Judge doesn't trust Arizona sheriff to fix some problems

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Posted: May 31, 2016 10:28 PM
Judge doesn't trust Arizona sheriff to fix some problems

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge presiding over a racial profiling case against an Arizona sheriff said Tuesday that he doesn't trust the sheriff's office to fix some of the problems involved in a recent contempt-of-court ruling against the famously defiant lawman.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said he doesn't think Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office can conduct adequate internal investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by employees, including a decision to prolong immigration patrols for months after the court ordered the practice stopped.

"I don't have confidence anymore in the direction of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office," Snow said at a hearing.

The judge convened the session to discuss possible punishment after his May 13 finding that Arpaio was in civil contempt for ignoring his orders. The decision could lead to a criminal contempt case involving possible fines or jail time.

Several dozen anti-Arpaio activists protested outside the courthouse during the hearing.

The protesters chanted "Arrest Arpaio, not the people" and played music for more than four hours. They also carried signs and pulled a giant balloon caricature of the sheriff around the sidewalk.

The profiling case that Arpaio lost three years ago prompted contempt-of-court proceeding after Snow accused the sheriff and some of his aides of violating court orders. It also has resulted in a bruising review of the sheriff's internal investigations, which have been criticized as being fraught with biased decision-making and conflicts of interest.

Snow has not yet imposed punishments but is expected to order an overhaul of the agency's internal affairs investigations and create a fund to pay damages to Latinos who were illegally detained when Arpaio ignored the order to stop the patrols.

Snow also raised the possibility of holding a new round of contempt-of-court hearings to force the sheriff's office to do more to overhaul of the agency's policies and practices. The overhaul is aimed at guarding against future racial profiling.

An official hired to monitor the sheriff's office on behalf of the judge has said the agency is unacceptability slow in carrying out the court-ordered overhaul. Snow raised the possibility of imposing fines and jailing sheriff's officials who drag their feet in making the changes.

Arpaio was slumped back in a chair throughout most of Tuesday's hearing. He rested his cheek on one of his fists as he watched lawyers make arguments to the packed courtroom in Phoenix.

Snow said he wants to throw out the agency's inadequate internal investigations into officer misconduct and have someone else re-examine the allegations and impose discipline. He rejected Arpaio's bid to retain his power to reverse discipline in those cases.

Lawyers argued over whether Arpaio should have to pull money from his own pocket to help taxpayers compensate hundreds the Latinos who were illegally detained.

The judge sided with Arpaio's foes in saying he's inclined to accept that a person should be paid $1,500 for the first hour of an illegal detention.

But the judge was skeptical about a proposal that says illegal detentions longer than one hour would cost the county $1,000 for each 20-minute increment. Instead, the judge said he's willing to accept $200 for each additional 20 minutes.

The judge was incredulous at the suggestion by Richard Walker, a lawyer for Maricopa County, that taxpayers aren't financially responsible for the consequences of letting the immigration patrols continue.

Snow asked Walker whether he was suggesting that no one should be ordered to pay the victims, even though the sheriff clearly ignored the order.

"No, not at all," Walker said, explaining that Maricopa County will agree to compensate victims only for unintentional violations.

Taxpayers have spent $41 million in the profiling case over the past eight years, covering legal fees, training for officers, a staff to monitor Arpaio's office on the judge's behalf, and other costs. Another $13 million is set aside for the coming year.

The county hasn't estimated the potential costs for compensating Latinos pulled over in violation of the order, but a county official has said he personally believes the figure would be over $1 million.

The lawyers who won the profiling case say Arpaio should be required to pull $300,000 out of his own pocket to help compensate Latinos who were illegally detained.

The sheriff's attorneys, in turn, said Arpaio is willing to contribute $100,000 to a Hispanic civil rights organization and publicly acknowledge his contempt violations.

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AP writer Beatriz Costa-Lima contributed to this report.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.