County loses bid to throw out internal affairs overhaul
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled Maricopa County must proceed with with an overhaul of the internal affairs operations at the county jail, upholding a judge’s decision that earlier investigations were fraught with biased decision-making and had been manipulated to shield sheriff’s officials from accountability.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge Murray Snow didn’t abuse his powers in ordering the July 2016 overhaul, which the county had sought to throw out.
The judge had ordered changes after he found then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio in civil contempt of court for disobeying an order in a racial profiling lawsuit challenging his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.
The lawsuit, which Arpaio lost five years ago, morphed into a contempt case after he disobeyed a court order to stop his immigration patrols. Snow also criticized the quality of internal affairs investigations into possible wrongdoing by employees, including allegations that members of Arpaio’s anti-immigrant smuggling squad had pocketed drivers’ licenses and other items from people during traffic stops.
As part of the overhaul, an outsider was hired to change investigation procedures into officer misconduct that Snow deemed inadequate.
The county appealed the overhaul ruling, arguing Snow had complete “editorial control” over new internal affairs policies, that the election of Arpaio’s successor made some changes unnecessary and that the overhaul’s financial costs would burden taxpayers.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court said the overhaul directed the sheriff to revise policies and that the judge would get involved only if there is disagreement among the parties.
The panel said Snow has already granted requests from current Sheriff Paul Penzone, who defeated Arpaio in late 2016, to amend the overhaul. The appeals court said it would leave it up to Snow to determine whether additional changes to the overhaul are needed in the future.
The county objected to spending several million dollars in its effort to comply with the overhaul. The appeals court rejected the county’s argument, citing a past court decision that concluded federal courts have repeatedly found that financial constraints don’t let states deprive people of their constitutional rights.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s office, which is in charge of defending the county in the profiling case, declined to comment on the ruling.
Cecillia Wang, one of the lawyers who pressed the profiling case against Arpaio, said the appeals court made the correct ruling. “The whole thing was wrong-headed,” Wang said.
Arpaio, now a Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, said the internal affairs overhaul was unfair and that he wasn’t surprised by the decision by the appeals court, which he has criticized for having a liberal slant.
“One thing I am going to do when I get to Washington is to break up that circuit,” Arpaio said.
After he was found in civil contempt, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying the court order to stop his immigration patrols. He was later pardoned by President Donald Trump, sparing Arpaio a possible jail sentence.
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