turn them over,” Masterson said after the hearing. “At the end of the day you are going to find out they had nothing to do with this lawsuit at all.”

According to court testimony, Montgomery’s hard drives may contain classified data taken from the CIA. Montgomery calls himself a CIA and NSA whistleblower.

One of Arpaio’s lawyers said in court Friday the U.S. government is scheduled to copy and review the drives Aug. 7.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.