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Sheriff Joe Arpaio Questioned On Internal Affairs, Confidential Informant

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio took the stand again for an hour Thursday in the contempt of court proceedings against him. The sheriff faced questions about the competence of his office’s internal affairs investigations and his dealings with a confidential informant who tried to link the judge in the case in an anti-Arpaio conspiracy.

The plaintiffs in this contempt case against Arpaio are trying to show the sheriff’s office is deficient when it comes to investigating and disciplining employee misconduct, and needs more oversight in internal affairs.

“When big problems happen, like failure to follow the court’s orders, the office does not do a good job of investigating itself,” said Stanley Young, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “In fact a major goal of the internal affairs investigation process seems to be that nobody broke any rules.”

When it came to light the sheriff’s office had ignored U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow’s 2011 order to stop detaining immigrants just for being in the country illegally — which is one of the grounds for the contempt hearing — the sheriff’s office launched an internal investigation into that failure.

But the ultimate conclusion of the investigation was that no sheriff’s personnel violated department policies or needed discipline.

It came out in earlier testimony in this case that Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan was initially going to face a 40-hour suspension due to the investigation, but the chief in charge of the investigation, Chief Mike Olson, reversed the finding.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have been suggesting it was problematic that Olson was tasked with deciding whether to discipline Sheridan, who was his superior.

On the stand, Arpaio said he didn’t know the details of the internal investigation, but said he had confidence in Olson.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers asked if it had occurred to Arpaio to appoint an investigator outside of the agency instead of asking Olson to decide a discipline matter concerning his superior, and Arpaio said no. He said he instructed Olson to “call it like you see it.”  

After court the sheriff’s lawyer, John Masterson, defended the outcome of the internal investigation.

“I think you can’t assume that just because there’s an internal investigation that someone should be disciplined,” Masterson said.

Arpaio also faced more questions about his dealings with Dennis Montgomery, the confidential informant he hired in 2013 under murky circumstances.

In the first round of contempt hearings in April, Arpaio denied Montgomery had investigated Snow. He said Montgomery had claimed to have evidence of federal agencies engaged in computer tampering, bank fraud and wiretapping the sheriff's phone.

On Thursday plaintiffs’ lawyers showed the sheriff a document Montgomery apparently faxed directly to Arpaio in November 2013 that showed a timeline of events seeming to show a relationship between the DOJ, Snow and the law firm Covington & Burling, which represents the plaintiffs in the racial profiling case. Arpaio acknowledged he had taken notes on the document, and scribbled “crim” in the margin.

“I think at the time the DOJ was investigating me and my office criminally and I was just confused and wanted to know in my own mind whether this had anything to do with the criminal investigation-- which by the way didn’t go anywhere,” Arpaio said.

A few minutes later, Arpaio said referring to the document, “I didn’t do this, the informant sent it to me, I had nothing to do with this.”

He said he “breezed” through it when he saw it. “The main thing that came in my head — not saying it was true — it had my telephone number and chief deputy cell phone numbers wiretapped by the DOJ.”

The sheriff’s testimony was put on hold soon after to allow Lt. Kimberly Seagraves to take the stand, since her schedule did not allow her to come any other day. She testified to additional details about the sheriff’s dealings with Montgomery based on her time in the Special Investigations unit.

Seagraves testified that she had heard Montgomery was investigating something that involved Snow, former Attorney General Eric Holder and wiretaps.

She said she did not believe Montgomery was credible after reading news articles online that accused him of scamming the government. She said she felt uncomfortable that she had to sign off on some of the expenses related to Montgomery’s investigation for that reason.

According to Seagraves’ account, Arpaio was insistent that Montgomery’s investigation was funded. She testified her supervisor told her that when he tried to tell the sheriff the funding source they were using for Montgomery’s investigation was running low, the sheriff insisted he “needed to get the f-ing money.”

The lieutenant also said she had been told Arpaio personally invested $10,000 to pay for a posse member to travel to Seattle to help Montgomery, which Arpaio’s lawyers have since denied.

In earlier testimony it was revealed that the sheriff’s office tried to use federal drug interdiction funds to pay Montgomery but ultimately returned them since it was not an approved use of those funds. Sheridan testified that he believed the sheriff’s office spent $250,000 on the Montgomery investigation, which he admitted went nowhere.

Arpaio is expected to resume his testimony on Friday and will likely face more questions about Montgomery.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of John Masterson's name.

Updated 10/9/2015 at 4:55 p.m.

Jude Joffe-Block Senior Field Correspondent, Fronteras Desk - Phoenix KJZZ Senior Field Correspondent Jude Joffe-Block got hooked on radio while working as an assitant to a radio reporter in Mexico, and has been happiest wearing headphones and pointing microphones ever since. Joffe-Block began serving KJZZ in October 2010 as a Fronteras: Changing America Senior Field Correspondent based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. She joined the Phoenix newsroom in July 2012. Before joining the Fronteras Desk, she contributed stories on immigration and criminal justice to KALW in San Francisco and multimedia content in both Spanish and English to The Associated Press in Mexico. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and Yale University, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico.