A judge who ruled last year that an Arizona sheriff’s office has racially profiled Latinos is criticizing the agency’s top leaders for mischaracterizing and trivializing the case’s key findings during a training session.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, in a ruling released Monday, is questioning whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his top aide, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, are encouraging an attitude among rank-and-file sheriff’s deputies that undermines efforts to remedy the agency’s constitutional violations.
A video of the October training session shows Sheridan providing a misleading summary of the case to deputies and appearing to have suggested officers weren’t obliged to make their best efforts at complying with the judge’s orders, Snow wrote, noting that Arpaio later endorsed his aide’s remarks.
The leadership at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office “may be choosing to present a paper appearance of compliance while at the same time fostering an attitude of contempt and subversion of the court’s orders among MCSO personnel,” Snow wrote.
The judge ordered Arpaio and Sheridan to attend a March 24 hearing to answer questions about the October training session and other issues.
Nearly 10 months ago, Snow concluded Arpaio’s office has systematically racially profiled Latinos in its immigration and regular traffic patrols and unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people during traffic stops. The decision was made in a lawsuit brought by a small group of Latinos.
Arpaio has vigorously denied the racial-profiling allegations and is appealing the ruling.
In response to the ruling, the sheriff’s office is required to install video cameras in hundreds of the agency’s patrol vehicles, carry out additional training to ensure officers aren’t making unconstitutional arrests and set up a seven-person team of sheriff’s employees to help carry out the judge’s orders.
In a separate case, the sheriff’s office faces a similar lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department that alleges racial profiling. The lawsuit, however, claims broader civil rights violations, such as allegations that Arpaio’s agency retaliates against its critics and punishes Latino jail inmates with limited English skills for speaking Spanish. Arpaio denies the claims.
Tom Liddy, a lawyer representing the sheriff, said it’s no secret the sheriff has disagreed with the judge’s racial-profiling decision, but Arpaio and Sheridan are happy to answer Snow’s questions.
“I am not sure it’s clear that the judge is critical” of the sheriff’s office, Liddy said. “It’s clear he just has some questions that he would like to be addressed.”
Snow’s order on Monday centered heavily on the training session led by Sheridan and Arpaio.
Sheridan told the deputies that Snow was putting the sheriff’s office under the same restraints as a judge did to the long-troubled New Orleans Police Department, according to the ruling. “And their police officers were murdering people,” Sheridan said. “That tells you how ludicrous this crap is.”
During the session, Sheridan said the judge found deputies detained Hispanic drivers 14 seconds longer than non-Hispanics, when the judge said he made no such ruling.
In Monday’s ruling, Snow said Arpaio’s deputies were improperly told they had inherent authority to enforce federal immigration law. That misunderstanding and other policies led to routine detentions of people without reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed.
The judge said his findings that the sheriff’s office committed multiple violations of constitutional rights “were in no way based on the trivialized and invented findings that Chief Deputy Sheridan presented,” Snow said.
Arpaio’s top aide also talked to deputies about the judge’s requirement that officers document the race, ethnicity and sex of people in vehicles based on the officers’ perceptions. Sheridan said determining ethnicity would be hard to do without asking questions and that he felt it was “absurd” for the deputies to be asked to guess, according to the ruling.
Sheridan said there might be reasons someone might not be able to figure out the racial identity of those inside the car and offered reasons why they might find it impractical, according to the ruling. “In doing so, it appears to the Court that he was suggesting to the deputies that they were not obliged to use their best reasonable efforts to comply with the court’s order,” Snow wrote.
Once Sheridan completed his remarks, Arpaio addressed the deputies, saying Sheridan’s thoughts echoed his own. “What the chief deputy said is what I’ve been saying,” Arpaio said.
The judge said Sheridan’s misleading summaries appear to be in violation of Snow’s requirement that training include accurate information of the case.