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August 29, 2014

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Judge questions whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio taking court order seriously

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Rick Scuteri/AP

Joe Arpaio

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his top aide are required to appear before a federal judge who believes the two have mischaracterized and trivialized the judge's key findings in a racial-profiling decision issued last year against the police agency.

The sheriff's office will be required to provide answers Monday to U.S. District Judge Murray Snow about an Oct. 18 training session in which the judge said Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan appears to suggest that rank-and-file deputies weren't obliged to make their best efforts to remedy the agency's constitutional violations.

Ten 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. Arpaio has vigorously denied the racial-profiling allegations and has appealed the ruling.

The judge has 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.

A video of the October training session shows Sheridan providing a misleading summary of the case to deputies and complaining that the judge was putting the sheriff's office under the same restraints as a judge did to the long-troubled New Orleans Police Department, Snow wrote. "And their police officers were murdering people," Sheridan said. "That tells you how ludicrous this crap is."

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 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.

If the police agency maintains that Sheridan's summary of the findings met Snow's orders, Arpaio's office will be required to explain why it believes it's in compliance, Snow wrote.

"There has got to be a very clear, formal retraction, correction and retraining on all those points," said Cecillia Wang, a lawyer who pressed the profiling case on behalf of a group of Latinos.

At a news conference last week, Arpaio repeatedly declined to comment on the judge's rebuke, suggesting that reporters turn to his appeal of the racial-profiling ruling for answers about whether he and Sheridan were undermining Snow's efforts.

"I am not going to comment until we see what they say in court," Arpaio told reporters. "This is not a court of law."

The brief that Arpaio's lawyers filed before an appeals court makes no mention of the October training session.

In the appeal, the sheriff's lawyers say Snow's injunction in the case was overly broad and that the judge's requirement that Arpaio's office hold community meetings in an effort to rebuild public confidence runs afoul of the sheriff's free-speech rights.

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