Police Board Still Sitting on 2016 Complaint Against MCSO Sheriff Candidate

The state board that decides who gets to be a cop has delayed taking action on a 2016 complaint against an ex-board member, Jerry Sheridan, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s second-in-command.

Arpaio’s ex-chief deputy, who’s now running for Arpaio’s previous seat, was found in civil contempt in 2016 for failing to comply with a sweeping federal order intended to stop the sheriff office’s systemic racial profiling. Sheridan was also charged with criminal contempt, but prosecutors dropped the case due to the statute of limitations.

The Arizona U.S. District Court’s civil contempt finding triggered an official complaint against Sheridan with the Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST), which has the power to suspend or decertify cops throughout the state.

Nearly three years later, the complaint against Sheridan has not moved forward. In fact, AZPOST’s 11-member board raised the matter for the first time during a meeting on January 16.

The board tabled the complaint during the January meeting after three members recused themselves due to their relationships with Sheridan, making the body short of a seven-member quorum. The board members who stepped aside included Arizona Department of Safety director Frank Milstead, Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell, and Arizona Criminal Justice Commission Director Andrew LeFevre.

Since January, the complaint against Sheridan has not appeared on any of the board’s monthly meeting agendas. That’s because the board has been unable to assemble a quorum of members who would not recuse themselves from the case, according to Matt Giordano, AZPOST executive director.

Sheridan did not return a message left on his election campaign’s voicemail.

It’s unlikely the board will ever take action on the complaint against Sheridan, according to former AZPOST director Lyle Mann.

Mann said the delay likely has to do with practicality.

By voting on Sheridan’s complaint, the board would be deciding whether to initiate an administrative investigation into the allegations against him. That process can take several months, including time for an officer to respond, for investigators to do their work, and for the defendant’s attorney to lodge up to two objections. Once the inquiry gets completed, the board still has to vote on a final action.

Sheridan’s certification automatically expires on January 1, 2020, at which point complaints against him would be rendered moot. That only gives about seven months to fully adjudicate the complaint.

The impracticality of handling Sheridan’s case today, however, does not fully answer why it took nearly three years for the board to even bring it up in the first place. AZPOST director Giordano told Phoenix New Times that a compliance officer with the agency waited until three matters were adjudicated before reviewing the case.

In addition to the dropped criminal contempt charge, Sheridan also faced an internal affairs and court-ordered independent investigation to determine whether the former deputy sheriff lied about when he learned of the federal injunction against the agency. Both investigations determined he did.

Michael Cavaiola, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, said the department forwarded the findings of the internal affairs investigation to AZPOST in February 2018, 11 months before the board first took up the complaint. An AZPOST staffer with knowledge of the case said the agency also received findings of the independent investigation around February or March 2018.

Going through those documents also took some time, according to Giordano. “There was a large volume of court records which needed to be reviewed,” he said. “Finally, all of our cases are reviewed by an Assistant Attorney General who also reviewed all of the documentation.” 

While it’s unusual for AZPOST to take this long to hear a complaint, Sheridan’s case appears to have followed standard procedure, according to Mann.

“Most cases are not that extensive or have that many moving parts, but in this particular case, I would understand all those moving parts,” he said.

Sheridan served as a board member for AZPOST for several years before he quit in 2016. Bringing up the case would have put the board in the position of investigating a former colleague.

Mann said that Sheridan’s prior position and relationships with board members could also affect AZPOST’s decision-making on his case. “There is also a professional matter of not embarrassing Sheridan,” he said.

Sheridan in February announced a run against Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. “I left not of my own choosing. I feel compelled to finish the job I started,” Sheridan explained to the Fountain Hills Times , his hometown paper.

The former deputy sheriff left the agency in 2016 after Arpaio lost to Penzone in the November election that year. Both Sheridan and his boss left the MCSO with a record of racial profiling, reprimands from judges, and millions of dollars in settlements over the agency’s notoriously cruel practices.

The complaint against Sheridan listed three areas of concern, all related to the 2008 profiling lawsuit that brought national attention to the county.

First, it cited Sheridan’s failure to comply with two federal orders related to the lawsuit, including directives to quietly gather video of traffic stops (he instead gathered the video rather loudly) and to stop enforcing federal immigration law. Secondly, the complaint noted the civil contempt findings against Sheridan for the aforementioned defiance. And finally, the complaint mentions the independent investigation finding that Sheridan deliberately misled the public about when he learned of the racial profiling injunction against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.