Although former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump, Maricopa County, Arizona, cannot escape liability for compensating victims of the sheriff’s office racially profiling Latino drivers and passengers under the guise of enforcing immigration law.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld an injunction against the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office and a victim compensation order for the class of victims. The panel pointed out that three prior county appeals alleging the county was not a proper party to sue have been rejected, as was the current appeal.
The class action filed against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office alleged it stopped Latino drivers to check their legal status or the status of passengers even though the drivers had broken no laws. The trial judge found that the sheriff’s office had detained and turned over to federal authorities at least 157 people whom it could not charge for violation of any law.
In addition, the deputies failed to produce personal property seized from the Latino class members. In one deputy’s garage more than 1,600 items were recovered, including 500 drivers’ license, “tons” of license plates, auto registrations, cell phones, wallets and other items of personal property, the court said.
Deputies Kept Seized ID’s as “Trophies”
The Sheriff’s Office “admitted that a significant number of its deputies seized IDs and other personal property as ‘trophies’ and has further admitted that it destroyed much of that property,” the panel wrote.
Lastly, the trial judge found that the office made no good faith effort to fairly and impartially investigate and discipline misconduct. They initiated internal investigations to “placate plaintiffs’ lawyers” but delayed investigation to justify imposing little or no discipline, wrote Judge Clifford Wallace, for the panel.
The court-imposed injunction vested an independent monitor with authority to supervise internal investigations. The judge also ordered the internal affairs office to be moved out of the sheriff’s office facility to promote independence.
Victims Must Be Compensated
The trial judge also ordered the county to implement a victim compensation program for individuals injured by the sheriff’s office violations of the original injunction.
The county argued that state law prohibits it from paying compensation for employee conduct outside the scope of their jobs.
But Wallace wrote, “A state statute prohibiting payment for valid federal court-ordered remedies does not excuse a defendant from complying wit those remedies.” Nothing prevents the county from using its insurance or self-insurance funds, he said. The county must pay the compensation.
The county also argued the election of a new sheriff, now that Arpaio is gone, renders the restrictions and reforms unnecessary.
The appeals court rejected all the arguments and found the trial judge properly issued an injunction to remedy the county’s and sheriff’s misconduct through its deliberate violation of the previous injunction.
The case grows out of the policies of former Sheriff Arpaio, who led the office for 24 years, from 1993 to 2017. He has been accused of various types of misconduct, including abuse of power, misuse of money, failure to investigate sex crimes and illegal enforcement of immigration laws.
He was convicted of contempt of court for failing to stop his deputies from continuing to stop Latino drivers in order to check their immigration status.
During the 21-day contempt trial it was found that Arpaio and his command staff failed to implement the injunction, deliberately withheld evidence and manipulated all aspects of internal affairs inquiries to minimize discipline.
Before he could be sentenced, Trump pardoned Arpaio in July 2017.
Case: Melendres v. Maricopa County, No. 16-16661