by JJ Hensley - Apr. 9, 2012 12:25 PM | Source: The Republic | azcentral.com
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's demand that the U.S. Justice Department "put up or shut up" when it comes to the civil-rights investigation into the Sheriff's Office fell on confused ears in Washington, D.C., based on a letter federal officials delivered to Montgomery Monday.
The Justice Department remains confused about Montgomery's role in representing the Sheriff's Office, but regardless of the role he wants to play, the federal civil-rights probe should not interfere with Montgomery's efforts to prosecute criminals in Maricopa County, according to the letter Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Roy Austin wrote to Montgomery.
The Justice Department last December released findings from a three-year investigation into the Sheriff's Office that accused it of rampant discrimination against Latinos in its police and jail operations. Negotiations on remedies were expected to begin last week, with the explicit threat of a federal lawsuit if negotiations were unsuccessful.
The federal government's confusion stems, in part, from Montgomery's response to the notice of findings the Justice Department delivered in December to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Arpaio's attorneys and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. On the day those findings were delivered, Montgomery told Justice Department officials that his office was not representing Arpaio and that federal investigators had "noticed the wrong party" in corresponding with the County Attorney's Office.
The following day, Montgomery wrote another letter to the Justice Department in which he requested any additional information that the Civil Rights Division used to come to its conclusions about discrimination in the Sheriff's Office.
"The precise role of the County Attorney's Office with respect to the federal investigation of the MCSO remains unclear to us," Austin wrote to Montgomery on Monday. "Considering that this has been a moving target for some time, what precisely is the relationship between the County Attorney's Office and MSCO in connection with this ongoing federal civil rights investigation of MCSO?"
Austin goes on to say that he is concerned because many of the County Attorney's requests mirror requests that the sheriff's attorneys are making for detailed information that led federal investigators to conclude that the Sheriff's Office fostered widespread discrimination in its jail and patrol operations.
A spokesman for Montgomery did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
Montgomery's most recent criticisms of the Justice Department came after negotiations between the Sheriff's Office and the Justice Department broke off last week, when Arpaio's attorneys refused to consider the federal government's demand for an independent monitor to oversee the sheriff's operations as part of any settlement.
Montgomery has said his office is reviewing the hundreds of sex-crime cases that sheriff's deputies failed to adequately investigate during the early 2000s. Last week he threatened to take disciplinary action against any federal prosecutor who was withholding information that could help in prosecuting suspects in the botched sex-crime investigations.
Montgomery also demanded that federal investigators produce any evidence of discriminatory policing that has taken place in the 18 months since Montgomery took office. The demand was based in part on the premise that new policies in the County Attorney's Office were designed to address concerns with discrimination when it came to prosecuting suspects sheriff's deputies arrested in human-smuggling operations or during work-site raids.
The federal government's civil-rights investigation should not interfere with any criminal prosecution Montgomery's office is pursuing, Austin wrote.
"Our role is not to tell you whether a particular case is prosecutable or not. Our job is to determine whether a law-enforcement agency has the systems in place to come to the correct answer and serve the entire community," Austin wrote. "At a minimum, it is unclear to us what sorts of policies and practices MCSO has or had in place to investigate sex crimes."
Austin also encouraged Montgomery to contact police agencies, including El Mirage, where many of the concerns about the sheriff's sex-crime investigations began in 2007, if the County Attorney's Office is interested in exploring the sheriff's inadequate sex-crime investigations.
"In addition, as County Attorney, you presumably have greater access to MCSO and other county records than we do," Austin wrote. "As such, it is inaccurate, perplexing and disappointing that you would suggest we are somehow withholding evidence in this area, when we have already outlined our sources of information, which are narrower than yours."
After negotiations broke off last week, Arpaio's attorneys were scheduled to respond to the Justice Department, though a letter from federal officials made a civil lawsuit seem nearly inevitable.
If that lawsuit is filed, Montgomery's office, as a conduit for federal funding, will be a part of the lawsuit, according to Austin's letter. Austin encouraged Montgomery to familiarize himself with the Justice Department's 128-page draft agreement which was supposed to be negotiated last week and serve as a framework for resolving the discrimination allegation.