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Judge: DOJ May Join Racial Profiling Case Against Sheriff Arpaio

The U.S. Department of Justice, after settling most of its own civil rights lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, will be able to intervene in a separate lawsuit that found the sheriff’s office had engaged in racial profiling against Latino drivers.

U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow said in court on Tuesday that he planned to issue an order in the coming days allowing the DOJ to officially intervene as a party in the class action racial profiling lawsuit against Arpaio and the sheriff’s office. The case was brought on behalf of Latino motorists by a coalition of attorneys including the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2013, Snow sided with the plaintiffs in the case and found MCSO’s immigration enforcement efforts had led to a pattern of discriminating against Latinos during traffic stops. Snow ordered MCSO to adopt sweeping changes to prevent profiling.

The year before, in 2012, the DOJ filed its own separate civil rights lawsuit against sheriff’s office that included many of the same claims of racial profiling as well as others. Last month, the DOJ reached a settlement with Maricopa County and the sheriff’s office that covered most of that case.

The DOJ’s intervention in the class action racial profiling case would provide the plaintiffs with additional expertise and manpower. The case is ongoing to ensure the sheriff’s office complies with court orders and ends discriminatory policing practices. Compliance has been a major sticking point so far. Arpaio and four other members of his staff are currently facing contempt of court for violating Snow’s orders.

Lawyers for the DOJ wrote in their motion to intervene that Arpaio’s “hostility to the remedial order in this case and his contumacious conduct, have garnered national media attention.” They argued both the general public and other law enforcement agencies were closely watching the sheriff’s defiance and that was one reason why the DOJ wanted to intervene.

“No current party to this case adequately represents the United States’ unique interest in consistent and effective nationwide enforcement of civil rights laws concerning police misconduct,” the DOJ attorneys wrote.

Lawyers for the county tried to argue that the DOJ should only be permitted to intervene if the scope of its involvement was limited.

Snow said he would not specify any limitations in his ruling, but told lawyers for Maricopa County and the Sheriff’s Office they could raise objections to particular areas of DOJ involvement in the future.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s attorneys continue with their efforts to get Snow removed from the case. Earlier this summer Snow denied their motion asking him to recuse himself. Now the sheriff’s lawyers have asked the 9 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove Snow from the case, arguing he is biased against their client.

A number of other issues were addressed in the status conference in Snow’s courtroom on Tuesday morning:

-A separate division of the DOJ is in the process of copying evidence turned over to the court to see if it contains classified information or documents taken from the CIA. This comes after MCSO Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan testified in April that the sheriff’s office had hired informant Dennis Montgomery to investigate alleged wrongdoing by the CIA, and that Montgomery was mining records he had taken from the CIA to prove the agency’s overreach. Both Sheridan and Arpaio testified they did not find Montgomery’s information to be credible. But if the probe did in fact involve taking and sharing classified data, that would likely be a serious crime. On Tuesday, the DOJ’s Rafael Gomez told the court he has begun the process of copying two banker boxes and a hard drive Montgomery gave the MCSO. Gomez said he planned to review them for classified information and records belonging to the United States.

-The plaintiffs in the case told Snow they want to be able to review the recently discovered 1459 IDs the MCSO turned over to U.S. Marshals under Snow’s orders. Lawyers for the sheriff tried to argue there was no evidence the IDs in question were obtained improperly by sheriff’s deputies. Snow said some MCSO officers told his court-appointed monitor in interviews there was a widespread practice of seizing IDs as trophies. Snow said according to his recollection of those interviews, in some district offices officers put seized IDs in a box known as a “unicorn bin" because it was “make believe” that they would ever be properly filed in property.   

-It came out in Tuesday’s status conference that the reason two recent hearings were closed to the public is because they mentioned an open internal criminal investigation involving MCSO Detective Brian Mackiewicz. Mackiewicz was one of the sheriff’s deputies tasked with working with Dennis Montgomery. An MCSO spokesperson confirmed the criminal investigation to the Phoenix New Times in a recent article. Snow said the transcripts for those hearings should now be unsealed.

-Snow ruled he would not allow the attorney Larry Klayman of the organization Freedom Watch to represent MCSO informant Dennis Montgomery in this case. Snow said in court he believes Klayman has a conflict of interest because he represents Arpaio in a different lawsuit. Snow also said Klayman may potentially be a witness in the case and that some documents suggest “Klayman may have been involved in efforts to convince the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that Montgomery was providing them with real stuff.” Snow said Montgomery is welcome to appear in court and represent himself or hire another attorney if he wishes to intervene.

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