The Maricopa County sheriff’s office has asked a federal judge to order county officials to say when they discovered e-mails related to a racial profiling lawsuit that were thought to have been deleted but turned out to have been archived by the county.
Some e-mails sought in the lawsuit over the police agency’s immigration patrols had been deleted in what the police agency has said was an unintentional error by a manager.
But county officials said they discovered later that they had archived sheriff’s office e-mails as part of a routine document-preservation step in an unrelated lawsuit by the county treasurer.
The sheriff’s attorneys, who filed a motion Tuesday seeking the details, said they want to know why the county didn’t reveal that they had the e-mails as a judge was considering whether to sanction the police agency for having deleted them.
“It does raise the question: What is the purpose for them not telling us?” said Kerry Martin, a lawyer for the sheriff’s office.
County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said county officials let the sheriff’s office know about the discovery a day after they learned of it, and she believes the sheriff is trying to shift blame away from his agency.
“They wouldn’t need backups if they had kept the originals,” Gerchick said.
Attorneys who are pressing the lawsuit had asked U.S. District Judge Murray Snow to sanction the sheriff’s office for its acknowledged destruction of records that they had sought in the case.
In February, Snow found grounds to sanction the agency for having thrown away and shredded officers’ records of traffic stops made during the immigration patrols, but the judge held off on actually imposing the sanction.
Snow also held off on deciding whether to sanction the sheriff’s office for having deleted some e-mails about the sweeps. He wanted to wait until the agency detailed its efforts to try to recover the e-mails.
About two weeks after the judge’s ruling, the county said it realized it had archived the e-mails but it didn’t realize it had them until the sheriff’s office called the county’s information technology office as part of its efforts to try to recover the messages.
The county said a federal grand jury investigating Arpaio for alleged abuses of power had subpoenaed some of the e-mails. The contents of the archived e-mails haven’t yet been made public.
The sheriff’s lawyers argue that the e-mails weren’t destroyed, because the county held onto them, and that the agency’s fault for failing to keep the e-mails would be diminished if the county knew they had the e-mails but didn’t tell the sheriff’s office about them.