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A federal judge presiding over a racial profiling case against an Arizona sheriff’s office chided the sheriff and his top aide on Monday for mischaracterizing his findings, telling them he’s unimpressed by what he called their apparent “double dealing.”
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said he was disappointed with the inaccurate statements that Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, the top aide for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, made about the case during an October training session with rank-and-file deputies.
This is the latest in a yearslong string of criticisms against the agency led by the self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” who’s made waves nationally by cracking down on illegal immigration and forcing inmates to wear pink underwear.
Sheridan, standing at a podium dressed in his beige uniform, told the judge he got the facts wrong and acted with emotion. He says he made the remarks out of frustration with declining morale among his deputies after Snow concluded last year that the agency has racially profiled Latinos.
Sheridan’s voice rose in volume when he explained his frustrations, saying they grew out of the media’s misrepresentation of the judge’s rulings and Arpaio critics calling the agency racist.
“I heard every word you said loud and clear,” Sheridan told the judge.
Sheridan and Arpaio were called into court Monday to answer questions about the Oct. 18 training session. In a video of the session, Sheridan appears to suggest to sheriff’s deputies that they weren’t obliged to make their best efforts to remedy the agency’s constitutional violations, the judge wrote in a ruling a week ago.
The video shows that Arpaio addressed the deputies after his chief aide, saying Sheridan’s thoughts echoed his own. “What the chief deputy said is what I’ve been saying,” Arpaio said.
The judge also took issue with a remark that Sheridan made during the training session in which he complained that his agency was being put under the same kind of court supervision as the long-troubled New Orleans Police Department and added, “That tells you how ludicrous this crap is.”
“I am not really impressed with what appears to be double dealing,” Snow told the aide.
Ten months ago, Snow concluded Arpaio’s office systematically racially profiled Latinos in its immigration and regular traffic patrols and unreasonably prolonged the detentions of people during traffic stops. Arpaio has vigorously denied the racial profiling allegations and appealed the ruling.
The judge required Arpaio’s office to install video cameras in hundreds of the agency’s patrol vehicles, set up a seven-person team of sheriff’s employees to help implement the judge’s orders and carry out additional training to ensure officers aren’t making unconstitutional arrests.
The sheriff sat silently behind his attorneys throughout the hearing while Sheridan and an attorney spoke for the agency. Arpaio made a brief statement outside court without answering reporters’ questions.
“This is a court issue,” he said. “Certain items were discussed in the court, and we’ll see what happens.”
At the hearing, Sheridan and the sheriff’s lead lawyer acknowledged that Sheridan sent the wrong message to deputies, but they said they wanted to comply with the judge’s orders in good faith.
“I also intend to have my orders respected,” Snow said.
The judge said Sheridan and Arpaio are protected by their right to free speech, but that it’s another matter to provide bad information when instructing deputies.
In response to complaints that the agency is providing inaccurate information on the case, Snow said lawyers on both sides will summarize the judge’s rulings and put those statements in a letter that Arpaio and Sheridan will sign and give to all sheriff’s employees.
Several hours after Monday’s hearing, the sheriff’s office released the video in question.
In parts of the recording that have not yet been made public, Sheridan tells deputies they must follow the judge’s requirement that they document the race, ethnicity and sex of people during traffic tops based on the deputies’ perceptions.
“I’m sorry you have to do this,” Sheridan says. “I wish we didn’t have to waste our time doing this, but it’s a necessary evil to fix this.”
Later in the video, Arpaio tells the officers that he’ll appeal Snow’s racial profiling decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There’s only one sheriff elected — one — and you are looking at him,” Arpaio says. “I am going to fight anyone that tries to take away the authority of the elected sheriff.”
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