Maricopa County to pay arrested activists $475,000 in settlement

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PHOENIX -- Maricopa County is paying $475,000 to a group of political activists who claim their civil rights were violated when they were arrested and cited for protesting against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration policies.

The seven activists are slated to hold a news conference later this morning to talk about their arrest and the subsequent lawsuit and settlement.

The arrests happened at a protest that took place in December 2008 at a meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The group was protesting Arpaio's controversial crimes sweeps, saying those operations unfairly target Hispanics.

Arpaio said the settlement is "ridiculous."

"Very bizarre," he said. "I'm not going to talk about it now, but I'm looking into it. It's ridiculous. Taxpayers paying that much money when we're doing our jobs? We were even asked by the Board of Supervisors to remove those people. ... This isn't over yet."

Arpaio would not elaborate on what he meant by that.

While there have been reports of an earlier agreement for a lesser sum, Cari Gerchick, the communications director for Maricopa County, said that is absolutely not the case.

She disagrees with Arpaio's assessment of the settlement, and said taking the case to court would have been far more expensive than settling.

"We settled this for a fraction of what the attorney's fees alone would have been," Gerchick said.

In a finding dated Nov. 30, 2009, Justice of the Peace C. Steven McMurry determined the arrests were unwarranted and ordered the county to pay attorneys' fees for five defendants.

"When the State rested in these consolidated disorderly conduct prosecutions, the Court, after expressing its disappointment that these charges had been brought, directed verdicts of acquittal," McMurry wrote in his finding. "It is simply false to say that these arrests came after 'repeated' warnings; they are surprising and disturbing arrests."

Gerchick said settling out of court was in the best interest of the taxpayers of Maricopa County.