Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s testimony in the Andrew Thomas discipline hearing was short on details and was filled with vague memories.
One thing Arpaio was sure of, though, was that his former second-in-command, David Hendershott, was in charge of all of the investigations and criminal cases that form the basis of Thomas’ alleged ethics violations.
Arpaio said today he delegated the work to Hendershott for a specific reason.
“I knew these people many years, considered them friends,” Arpaio said, referring to county supervisors who were charged and investigated. “I decided to put a wall up with my chief deputy.”
And when it came to decision-making on the September 2009 arrest of Supervisor Don Stapley, Arpaio contradicted Hendershott’s testimony from Oct. 13 in which he said the sheriff gave the order.
“I don’t order arrests,” Arpaio said. “The decision was made by the chief deputy. I did not oppose it.”
Arpaio also explained why he repeatedly said he had a foggy memory.
“I’m not trying to be evasive, but you’re asking me questions of two or three years ago, I don’t have a computerized mind to remember everything we talked about in 14-hour days,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio is one of the final witnesses to be called in the State Bar’s case. The State Bar is seeking the disbarment of Thomas and former deputy county attorney Lisa Aubuchon and the suspension of former deputy county attorney Rachel Alexander.
Lawyers pressing the discipline case said officials, judges and attorneys who crossed Arpaio and Thomas in political disputes were often targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged.
Arpaio and Thomas contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government, while county officials say the investigations were baseless.
Arpaio is a key witness because he and Thomas established the Maricopa County Anti-Corruption Enforcement unit, or MACE, the group of Sheriff’s Office detectives and county prosecutors who investigated and charged Stapley, Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, and Judge Gary Donahoe. Hendershott was in charge of MACE and Aubuchon prosecuted the cases brought by the unit.
Arpaio and Thomas were also the plaintiffs in a federal civil racketeering suit brought against four judges, who were alleged to have conspired with the Board of Supervisors to cover up the Stapley investigation in exchange for a new court tower.
All of those cases were eventually dismissed.
When it came to questions about the racketeering, or RICO, suit, Arpaio said he had never been consulted on it, even though he was a plaintiff, and he hadn’t reviewed any of the evidence against the defendants.
Arpaio also appeared stumped on the witness stand as State Bar counsel Jamie Sudler pointed out that a press release announcing the RICO case contained quotes attributed to him referring to “pressures exerted by certain appointed and elected officials in powerful positions.”
Arpaio couldn’t say what pressures were exerted by whom.
“I was relying on the county attorney,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio also couldn’t say what the lawsuit was seeking and Sudler pointed out that it sought triple damages.
“I did not go through the lawsuit,” Arpaio said.
The suit was filed on Dec. 1, 2009, and dismissed by Thomas on March 10, 2011.
Arpaio even contradicted himself on testimony about a meeting on Dec. 8, 2009, with Thomas, Aubuchon and Hendershott, where they discussed filing charges against Donahoe.
Donahoe, the criminal presiding judge of Maricopa County at the time, had disqualified the County Attorney’s Office from investigating the court tower and quashed a subpoena seeking documents on it. There was a hearing scheduled in Donahoe’s court on Dec. 9, 2009, to determine whether the County Attorney’s Office could hire special prosecutors to take over all of the county-related criminal investigations.
Arpaio testified he recommended at the meeting indicting the judge or filing a criminal complaint, but his testimony a minute later was it wasn’t his idea to file charges.
“It wasn’t my idea because I had no complete knowledge of the investigation,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio’s testimony lasted about 2 ½ hours and Thomas’ attorney, Don Wilson, cross examined him for seven minutes.
Wilson pointed out that the RICO lawsuit was also asking for a judgment that would allow for Arpaio and Thomas to conduct the investigations without hindrance, a point Wilson had raised in his opening statements on the first day of trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report