Report pans sheriff's probe of deceased officer

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Ramon Armendariz By Catherine Holland Ramon Armendariz By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- A now-deceased Maricopa County sheriff's deputy suspected of shaking down immigrants was the subject of a long list of citizen complaints, including an off-duty incident in which he drove his police vehicle to a bar where he was spotted drinking alcohol, according to court records released Wednesday.

A report by a court-appointed official in a racial-profiling case against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office said there's no indication that then-Deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz was disciplined for the policy violation. Yet Armendariz still received satisfactory job ratings and was given no training to address concerns raised in 14 citizen complaints during a nearly two-year period ending in February 2013.

Arpaio's office launched an investigation into Armendariz after the deputy was arrested in May after investigators found items belonging to others and bags of evidence at his home.

He implicated former colleagues on Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad, quit his job and later committed suicide. He is relevant to the racial-profiling case because he was a witness at the case's 2012 trial and videos of his traffic stops were discovered after his arrest.

The report by court-appointed monitor Robert Warshaw provided the most detailed public explanation on how Armendariz killed himself and harshly criticized the investigation by Arpaio's office of allegations that Armendariz and other smuggling-squad members had taken the property belonging to others.

A call left for Tim Casey, an attorney representing the sheriff's office, wasn't immediately returned late Wednesday afternoon. In court papers, Arpaio's lawyers said the report contains mischaracterizations, unfairly suggested the sheriff's office wasn't investigating allegations in good faith and presumes the guilt of deputies.

Warshaw's critique of the investigation says the examination was poorly planned and marred by poor interrogation techniques. The report also provided new details about Armendariz, such as a 35-minute goodbye video that he recorded before his death.

In the months since Armendariz's death, sheriff's officials hadn't publicly explained how Armendariz killed himself, saying only that it was a hanging. The report said Armendariz was found lying face-down on the floor with his head suspended four to six inches off the floor by a rope connected to a pool table.

Warshaw said it's worrisome that Armendariz passed the police agency's pre-employment background check and was allowed to remain in Arpaio's smuggling squad after citizen complaints were filed against him. The report had sections on Armendariz's past that were blacked out at the request of the sheriff's office.

Warshaw leveled sharp criticism at the agency for the investigation of another former member of Arpaio's smuggling squad who had alleged that his colleagues had pocketed items from raids at safe houses and kept them for personal use or for use by the sheriff's office.

Those allegations led to a criminal investigation in which a sheriff's investigator posed a narrow set of questions and failed to act on leads developed during the interviews, the report said.

The investigator also stopped an interview - apparently at the direction of commanders who were watching the questioning - in which another officer vented about the smuggling squad being improperly used by Arpaio for political purposes.

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