Arpaio "can't recall" details of Thomas investigations

Posted: Updated:
By Alicia Barron By Alicia Barron

 PHOENIX (AP) -- The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America appeared in court Tuesday to testify about his failed corruption investigations against three public officials who claim the cases were trumped up.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio testified at former County Attorney Andrew Thomas' discipline hearing before the Arizona State Bar. Thomas is under investigation for using his office to retaliate against political foes like County Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley.

Under oath, Arpaio was unable to answer many questions asked about the details of the failed corruption investigations, repeatedly answering, "I don't recall," or, "I'm not sure."

"I was confused then, and I'm confused now. I didn't have all the facts," Arpaio said about the arrest of Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe.

"I never read the indictment," Arpaio responded when asked about the arrest of Supervisor Stapley.

"I don't recall the evidence," Arpaio said about the case against Supervisor Wilcox.

Toward the end of his two-hour testimony, Arpaio seemed apologetic.

"I don't mean to be evasive, but you're asking me questions [about cases] two, three years old. I don't have a computerized mind," said the sheriff.

"I have 4,000 employees. I delegate," he later explained.

Arpaio wouldn't face any punishment if Thomas is found to have violated ethical rules, but the hearing could provide the first official comment from the state's legal establishment on whether the investigations were valid.

Lawyers pressing the discipline case said that the officials, judges and attorneys who crossed Arpaio and Thomas in political disputes were often targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged.

Arpaio and Thomas contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government, while county officials say the investigations were baseless.

County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was accused of voting on contracts involving a group that had given her loans and never filing conflict-of-interest statements. County Supervisor Don Stapley was accused of getting mortgage loans under fraudulent pretenses. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe was charged with hindering prosecution, obstruction of justice and bribery.

All three cases were dismissed after a judge ruled that Thomas prosecuted one of the three officials for political gain and had a conflict of interest in pressing the case.

If an ethics panel finds that Thomas violated professional rules of conduct, he could face a wide range of punishments, including an informal reprimand, censure, suspension or disbarment.

Last week, David Hendershott, the former No. 2 official in Arpaio's office, testified that some of the allegations brought against the judge weren't in fact crimes, though Hendershott believed that other allegations against Donahoe were criminal violations.