Talks between the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice broke-down this week as they were trying to resolve a dispute over Justice Department allegations that the Sheriff’s Office engaged in a pattern of racial profiling. Arizona Republic reporter JJ Hensley provides details of the story.
Ted Simons: Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery today said that he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to show him proof that supports the department's allegations that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office has engaged in racial profiling. Yesterday talks between the sheriff's office and the justice department broke down after Arpaio refused to consider a court-appointed monitor to help resolve the discrimination charges. Joining us now is JJ Hensley, he's covering the story for the Arizona Republic. Good to have you here and these talks now just pretty much ended?
JJ Hensley: That's the way it appears. We know that their last face-to-face meeting came in early February. Yesterday some letters were released. These discussions, both parties agreed, were going to take place in silence without being shared with the media. Yesterday after the discussions seemed to have come to a halt some letters were released that showed they met the one-time in February, they attempted to have other face-to-face meetings, had a couple of phone conversations, and were scheduled to meet again today out here before everything unfolded yesterday that thwarted that.
Ted Simons: The feds are saying one day before these meetings are supposed to resume they find out from the sheriff's office that the court-appointed monitor to oversee the sheriff's department activity regarding racial profiling was a no-go on the sheriff's part and the feds saying, what's going on?
JJ Hensley: The sheriff's office says, well, we told them that we weren't going to agree to the monitor from the get-go. So for them to say this was coming one day before this is a little misleading. I think what happened was, Roy Austin phoned out here to the sheriff's attorneys, Roy Austin from the U.S. Department of Justice called and said if you don't agree to the court-appointed monitor there's no reason for us to come out and discuss any other aspect of this and the sheriff's office said, well, we have never agreed to a court-appointed monitor.
Ted Simons: The monitor was in the mix that one last phone call saying it's not so much in the mix and the sheriff's department saying that's it, we are not going to allow this?
JJ Hensley: The way I understand it is, back in February, the Justice Department presented 128-page document to the sheriff's office. That was going to be a draft of the agreement that they are supposed to hammer out in these negotiations. And they were going to come out here and start working through that. One of the elements of that agreement was the court appointed monitor. There were probably dozens of other elements. Sheriff's office wanted to resolve as many of those other issues as they could knowing that they were never going to agree to the court appointed monitor. I think they anticipated this would at least some of it would end up in courts. They were hoping to try to take care of as many of those other issues before it got there.
Ted Simons: How long have these talks been going on? And these things have been, it sounds as though from your reporting they have been rough from the get-go.
JJ Hensley: Yeah. It doesn't sound like it's been very pleasant. And it's hard to get a good sense because people who are actually in the meetings aren't allowed to talk about it outside the meetings. So it's all kind of second and third-hand information. But you can see the tension has been there from the very beginning. And I think it probably started honestly from the Justice Department's perspective, they will say this started from when we first notified them in March '09 that we were doing this investigation and they blocked our attempts to get records for the next 18 months. People in the sheriff's office say that was all David Hendershot and he is gone and that problem left with him. But I think that colored the way this has gone from the very beginning.
Ted Simons: It still doesn't sound like caution is waving a flag here. We are not seeing two sides getting along.
JJ Hensley: Not by a long shot. Everyone seems to think this is going to end up in court. I guess there's a small fraction of people that are holding out hope that the threat once again the threat of litigation could bring the sheriff's office to the negotiating table but they are adamant. They say we did nothing wrong and there's no way we will have a court-appointed monitor.
Ted Simons: Sheriff Arpaio's department is saying it would be a dereliction of duty to have someone run his operation. On the other side I have asked the question, is the unusual for the feds to go ahead and demand or suggest strongly for a court-appointed monitor in these kinds of situations?
JJ Hensley: No. It's pretty typical from what we have seen from cases around the country and even from talking with former employees of the civil rights division who is conducting this investigation. They say it's pretty standard. Usually, when the two sides negotiate, they can kind of curtail or define the powers of this court-appointed monitor. The sheriff's office is saying what was detailed in the draft agreement gave this person complete control of day-to-day operations of the sheriff's office. We haven't seen the agreement yet. We have asked for it. We don't know exactly what was in there but by stepping away from the negotiating table they have lost the ability to kind of influence that.
Ted Simons: The County Attorney Bill Montgomery demanding this information from the feds as we mentioned earlier, happened today, basically saying either put up or shut up. A, is that is a bit of a surprise, and B, any response yet from the Feds?
JJ Hensley: No response yet from the feds. The way things have gone, I would anticipate a letter from someone to another, you know, letters from attorneys. That's how this is all played out so far. But they haven't responded yet. I can't, it's not really surprising that he came out with that because back in December, January, when this first started to come up, he said I want to see the evidence that you have, particularly when it comes to the botched sex crimes investigations that the sheriff's office had because the county attorney's office is reviewing those now and he is saying, U.S. Department of Justice, it's a dereliction of your duty to not provide me with information that could aid in a criminal investigation.
Ted Simons: Couldn't the feds turn around and say, county attorney, we would like to have some of your information to help us as well?
JJ Hensley: I think that they could say that. And I mean, they are conducting a civil investigation. The feds are conducting a civil investigation. But that shouldn't preclude Montgomery from doing anything on the criminal side. But he's saying right now, actually, today in his press conference he threatened to take people to the bar for disciplinary action if they violated the cannon of ethics by withholding information. It just ratchets up again.
Ted Simons: You had bar threats, you have got basically Joe Arpaio saying this is a political attempt by the Obama administration to influence the vote. These are serious charges. This isn't just "I disagree with you." This is basically going around the intent of the law.
JJ Hensley: Yeah, I mean, when the sheriff's office makes those kind of statements, it really starts to call into question the credibility of everything the justice department has done because they say, they see it very plainly as a ploy by the Obama administration to score points with Hispanic voters by making Arpaio the poster boy as he calls himself of the immigration enforcement.
Ted Simons: Federal lawsuit near certainty?
JJ Hensley: It seems that way. Like I said, there's really no timetable for this. So the feds could agree to go back to the negotiating table. Bull this court appointed monitor is going to be a sticking point for the rest of this.
Ted Simons: JJ, good stuff. Thank you. We appreciate it.
JJ Hensley: Thank you.
JJ Hensley:Arizona Republic reporter