Arpaio Contempt of Court Hearing

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Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in the middle of a contempt of court hearing. Local attorney Scott Halverson will bring us up to date.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll update the contempt of court hearing against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Also tonight we'll learn about the upcoming Ted-X Phoenix talks. And we'll hear about a volunteer program that pairs children with seniors. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Governor Doug Ducey today announced the appointment of Lisa Atkins as state land Commissioner. Atkins is currently an executive of Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business advocacy group, and a member of the Central Arizona Project Governing Board. Atkins spent more than 20 years as chief of staff for former Arizona Congressman Bob Stump. Today the Governor held a ceremonial signing of a bill that overhauls rules for ride-sharing businesses. It requires vehicle inspections and liability insurance. The Governor described the new law as a significant measure to promote in motivation.

Ted Simons: Well, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio took the stand late this afternoon on day two of his contempt of court hearing. Arpaio is accused of violating court orders in a racial profiling case. Here on an update now is local defense and civil rights attorney Scott Halverson, thank you for being here. I thought this was going happen tomorrow, but it happened today. The sheriff testifies. What did he say?

Scott Halverson: Initially he acknowledged that the order was violated, his office violated the order and there should be consequences. After that he proceeded to throw people under the bus. He basically said I delegated this all to my counsel and subordinates. Basically if they didn't get it done it's not my fault.

Ted Simons: Again, this is the sheriff here, supposed to be the leader of men and women in the department, and he's saying he had -- what's he saying?

Ted Simons: He's basically saying the specific compliance he delegated and the ball was dropped. You're right, he is at the top of the pyramid and he's ultimately responsible for the policies being changed. He also admit that he had didn't consult with counsel to find out the specifics of what needed to be done with regard to the order.

Ted Simons: Was there a sense, with what he said that there was a bit of a dismissal of the order?

Scott Halverson: Well, I don't think he admitted that he was dismissing the order, but that's going to run counter to the audio and video evidence that was presented. There was a YouTube video presented that in fact showed Arpaio saying it's going to be business as usual.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Okay. So he said obviously this was -- the court order was not followed. Not my fault, I thought X, Y and Z was going to happen, can't blame me for it. What about specific instances and conversations brought up in testimony?

Scott Halverson: Well that's right Ted. Yesterday Sergeant Palmer testified within a month after the initial order was issued that there was an instance where some Hispanic occupants of the vehicle were pulled over, there were three to five individuals that in fact they had no probable cause that any crime was committed, other than them being here illegally. And that's a civil offense primarily. It was Sergeant Palmer said, I'm going to take these individuals over to customs and border patrol. He got a call back from his supervisor that said, call Arpaio on the cell phone right now. Arpaio told them, don't release these individuals. To his credit Sergeant Palmer said that's an unlawful order and I won't obey it. Arpaio said at least hold them until I get down there for a press conference and again Palmer said no, I'm not going to do that. Arpaio finally relented and said at least take pictures of them, which was done, and then they were transported to the Casa Grande office of the border patrol.

Ted Simons: These were people not suspected of violating a state crime.

Scott Halverson: That's right. And that's what the order said. The order basically said the sheriff's office will not detain individuals if they don't have probable cause to suspect they have committed a criminal act.

Ted Simons: These were among others that were suspected of, what, of state violations?

Scott Halverson: The other individuals in the vehicle were arrested and detained properly, because they had probable cause to believe those individuals violated the Arizona anti-smuggling crime.

Ted Simons: Sounded like Palmer's testimony included a statement that doing so, following the order would be contrary to goals and objectives of the sheriff. That's a bit of a bombshell statement.

Scott Halverson: It is. He also said, why hasn't the training been fully implemented. It was his understanding because it was contrary to the sheriff's objectives and policies.

Ted Simons: So is this a bit of a smoking gun, isn't it?

Scott Halverson: It is. In response, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said I don't recall that conversation with Palmer.

Ted Simons: So you're talking about a conversation on the cell phone with a guy who's basically telling you no, I'm not going to do what you tell me to do, and says it more than once. Not only says it, holds his ground and you acquiesce and he doesn't remember that.

Scott Halverson: Apparently happened late at night. It was a cell phone call in the middle of the night, somewhat of an urgent matter. So the fact that the sheriff didn't remember that is somewhat difficult to believe.

Ted Simons: Do we have - do we expect him to be on the stand again tomorrow because he was supposed to be on tomorrow.

Scott Halverson: It's unpredictable a little bit. The scheduling goes depending on the length of each witness. Yeah, I hope and expect that he would have something to say tomorrow, as well.

Ted Simons: I know Brian Sands, another deputy, a former deputy of the department testified, as well. The idea being it wasn't his job he says to implement this court-ordered training regarding these traffic stops. Whose job was it?

Scott Halverson: That's the question. Arpaio will say I delegated to it individuals, so Sands. If sands is saying look, I never got that word, again, this is mounting evidence against Arpaio.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where Arpaio can basically say -- has he hinted that the buck stops here?

Scott Halverson: I think he gave passing reference to that. I think answering the initial question, he acknowledged that his office had failed to comply with the order. I think he acknowledged also that the buck stops here. But after saying that, he then proceeded after that to then pass off the responsibility for the violations onto his subordinates.

Ted Simons: And I think I want to kind of circle back for a second here. I know one of his attorneys dropped out kind of today, because he also represented the county back in the original case? Something along those lines?

Scott Halverson: Conflict of interest can arise if you represent multiple clients in related matters. There are occasions where you need to avoid that by stopping the representation of both parties.

Ted Simons: Could this be a problem now as far as the hearing going on? Can someone say that this is throwing out the whole thing out of whack or -

Scott Halverson: Well, I don't think so. Arpaio has his own personal council at this point sitting beside him in the hearing. I think that he's covered, not left without counsel. I don't think there should be any problems with the transmission.

Ted Simons: Let's stop right there and go back, there are those who don't even know what this is all about. We're talking about Arpaio delegating responsibility to following a court order. And those underneath him saying we never even heard anything about it. He's now allegedly throwing these people under -- what is this all about?

Scott Halverson: The federal government doesn't really meddle in local affairs except when there's civil rights violations. When evidence was presented initially to the court in 2011, they said, Judge Snow said I'm going to issue a preliminary injunction with at least partial relief saying you don't pull people over unless you have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. You can't pull someone over because of some sort of ethnic background. And you can't hold people without some kind of probable cause. And then a long time passed where all the discovery was done and in 2013 there was a trial on the matter, whether there was a class action or a basis of civil rights violations. The judge found yes, there was. There was a systemic problem of violating people's civil rights. The judge implemented a more comprehensive order. That's what we're arguing today and they are presenting evidence about today. The question is, is it civil contempt or criminal contempt? Criminal contempt is basically for some violation in a court order in the past, sort of a punishment. Civil contempt is saying you're not complying with this order, we're going to punish you or force you to compliance.

Ted Simons: Is there a sense this judge has basically had it with that line of thinking?

Scott Halverson: Well, I think that -- I think what the evidence has been presented is speaking much louder than the defenses raised by Arpaio. Hearing Deputy Sheridan calling the order ludicrous and crap, basically on a video that's taken during a training session before an interdiction patrol, and that was just a short time after the order. It's difficult to imagine that can be overlooked.

Ted Simons: If it's not overlooked what happens? Could we see criminal charges brought up against the sheriff?

Scott Halverson: Criminal contempt, jail could be imposed on civil or criminal contempt. It could be a punishment for something that's been done. It's unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility. If jail is imposed it would be jail imposed to ensure compliance. Once compliance has been met then basically a person's released from jail. Again, I don't expect that to happen. Fines are more likely.

Ted Simons: You've got your fines and orders and still got video and public statements of this is crap and we're not going do this and I'm going to do things my way because I'm the sheriff of all the people. At what point does this court order get followed?

Scott Halverson: That's what the judge is thinking. Didn't you think I meant what I said? This is a federal court order that you were meant to follow. No one is above the law, not even the sheriff. And so - Judge Snow is a nonelected official, he's not elected to be sheriff. Nevertheless he has the authority to step in and put requirements and monitor and required administration in certain ways of the sheriff's office.

Ted Simons: Quickly before you go, as far as today obviously he was on the stand and just basically said as little it seems like as possible, yesterday when Palmer and the smoking gun regarding the conversation, the phone call and conversation, did you see his reaction at all? Was he --

Scott Halverson: I couldn't. He was facing sideways sitting up at counsel table. I'd love to have seen his expression.

Ted Simons: Was everyone else surprised this kind of information was coming out?

Scott Halverson: I think the ACLU attorneys were chomping at the bit to get this in front of Judge Snow. Just as they relished the thought of the judge actually hearing what's really going on behind the scenes.

Ted Simons: Scott, good stuff, good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Scott Halverson: My pleasure.

Scott Halverson:Attorney, Tempe;

TEDxPhoenix

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