PHOENIX (AP) - Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s top aide violated a policy requiring him to be truthful in his job when he claimed in court that he didn’t know about a judge’s order that Arpaio had famously disobeyed until two years after it was issued, investigators concluded in a report released Monday.
Investigators said Jerry Sheridan made a knowing misrepresentation to the public when he claimed that he didn’t learn of the December 2011 preliminary injunction barring Arpaio’s traffic patrols that target immigrants until March 2014. Arpaio’s defiance of the order in a racial profiling case led to his criminal contempt of court conviction, which was later pardoned by President Donald Trump.
If Sheridan hadn’t retired after Arpaio lost his 2016 re-election campaign, the investigators said they would recommend that he be fired. Sheridan, Arpaio’s second-in-command in his last six years as metro Phoenix’s sheriff, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t lie about the court order and was still considering a 2020 run for sheriff.
A report by the investigators said Sheridan was sent emails from an Arpaio attorney about the court order, but Sheridan said he never opened them. Another agency official said he met with Sheridan and other Arpaio aides to explain the order, but Sheridan doesn’t recall the meeting. Sheridan also said he doesn’t recall reading two front-page stories in The Arizona Republic about the order.
“Chief Deputy Sheridan’s testimony and statements regarding unopened emails, meetings he does not recall attending, ignorance of an issue that garnered front page press reporting and public interest, and his unawareness of the preliminary injunction, is implausible,” the investigators wrote.
Sheridan defended himself by saying he was overloaded with work, such as trying to salvage a large volume of sex crimes investigations that the sheriff’s office had botched. The investigators said Sheridan credibly claimed that he deferred to another Arpaio aide who handled the profiling case. But they also said they don’t find it a solid excuse for not opening up an email about the order.
In an interview with investigators, Sheridan said he had a tendency as a law enforcement officer and former jail administrator to skip over legal jargon that he didn’t understand. “I’m not a lawyer. I’m a cop. I didn’t know what a preliminary injunction was,” Sheridan told investigators.
Sheridan told the AP that the investigators’ report was unfair. Asked whether he regretted how the court order was handled, Sheridan said he should have never taken the promotion to become the sheriff’s second-in-command.
“I should have told him no. I should have been happy running the jail system,” Sheridan said, explaining his comment wasn’t meant to criticize Arpaio but instead was a reflection on the damage he could have avoided to his reputation.
The report was issued by outside investigators after the judge presiding over the profiling case had criticized the agency’s internal affairs investigations as being fraught with biased decision-making and shielding sheriff’s officials from accountability.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow had found Sheridan and Arpaio to be in civil contempt for disobeying the 2011 court order to stop the immigration patrols and botching an effort to gather traffic-stop videos that were supposed to be turned over but were withheld in the profiling case.
Snow recommended criminal contempt charges against Sheridan for refusing to hand over evidence during internal affairs investigations. But another judge ultimately determined that the statute of limitations prohibited such charges against Arpaio’s former top aide.
Although Sheridan proclaims his innocence, he has acknowledged a civil contempt violation. Sheridan has explained that he did so in an unsuccessful bid to get then-upcoming contempt hearing called off and save taxpayers the costs of holding the hearings.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.
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