Could the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office be found in contempt due to case backlog?
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A backlog in internal misconduct investigations at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office continues to grow. According to a recent report, it takes almost two years to look into each one. The delay is expected to lead a judge to find the Sheriff’s Office in contempt.
It’s called Ortega Melendres v. Joe Arpaio, dating back to 2007. Then Sheriff Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were found to have engaged in racial profiling and unlawful traffic stops of Latinos. Following that trial, the judge mandated changes. In addition, a monitor was appointed to make sure changes were implemented.
Almost 15 years later, the office is under new leadership and still trying to implement those changes. “At the very core of this case is police accountability to our clients, to the plaintiffs,” said Christine Wee, the Senior Staff Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. “We are here for the long haul to make sure that both the court’s orders are complied with completely.”
According to the latest monitor’s report, it takes MCSO, on average, 611 days to investigate misconduct complaints. It applies to deputies, detention workers and staff. It’s supposed to take 85 days.
There are reportedly more than 2,100 open misconduct investigations. In addition, 1,200 were reported in 2020, and more than 1,100 in 2021. “Since Penzone has taken office the backlog of internal affairs investigations they’ve grown exponentially, so the only thing I can point to is that there hasn’t been a good faith effort,” Wee said.
The report states that in 2016, an investigator was given 12 to 16 cases to look into at a time. It’s now up to 74 per investigator. The monitor wrote, “this remains a serious issue that MCSO must address.”
“We are hopeful that this anticipated contempt ruling will do the trick,” Wee said. She added the contempt ruling could allow the court to take further action, like sanctions.
The office declined to comment, writing in an email in response to our questions, “The Sheriff will provide statistics and context for those statistics in the near future.” The contempt ruling is expected to come down in the next few weeks.
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