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Judge To Appoint Independent Investigator For Sheriff Arpaio As Part Of Contempt Remedy

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
(Photo by Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ)
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The federal judge who found Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in civil contempt of court in May is still weighing what the remedies for that contempt finding should be.

A hearing scheduled for Friday is expected to help the U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow get closer to issuing an order mandating reforms to the sheriff’s procedures for investigating officer misconduct, as well as the appointment of an independent investigator to oversee some of those Internal Affairs investigations.

In his May 13 ruling, Snow found the sheriff and three others violated court orders in a racial profiling case. The judge found the sheriff’s office continued detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants who were not charged with state crimes for months after the judge had ordered the practice to stop.

The judge also found deep deficiencies with the sheriff’s internal investigations into officer misconduct related to events connected to the underlying racial profiling case. The judge ruled some of those investigations have to be redone.

The judge has given the parties an outline of the remedies he would like, and is letting the parties hammer out details to propose back to him.

In the past several weeks there has been some progress and also some big disagreements.

The parties have already worked together to outline a program to compensate people who were wrongfully detained by sheriff’s deputies in violation of the court’s order.

Disagreements remain about Internal Affairs reforms, which is expected to be the topic for Friday’s hearing.

The judge is allowing the parties to each propose three candidates for position of independent investigator to oversee certain internal investigations. By Thursday afternoon, each party will be allowed to veto two names from the other sides’ list. The two final names will then be passed on to Snow.

Snow has reserved the right to pick someone else entirely, and to also appoint a second person to be in charge of disciplining officers for misconduct.

In recent weeks, tension has been brewing between the two parties over the fate of one commander in particular: Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, the second in command.

Since Snow’s contempt ruling found that Sheridan made intentional misstatements, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers representing plaintiffs in the case say that finding should be binding against Sheridan.

They are calling for Sheridan to be disciplined by MCSO's standard matrix for discipline, and that under the matrix, the chief deputy should be terminated.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office has argued the chief deputy can only be disciplined by the sheriff, according to Arizona law. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office issued a legal opinion that agrees with that argument.

In a court filing last week, lawyers for the sheriff harshly criticized the ACLU for calling for Sheridan to be fired. The brief written by John Masterson accused the ACLU of trying to ruin the lives and careers of MCSO employees.

Masterson wrote the call for Sheridan to be fired “cannot be seen as anything but spiteful malevolence fueled by a vengeful rancor.”

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